July 6, 2010

Diverge effectively in your thinking

The thinking process for developing a logic tree is an iteration between diverging—looking for all the ways to solve your problem—and converging: focusing on the minute details of a specific solution.

We tend to be better at converging than at diverging. That’s a problem because we tend to stick to obvious solutions. Here are a few tips to help you become better at diverging thinking.

Enlist others

We’ve talked about it before… and it comes back again. Enlisting others is a great way to enrich your thinking process. When it comes to divergent thinking—i.e. finding all the possible root causes for your problem and/or all its potential solutions—you will benefit from enlisting people that have a knowledge and a thinking process different from yours.

There are many ways to enlist others, let’s talk about two: brainstorming and the Delphi method.

In brainstorming, you are going for quantity: how many answers can you find to your problem in a limited time? It usually works better when a moderator distributes the time and ensure that everyone feels safe to contribute. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably have to work extra hard to ensure that you have an environment that’s sufficiently open that everyone feels they don’t have any silly ideas (for instance, ensure there’s no feedback positive or negative, on any idea,). Brainstorming can be especially useful when you have a group of people that are not experts in the problem: they will probably provide more silliness, i.e. innovation, than so-called experts that are trained to think all in the same way.

In the Delphi method each participant writes individually her solution to the problem and her motivation. The facilitator then collects the answers and their motivations. The facilitator groups the various contributions to simplify their reading—without introducing any bias—and shares them back with the group, keeping them anonymous.

Next, the participants revise their solution, considering the views of their colleagues. The process continues iterating until convergence or until there is no further progress. The method works best when participants are experts in the subject. Keeping the participants anonymous helps eliminating the halo effect: the convergence of points of view towards that of the most renowned expert in the group.

A limitation of the method is the time it requires processing the answers, which can be time-consuming, especially if you have a large group.

Apply tricks

Whether you’re enlisting others or not, you can still boost your creativity by getting your brain out of its comfort zone.

One way to do so is to think about the opposite of your problem. What positively cannot be a root cause of your problem? What positively cannot be a potential solution for your problem? You will soon realize that even far-fetched factors can have an influence on it… and therefore should indeed be included in your logic tree.