A successful outcome of an idea generation session is to have a whole stack of break-through ideas to a particular business challenge or opportunity. However, there is a common blocker we see when people get together to come up with innovative solutions. Sometimes, people have the tendency to put on their critical thinking caps prematurely in the idea generation process. This convergent thinking mode can unduly stop the exploration of ideas by focusing on idea feasibility, likelihood of failure, and costs. For most of us, convergent thinking is our default thinking mode, particularly when our backgrounds are in science, engineering, or mathematics. That is, it is easy to pick holes in ideas, resort to why it wont work, or let our past experiences stifle the extent to which we go really wide with our thinking and explore possibilities. This is not to say convergent thinking is not important; there is a time and place for it, but later in the innovation process. In the idea generation stage, divergent thinking is best.
Next time you want to encourage divergent thinking either on your own or in your teams use the following tips:
1. Start with a creativity brain warm-up to make sure that the creative areas of the brain are activated. Fat Chance, one of our warm up tools, is a quick and simple way to achieve this, see here
2. Instruct people to focus on possibilities. Acknowledge that we can become overly bogged down in how difficult an idea will be to implement, the costs, or the resources needed – which is not helpful at this stage but will definitely be considered at a later stage. Reiterate that the meeting or session is primarily about going really wide with our thinking, which requires a shift to focus on possibilities
3. Get people to tune into when their group discussions become overly dominated by critical thinking. Sometimes critical thinking can be good if it helps an idea to become more robust, but not when it stifles creativity and always takes the group to dead ends. When this happens get the group to consciously park that type of thinking to one side or look how it can be used to improve the ideas that are offered.
Written by Dr. Shelley Logan