Observations 001: Is Divergence the Key to Insight?

This post is really a question based on limited observations I have made while facilitating Design Thinking sessions. It would be great to work with someone in the academic world to research if this is really true (hint, hint).

Recently, I was working with a software company to design entirely new division of their company. We started at 9am and the participants were all Vice Presidents or more senior members of the company as well as external partners. We went through multiple different divergence exercises, including Visual Risk Assessment of their Business Model Canvas, SWOT Analysis, Innovation Sectors (to be discussed in a future post), etc. We conducted these divergence exercises for 6 hours when suddenly a few of the participants jumped up and proclaimed, “Aha!”. From this point, we designed the offerings of the new division in about 30 minutes. In the following hour, we developed a game plan for these offerings as well as business support requirements for the next 6-9 months. In addition, these offerings were very different from what the participants believed would be the results before the session occurred.

I have to admit that I had not previously drawn out divergence exercises for such a long period, because normally the participants get restless after 2-3 hours. Participants often get worried that we are not going to find solutions and the day will be considered a waste of time. Even I was becoming a little concerned by the amount of time the exercises were taking on this occasion, but fortunately, it all worked out very successfully and the client was really happy.

Based on this session and others, I am beginning to believe that Divergence may be the key to insight. While it is important to have convergence methods in place in order to ensure the take-aways are actionable and comprehensive, I am beginning to believe that the lack of sufficient time for divergence is a chronic problem in most organizations. It is the push for quick results, without time for understanding the larger environment of a problem, that is fundamental to the amount of failure in new business initiatives, regardless as to whether they are product, message, business model, strategy, etc. Allowing time for a diverse group to see the big picture allows them to begin to see the connections possible.

I would like to leave this post open for comment but would like to add a couple of thoughts in question form:

Would this have not been as successful if the people in the room were not at the top of the org chart?

Did I just get lucky, multiple times?

Your thoughts?


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