Divergent Thinking – brainstorming, coming up with many possible solutions to problems that need to be solved. This is often called “thinking outside of the box.” If organizations or individuals do not do this, then the best solution is often never even discovered.
Divergent and Convergent Thinking are both vitally important to any success. Too often we have only been taught Convergent Thinking in school, study for the test, know the answers the teacher wants to see. There have been several studies of the way people think. Given problems, a pre-Kindergarten student is excellent at both ways of thinking. By the time we graduate from high school, Divergent Thinking has been reduced to about 2% of the population. Industry wants people who can do both. Microsoft has devised several questions, some of which have become fairly famous, that test how (and if) a person can come up with a solution to a problem that uses divergent thinking instead of the way most of us have been taught to solve a problem. The most famous one is “Why is a manhole cover round?” If you have not heard of that, I will leave you to figure that one out. Good luck!
From my experience, if you are doing brainstorming never discourage outlandish answers because they often lead to break-through ideas. Once you have come up with a sufficient number of ideas, maybe it is time to do a little convergent thinking. Start looking for common patterns in the ideas that have been expressed. They will emerge. Always ask “What if” to flesh out these ideas. The “What If” questions will often find holes in the ideas being presented. They will sometimes lead to a whole new way of thinking about the problem. There is a limit on how late in the game new ideas can be introduced, but that is fairly late and is definitely not in the fleshing out of the idea and goal phase. Enjoy, be as creative as possible.
Once a project goes into the actual design phase, it should be gaining some structure. The team should be happy with the goals and plans being generated. The team should all be willing and able to buy into the proposed solutions. If each member feels that they are part of the solution, they will work hard at implementing the plan. If the decisions are made by one or two people, the rest will not be too happy and may not work as hard in brining the ideas to fruition. As a project transitions from design to implementation, this is where the thinking often switches from Divergent to Convergent Thinking. However, always be asking the “What If” questions so that no design problems end up in the final product.
Where Convergent Thinking works best is when the product or process has been developed and is working well. This is especially true for processes, where new people are being brought into the process. If the new people, who were not present for the Divergent Thinking part of the development of the process, want to succeed, it is best to have each new member assigned a coach or mentor to help them through the best way to implement the process. People still need to personalize the process so that it is part of them, but processes that work should be carefully taught. The new people need to internalize the process and make it work for themselves as so many people before them have done.
Understand what works and what does not. Converge on what works, Diverge on suggesting solutions to problems, whether they are new problems or problems that are starting to emerge with regard to older products or past solutions. Once you have come up with some workable solutions, then converge on a solution and start looking for ways to verify that it does work.
In case you are wondering, the reason why manhole covers are round is so that they will not fall into the manhole. Think of other possible shapes, can you turn them in such a way that they could fall in?