Sunday, April 08, 2012

Divergent thinking

Dear Readers,

I would like to resume my blog today with an Easter egg. 

I stumbled upon this talk given by Tina Seelig about Divergent Thinking and related subjects.

Divergent thinking, when combined with convergent thinking results into Design Thinking.


Design Thinking is what is needed to create new things and change the world. Sometimes people only see the "convergent" side of this process, because they can only see the result of it. Instead, ideas generation is the most challenging part and often hidden. Even Steve Jobs, before getting it right, have explored plenty of designs he did not hesitate to throw away if they did not meet his standards. 

Nobody get it right from the beginning. But everybody is able to explore the search space of ideas. But also people are afraid to explore this, possibly large, space because they can get lost. Moreover, many assume that sharing one idea means believing that the idea is the best or the right one from the perspective of who generated it. This a wrong assumption. Generated ideas are not right or good. They are just ideas... that need to be validated. Ideas are assumptions, and assumptions need to be validated. Only after this process, one can say if they are good or bad. If you don't do that, you are simply biased. 

This is where convergent thinking unfortunately kick off prematurely. Once an idea is generated, instead of taking position in favor or against it, one should think about how to validate it with a neutral standpoint. Validating, means setup experiments and put the idea at work. Sometimes is very straightforward and brainstorming might be sufficient. Some other times, it can be very challenging and it would require a complex experiment.

In no case, an idea should be classified immediately as a non-sense. Moreover, ideas can be tweaked and made feasible and valuable just by changing the some assumptions that don't work. That is "morphing". As I said before, nobody get it right from the beginning, but there is a high chance that they get it "almost" right.

Another situation is when some assumptions are believed to be validated and in fact they are not. When implemented, these ideas fail just because some of their assumptions were believed true and in reality they were not (e.g. customers like it because I like it). In these situations, one has to have the courage to throw away work done and start from the beginning. This is called "pivoting". 

In my opinion, if pivoting is required often later in the process of developing an idea, it means that too little has been done in the "divergent" phase of design. In other words, ideas were not explored adequatelly.

In the divergeng phase, one can use the "re-framing" technique. This is when, one tries to see things from different perspectives. The idea can be the same, but you look at it in a different way. You do this when you say "let's see this as it was that". In other words, you can use different metaphors.

As pointed out by Tina Seelig, metaphors are a very powerful tool to change perspective. Metaphors are orthogonal to ideas. Of course, adding an additional dimension makes the process more complex and difficult to manage. However, the chances to find the best idea are higher. 

Dealing with metaphors requires to see things differently. If you see ideas differently, the assumptions might change and turn out to be validated. This is something we do for instance when we change market segments or consider a different use of a product. Well, in reality we don't do this, our users do. Yes, because they are not biased like us by "convergent" thinking: they are naturally "divergent". 

That is why, "validated learning" is very helpful. Validated learning is a technique promoted by the Lean Startup Model proposed by Eric Ries. The idea is that assumptions are validated through the building of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP)t that users can test and provide feedback to. Then you learn by measuring the feedback and then iterate the process by integrating what is learned in the next version of the MVP. 

To conclude this post, I would like to stress that being a Design Thinker might be challenging if you work with "convergent" thinkers. They tend to see in black and white whereas you see colors. They see one dimension where you see two (like in Flatland). They blame you to bring distraction where they need focus. They see threats where you see opportunities. And most of all, they fear "pivoting" because they have focused so much energy in developing one single idea that throwing it away would represent a big failure for them. 

Design thinkers know that faillure is the only way to success and they are just fine with it. For 100 bad ideas there might be a good one. They know that the only way to seize it is to rule out the other 99.

So don't be disappointed if you don't find what you expected in the Easter egg.

Happy Easter to everybody!