Whether it’s unpicking the prickliest of thorny data problems or designing engaging and informative data visualisations, there is the need to use both divergent and convergent thinking.
As an analyst, I know I use both and I believe that data analysis and insight work lends itself strongly to the design thinking ‘double diamond’ model (two waves of divergent-convergent thinking, the first diamond focusing on problem, the second on solution).
I work both creatively and analytically, can generate ideas and whittle them down, can reflect and imagine as well as prioritise and act. So why do the words ‘brainstorming session’ still make my internal organs converge in on themselves? In the past I would have concluded that perhaps it was because ‘I’m just not an ideas person’, that ‘I’m not as creative as my peers’. Writing that down I see it for what it is, inner critic talk. What is an ideas person? It’s a person. Any person. Perhaps it’s not the ideas-y bit that I’ve found challenging, I think it’s the experience of imbalance between the divergent and convergent parts of the thinking process.
What I like about these process diagrams is their symmetry. There is balance between the divergent and convergent elements. When brainstorming, how balanced do you feel the use of time is between these two? Shorten the front and you will miss good ideas from outside the box, shorten the back and you risk rushing too quickly to a choice based on whim rather than evidence.
My analytical leanings means some of my best contributions are within convergence. Don’t get me wrong, I can come up with new ideas, I know how to use and continually strengthen that muscle, however, there’s also a real joy in adding flesh to the bones of an idea whether it’s yours or not. For example, I love weighing solutions against each other using something like an Impact vs Ease matrix in order to add some rigour to the choice stage. Because of all this I have felt underused, undervalued and disappointed when I’ve been part of processes which have spent hours on diverging only to follow with mere minutes converging.
These are the pointers I’m trying to keep in mind for any sessions that I’m facilitating for my team or others.
- Equal time on divergent and convergent thinking is time well spent.
- Ensuring that facilitators are aware of who in the room excels at each type of thinking can also help get the most out of participants, allowing them to play to their strengths and encouraging them to engage and contribute fully.
- For any collaborative session, allowing prep time, reflection time and the opportunity to add thoughts later is more inclusive of neurodiversity in your group. It enables those who think clearer alone to cogitate and contribute in their own time, while quick collective thinkers can take the lead in a live session.
- Allowing separate sessions for divergent and convergent thinking reaps huge benefits as it enables everyone involved to switch hats for each exercise. The emphasis can therefore change from quantity of ideas to quality of ideas, from horizon scanning to planning, from dreams to reality, from thoughts to actions.