Diverge, Converge, and Repeat
If I were to roll up the things I’ve learned into high-level concepts, I think one of them might be, mindset, defined as: the way you intentionally prepare for, and approach, a contextual period of time. What filters do you have at the ready? Are you prepared to be overtly emotional, or defensive or aggressive or curious or passive? Our reactional self, for sure, will have something to say as things happen, but I do believe there is utility in setting your own expectations going into any situation.
It’s useful to take just a few minutes to think about a situation – it might be a meeting, or a place I’m going to – to think about what my mindset might need to be. What should I be prepared for, and how might I respond to those things?
There’s a core practice in Design Thinking that is really all about mindset. If you’re unfamiliar with Design Thinking in general, I can’t recommend enough, Stephen Gates’ 3-episode podcast series on his process of it. Even though I may not carry out the entire process on a regular basis, it is full of concepts that can be broken out into a lot of everyday tasks.
For this post, I want to focus in quickly on one of those concepts of having a divergent or convergent mindset.
When you first are looking to generate ideas or tap into creativity, you should put yourself in a divergent mindset. This means that the boundaries – your limits, constraints, tethers – are all not allowed to be a part of the session. You are able to place the problem in an open, safe space and examine it from all possible perspectives that you can think up. The goal is more to explore the landscape of the problem, and uncover many possible paths, even those that may dead-end, than it is to find the path.
Separate from that divergent, blue-sky session, comes a time to be critical with all you’ve uncovered. Why won’t these things work? What are the risks, efforts, technical debts to take on in this idea? convergent thinking is about focusing a broad blurry vision into a clearer picture. You see the wrinkles and cracks take shape, as well as the beauty and elegance of the ideas that end up being worthy of further effort.
Separating these two mindsets is invaluable. You may think you can do them together, but they are in direct opposition to each other, and will limit your ability to quickly explore new ideas and possibilities. If you’re having this session with multiple people, it’s also powerful to align on the expectations that everyone adopt this mindset, cutting through the mental red-tape that holds folks back from contributing.
Finally, repeat the process. Doing it once may work a bit, but you tend to see the the value in intentionally switching between these mindsets multiple times over many sessions. You will bring new insights to your diverging sessions that you uncovered when you last converged, and vice versa. As you hone in on a solution your sessions may get quicker and you may do less work in each mindset, but you will be left with a direction that you can confidently pursue.