To Diverge or Converge: That is the Question!

April 27, 2017
Process Tools

Here’s the #1 approach for taking your innovation work to the next level: develop your process skills. 

Process Skills

We all know the importance of separating process and content. Facilitators own the process; the group owns the content.  But beyond the process itself are the skills needed to execute the process.  It’s no good having a great recipe for chicken stir-fry if you don’t have knife and wok skills.  Similarly, the best innovation process in the world will fail to generate novel ideas without well-honed process skills.  And, it’s up to you to be sure your team has them.

According to creativity expert Dr. Min Basadur, facilitators and their teams must master three process skills: (1) divergence; (2) convergence, and (3) deferral of judgment. 

Many of us have heard these terms before.  Divergence is the kind of thinking we use when we generate ideas. It is generative, freewheeling, and imaginative.  And then comes the process for selecting which ideas to carry forward.  That’s where convergence comes in.  This is where we judge, analyze, and evaluate.  And between these two sits "deferral of judgment," which means that we are ultra-sensitive to never mixing these two modes of thinking.

Facilitators and their teams must master three process skills: (1) divergence; (2) convergence and (3) deferral of judgment. 

Here’s how you can use your awareness of these skills to take your facilitation to the next level:

Know Where You Are

No matter where you are in the creative thinking process, you must always know whether your group is diverging or converging.  Even more important, your group must know whether they are diverging or converging.  It hurts to hear “we tried that two years ago!” in the middle of an ideation activity.  These “killer phrases” are aptly named because they can kill a creative process.  Don’t let it happen to you!  Make sure everyone knows and understands the mode of thinking for the activity at hand.

Build Your Awareness

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself saying, “I really LIKE that idea!” during an ideation activity.  I’ll often say this in jest, to inject some energy into the room.  But on another level, I catch myself because I realize I am judging that idea.  That’s right…sharing my preferences during ideation is a form of evaluation.  This comment and others like it have no place in an ideation activity.  Better to simply say, “Thanks for that idea, John” and move on. How aware are you of your own language and non-verbals in session?  Are they consistent with the behaviors for divergent and convergent modes of thinking?  Take time to pause and reflect the next time you are in the arena.

Build Your Team’s Awareness

If your team is new to the creative thinking process, take time to teach and practice process skills.  Some of my favorite go-to activities include, “What are all the uses for a belt that don’t involve holding up pants or skirts?”, and “What are all the uses of a brick?”  Many times, I’ll bring the actual article into the session with me.  These exercises are not only fun and energizing, but they give you a chance to assess the group and re-direct as needed.  Did they defer judgment during ideation?  Were wild ideas accepted or scorned?  Did they stop after the first few ideas were generated?  Were any participants shut down or checked out during the process?   Did they develop evaluation criteria before selecting their top ideas? Use these observations as teachable moments to develop your team.  

Here’s to your best as you take your process skills to the next level. Happy ideating!

Paul Zaffiro

I have been facilitating at a professional level for over 15 years. As leader of The GYM, Procter & Gamble’s Global Innovation Capability, I designed and facilitated over 200 sessions in the areas of team building, organizational design, strategic visioning, and idea generation.  I am certified in multiple processes, including the Grove Strategic Visioning Process, Creative Problem Solving, the Basadur Simplexity Process, and the Verus Global Pathways to Leadership Process.  I don’t just design and facilitate sessions; I create experiences.  

When I'm not facilitating, you can find me serving in the community, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. 

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