The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar there is to new ideas. It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always right by having no ideas at all.
Normally one is only taught to think about things until one gets an adequate answer. One goes on exploring while things are unsatisfactory but as soon as they become satisfactory one stops. And yet there may be an answer or an arrangement of information that is far better than an adequate one.
Both quotes from Edward De Bono‘s Lateral Thinking which I have been re-reading for the first time in many years.
The book, originally published in 1970, echoes the kinds of issues and concerns I still hear from clients today. For example, over the last few weeks I’ve heard many organisations lament the difficulty of creating green field, genuinely innovative products and services. They have talked about “being trapped within existing paradigms” and “unable to escape the way things are currently done”.
What is worse is that they express difficulty in finding people capable of helping them think differently about their particular situation. Is it because so many UX practitioners spend so much time using convergent thinking approaches to help optimise solutions? Is it because of a dearth of UX practitioners with a background steeped in design theory? Is it because organisations aren’t willing to create the time to explore alternate approaches or commit the resources to do so? Or is it some other reason entirely?
Whatever the real reason, experienced UX practitioners need to know when to use divergent thinking tactics and when to use a convergent approach.
The following are ten tips how to encourage divergent thinking within a workshop environment.
1o tips to help run a successful innovation workshop
- Set rules and roles. Providing a constructive environment for creativity requires a few rules and roles. There is only really one rule; 1. no critiquing of ideas until a follow-up evaluation session. There are only three roles; 1. a facilitator to guide the session and pre-prepare topics and stimulus materials, 2. a note-taker to capture the ideas that are generated during the meeting, and 3. a number of participants.
- Don’t make creative sessions too long. Around 30 minutes, and certainly no more than an hour, is enough to generate a range of ideas that can then be analysed, evaluated and turned into concepts.
- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do it on your own. Although genius design does happen, a collaborate process involving a small group is far more likely to consistently produce fresh ideas in a timely manner. Anywhere between 5 and 15 people is a good number. Less experienced facilitators may prefer to start with smaller groups.
- Don’t expect magic to happen quickly. Many teams, especially those within usually traditional, formal, “always right” organsations, require time to warm up to divergent thinking. Quick warm up exercises may be required to get the group out of the business-as-usual convergent thinking mentally and into a useful headspace.
- Don’t stop when you encounter the first acceptable idea. Although it may end up being the best idea. Continue thinking, exploring and sketching alternate solutions. At the very least these will validate that the acceptable idea is in fact the best idea, and by continuing you may actually identify a better idea that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
- Don’t critique or criticise ideas before others are given the chance to consider them. By focusing on the interesting aspects of an idea can spark other more practical thoughts, but if you focus on the impracticalities you may kill an idea before it has chance to breath.
- Don’t fear failure. To have one great idea you’ll have to have many not so great ideas. The trick, as Scott Jenson puts it in The Simplicity Shift, is to “fail fast”.
- Trust the process even when all around you are in doubt. Chances are you’ll have people who think what you’re doing is “fluffy”. You might even have people who storm out of a workshop because they don’t see the value in what you’re doing (I certainly have!), but even in the darkest hours you need to believe that good will come by encouraging people to think different about their products and services. The very worst that can happen is that a company realises that there is no better way than the way they currently do things. Validation of the status quo is a valid output from the activity provided the group has spend time exploring truly divergent alternatives.
- Focus on quantity of ideas not quality. You have forever to evaluate which ideas are good and bad. Don’t run the risk of stymieing radically different approaches by focussing on refining a single idea even if it does initially appear to be the most viable.
- When all else fails… consider the existing patterns, models and processes within your product or service. Focussing on and remodelling sub-components can help break down the existing norms and enable free-er thinking about the bigger picture.\