Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is a fantastic year for you, your loved ones, and your colleagues.
In 2017 we developed several creativity and innovation programs for our clients. If you had to guess, what would you say is the biggest challenge for me as a facilitator in such programs?
It ISN’T getting people to understand and find value in a creative process like Design Thinking. They can feel the “magic” within a few hours.
It also isn’t getting people to acknowledge the value of creativity and innovation. Very few people would argue against that.
The single biggest challenge is to get people to change the way they think.
Two Types of Thinking
In Design Thinking or any creative process, you must engage in two types of thinking.
Type #1: You can call this Traditional Thinking. What is the goal? What is stopping us? What should we do about that? What would work? What wouldn’t work?
Traditional Thinking is primarily left-brain, result-oriented, critical thinking. It’s called “convergent thinking” by brain experts. Everyone in our programs is quite accustomed to this type of thinking.
Type #2: This is Divergent Thinking. What are all of the possibilities we could consider? What have we never tried before? What would be crazy and unique and fun?
This is right-brain, open and unrestricted, creative thinking. Most everyone in our programs is NOT used to engaging in this type of thinking for more than few minutes, especially at work.
I can use my trainer tricks to can get a group of results-oriented leaders, engineers, or sales people to understand the concept of Divergent Thinking, along with the meaning of its guiding principles. I can even get them to use creative problem solving tools based on divergent thinking to create a bunch of options before selecting the best ones. You’ve seen pictures of multi-colored Post-It notes on the wall of training rooms. That’s the result of Divergent Thinking and creative problem solving exercises.
But I can tell you, it’s a long, hard struggle to get these smart professionals to stick with Divergent Thinking for more than a few rounds. The application of divergent thinking rules is foreign to most people, as is the use of divergent thinking to solve problems. So the power of the old way of thinking always draws them back.
I have to use every trainer trick I know—coaching, reminding, joking, nagging,gamifying, recruiting helpers—just to keep them thinking divergently during a one or two day workshop.
Divergent Thinking’s Fight to Survive
I have empathy for our participants. I too was a 97% Convergent Thinker back in my corporate leadership days. I had targets to achieve, a team to lead, lots of stuff to get done. I would only get creative when my usual approach wasn’t bringing me the results I wanted. But even then, my process was to think of an idea and then immediately evaluate it. This is not Divergent Thinking, which requires us to do the work to generate lots of ideas before evaluating each one and selecting our favorites.
Who has time to engage in a long daydreaming session? Who has time to sit and fantasize about what might be possible? We might diverge for a few minutes, but then we’ve got to get back to e-mail and meetings.
Today’s complex business environment takes one’s full attention just to handle the issues and targets in front of us. True creativity is something we do “when we have time.”
But of course, we never have time.
How Do We Give Life to Divergent Thinking?
There are thousands of books written on this topic (here’s a really good one from one of my favorite authors: A Whole New Mind). I’ve read a lot of them, been through creativity and innovation trainer certification programs, learned from globally known experts.
My advice is based on what I learned through these activities, but even more so on what I’ve learned on the front lines of corporate innovation efforts.
Getting people to think creatively boils down to four actions:
1. Educate the Leaders:
Everyone follows the boss, particularly in this part of the world. If the boss doesn’t “get” divergent thinking and promote it, nobody who wants to keep her job will spend company time on it. So the first thing to do is to make sure your company’s leaders are knowledgeable about how to use Divergent Thinking to produce value
2. Spend Time on It:
If Divergent Thinking and Creativity aren’t on the agenda, they won’t happen. I’ve personally witnessed companies boost their innovation prowess and results by consciously investing time and money in a series of creativity programs, projects, and other interventions. It can’t just be a slogan, a core value, or an intention. You have to get serious about it or nothing happens.
3. Incentivize It:
People who come up with wild new ideas that they shape into actual, high-value solutions need to be recognized and rewarded. Make creative people the heroes of the organization, invite others to join them, and you’ll change your culture.
4.Make it Work for You：
Nothing motivates like success. But success in using a new tool doesn’t happen overnight. The concept of “small wins” is helpful here. You’ve got find a way to make Divergent Thinking pay off in a visible way in order to get buy in and learn.
Divergent Thinking does not meet the standard definition of efficient. The irony is that it is usually moreeffective than traditional ways of thinking, but because it takes a bit more investment up front it isn’t as popular as it could be.
An Introduction to Design Thinking
Thanks for reading,