Diverging into new ideas
Innovation is today’s buzz word. The storyline is that innovation is necessary in this day and age. Companies have to innovate to withstand the ever increasing global competition. New business models emerge all the time, and before you know it, you’re outdated and out of business. That’s the scary part of this story. But you also have to innovate to make your business more profitable, increase your market share or to keep in tune with the current way your customers want to do business.
But I don’t want to talk about the benefits of innovation. The 7 Guiding Principles of Insights & Data, as presented by Capgemini, give more than enough reasons why you should, or must, innovate with digital data. There are also plenty of articles and blog posts on how to enrich use cases to make the innovations tangible and realistic. And there are plenty of methods on how to select the most profitable, feasible and realistic use cases to go for.
So let’s talk about how we create those innovative use cases ourselves. In industrial design, and design thinking, diverging and converging is one of the principles used. This is part of Design Thinking and the Delft Design Approach.
Converging is used for generating ideas. Every problem or challenge has several solutions, and during idea generation the objective is to generate as many different ideas as possible. Don’t start evaluating and selecting ideas right away, but let them season. Work on them until they mature with enough detail.
During divergence we are creating choices, and during convergence we are making choices. For people who are looking to have a good sense of the answer, or at least a previous example of one before they start divergence, this can be frustrating. It almost feels like you are going backwards and getting further away from the answer but this is the essence of creativity.
Divergence needs to feel optimistic, exploratory and experimental but it often feels foggy to people who are more used to operating on a plan. Divergence has to be supported by the culture.
In IT, designers and analysts often think that there is one best solution to a given problem. But that one solution is mostly a solution that the designer has used before and was successful, or a solution that has been earmarked as common practice, or a solution that has always been employed within an organization. “That’s the way we do things over here.” But these solutions are hardly innovative, because innovation is about doing things differently. Better, faster, cheaper, may be. But we can only establish those qualities when we have evaluated multiple alternatives. So we first have to create those alternative solutions. If you’re willing to invest time and money in developing new ideas, you can become innovative.
Divergent thinking is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation. – Tim Brown’s Change By Design
Let me give you a simple example: I know people who go to the same destination every summer holidays. They probably like it there because they know the surroundings, the accommodation and even the people. This can be very comforting and well, you know what you’ll get. I, on the other hand, want to see new places and meet new people. I run the risk that I’ll end up in a place that didn’t meet the expectations, but that’s not what I want to explain. I’ll have to spend a lot more time finding possible places I can go to, research what those places have to offer me and then selecting the right destination. Going to the same place would save me the hassle. But this hassle is necessary to find new interesting places I’ve never heard about before. You’ll have to do it; otherwise you’ll never venture off the beaten track.
I hope this sheds some light on why it’s necessary to generate new ideas in order to become innovative. Without these new ideas, we will not be able to disrupt our organization. Diverging, that is generating multiple alternatives for a given problem, may be time consuming, but it’s worth the effort. Creating and exploring multiple solutions will give you the chance of selecting the best one. And the best one is the only good one.
In part 2 (available from May 27, 2016) I’ll discuss one of the many techniques you can use to diverge your thinking by answering the “Why” question in innovations.