Productive Problem Solving

Diverge then converge: A guide to productive problem-solving

Have you ever been in a meeting where generating ideas or options felt like an uphill battle, as every idea shared was met with immediate critique or dismissal?

Or perhaps you’ve experienced the opposite, where a group working through a list of options is constantly bombarded with new ideas, creating chaos and hindering progress.

In both situations, people can become frustrated, disengaged, and unproductive.

This is because these groups are trying to diverge and converge at the same time, which can be like pushing on the gas and brake pedals simultaneously – you just don’t get anywhere.

Divergent thinking is the process of generating options and exploring possibilities, while convergent thinking involves evaluating options and making decisions.

These two modes of thinking need to be separated and balanced for productive problem-solving. Another crucial component to consider is behavioral preference.

Different people have distinct behavioral profiles and preference defaults when it comes to diverging and converging. For instance, those who are proactive, informal, and comfortable with risk tend to prefer divergence and generative thinking. On the other hand, those who prefer convergence are typically responsive, formal, and cautious with risk, and are skilled at evaluating ideas and making decisions based on criteria.

To solve problems or challenges effectively, you need to first diverge and then converge. This can happen at various stages, from visioning to data gathering, problem definition, ideation, development, and implementation.

So, what can you do to avoid clashes and make meetings or problem-solving sessions more productive?

Two critical strategies are signposting and guidelines.
Signposting involves announcing where you are, where you’re going, and what’s expected.
Guidelines provide a set of rules for how you’ll handle diverging and converging.

Divergent Thinking Guidelines for Creative Problem Solving (think Brainstorming) include:
– Defer judgment – hold off on judging for a bit…
– Combine and Build – put stuff together to combine and improve
– Seek Wild Ideas – we can always tone down wild ideas
– Go for Quantity – with quantity comes quality

Convergent Thinking Guidelines for Creative Problem Solving include:
– Be Deliberate – take the time to walk through each option
– Check Your Objectives – verify choices against your key criteria
– Improve Your Ideas – take time to hone and improve
– Be Affirmative – first consider what’s good about an idea rather than eliminate
– Consider Novelty – don’t immediately dismiss novel or original ideas

By clearly signposting and sharing agreed-upon guidelines, you can dramatically improve participation and engagement in your discussions.

For example, you could announce at the beginning of a session that you’ll be diverging for the first five minutes to generate as many options or ideas as possible. This helps everyone understand what’s expected and how to approach the task at hand. In conclusion, it’s important to recognize that different people have different behavioral preferences when it comes to diverging and converging.

By understanding these preferences and assigning roles accordingly, you can create more productive group discussions.

By using signposting and guidelines, you can avoid clashes and create a more engaging problem-solving process. Remember, diverge first and then converge for the best results.

David Lunken, Talent Optimization Advisor – PI Midlantic

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