Divergent thinking, convergent thinking, the right way of thinking for innovation. But what is the right ratio?

Successful innovation at any level in any field depends upon skillful performance in two critical mental abilities – divergent thinking and convergent thinking. The optimum ratio of the two thinking processes differs greatly across different occupations and organizational functions.

Let’s first define these abilities.

Divergent thinking means expanding your thoughts and developing options in many different directions: searching for new trends, problems, possibilities & opportunities for change, defining problems from different angles, looking for different facts and points of view and even seeking out options and alternatives when it seems that none exist. Divergence skill requires letting ideas come to light in the absence of criticism and instant over-analysis. Deferring judgment enables you to pursue directions you didn’t think possible.

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking means narrowing the focus, carefully selecting the best options to take forward, and importantly always with an open mind.

When a group is charged with evaluating a wide array of options and possibilities, the ability to hold off premature judgment, to listen carefully, to clarify and respect what others are saying and to apply unbiased criteria, is of paramount importance. Removing misunderstandings, assumptions, hidden motives, or ego enables the group to zero in on the options that everyone believes are important and be committed to them. We call these “best bets”.

But what is the right ratio of divergent and convergent thinking in innovation?
What’s the right amount of time to devote to each? We have found that higher ratios are typical in work classified as more problem finding in nature, such as researchers and academics or professors. More of their time is devoted to long range work with accomplishments occurring longer time frames, perhaps in years, developing new theories and questions for exploration.

Lower ratios are found in work classified as more solution implementation in nature, such as manufacturing production, sales, and logistics. More of their time is devoted to short term achievements: They know by the end of the day or week how successful they were in meeting a goal or installing a new procedure.

Moderate ratios are found in work classified as more problem solving in nature, such as marketing, advertising agency and nonprofit organization administration. Perhaps more of their time is devoted to launching and testing new programs and initiatives whose success may be measured in say, months or semesters.

In summation, successful innovation is dependent on quality divergent thinking balanced with quality convergent thinking at every step of the innovation process with judgment managed consistently throughout.

The exact nature of the balance depends on the field of work

For more specific details, field research identifying optimum divergent
/convergent ratios for different jobs in different industries can be found in the Creativity Research Journal, Vol 8, (1), pp 63 – 75):DOWNLOAD HERE Optimal ideation-evaluation ratios.

Convergent thinking – the other half of innovation

Successful innovation relies not only on skillful divergent thinking – the generation of fresh opportunities, possibilities, ideas, and options – but equally on skillful convergent thinking – the analysis,  evaluation,  selection  and  development of the best ones to put into action.

High quality convergent thinking requires special collaborative and open-minded behaviors to help teams avoid premature judgments, listen carefully, engage in open-ended, respectful discussion and reach real agreement. Ultimately, the goal of innovation is to act, and to get something new and valuable accomplished. If teammates do not agree (or fully understand what they are agreeing on), buy-in is undermined, and the likelihood of successful implementation of a new solution is greatly reduced.

 Here are some of these special behaviors:

Evaluate with an open mind

When evaluating, stay open-minded and receptive. Allow everyone equal time to share their views, explain the options they prefer, and what they consider most important and why. Listen carefully to their reasoning and ask for clarification if needed. Make your selections only when everyone is happy their views have received a good hearing. This ensures agreement, consensus and commitment is reached across the whole team.

Accept ambiguity

Nothing is black and white. It’s perfectly possible to hold conflicting opinions – in fact it’s healthy to do so. Aim to view things from every side. Keep your thinking open by considering ideas for what they can offer, not for what they don’t. Try replacing a “we can’t because” approach with a “How might we?” assessment. Be willing to share half a thought, in the hope of inspiring new discussion.

No voting

When evaluating options and ideas to move forward with, avoid voting. Voting immediately shuts down discussion on the actual merits of an option and prevents further constructive thinking. It also creates a win/lose dynamic that torpedoes teamwork and collaboration.

Communicate simply and clearly

Good converging requires good communication. Avoid jargon and big words, and try to speak in fully thought-out, clear sentences, to avoid the likelihood of multiple interpretations and confusion. Never assume “Oh, we all know what that means.” Don’t be afraid to speak up when you’re not sure what is being said or have a question. Be patient and make sure everyone understands, to provide solid groundwork for the rest of the innovation process.

Trust yourself, instead of following the crowd

The desire to conform is strong. In a group situation, especially when converging, there is a temptation to agree with other people’s points of view, let them monopolize the discussion and refrain from putting yourself forward. But when you do that, the team loses your unique voice and your contribution to its innovative power. Never assume you are wrong just because your idea is different. Stay focused on what matters – bringing your own valuable perspective to the table.

Be patient, greatness takes time

Throughout the innovation process, give yourself time. Don’t make snap decisions and harsh judgments, don’t jump steps in the process, and give your decisions the importance they deserve. Listen well and focus. At every step, follow the 50/50 rule: devote 50% of your time to quality divergent thinking and 50% to quality convergent. Create first, evaluate second.

Always leave with a plan of action

The best solutions will count for nothing if they are never put into action. So, never leave a meeting without a plan of action. Pin down concrete steps specifying what will be done, how it will be done, by whom, when and where. This eliminates barriers to getting started and ultimately, getting finished.

Field research considering factors involved in skillful group evaluation of ideas and the importance of skill in yielding high quality innovative solutions can be found here: Basadur, M.S., Basadur, T.M. and Beuk, F.  (2014). Facilitating high quality idea evaluation using telescoping. In: Wirtschaftspsychologie (Business Creativity) 16 (2), pp.59-71

Basadur Launches Simplexity Innovative Thinking Skills Certification Webinar

Innovative thinking and the ability to collaborate with others are among the top non- technical abilities reported as vital for 21st-century careers and for organizational competitiveness.  Innovative thinking is based on four fundamental skills and like all skills, they can be learned and developed to a very high level. 

The application of these skills can significantly contribute to innovation and creativity for any organization.

With the Simplexity Innovation Thinking Skills Certification, these essential thinking skills will become internalized, leading to the successful engagement of Simplexity’s innovation process and resulting in the development of good solutions for an organization’s thorniest problems.

The webinar presents a safe learning experience where you will gain a thorough understanding of the Simplexity Innovation Thinking Skills  with supporting scientific research.  The webinar is experiential and all registrants benefit from consistent engagement in the program.  Upon completion, you will be certified to apply the skills and engage others in the Simplexity Innovation Thinking Skills.

No prerequisite is required to attend. Contact Us To Learn More


Our Colleague, Garry Gelade

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

One of the very best things about what we do at Basadur Applied Innovation is that we get to meet and collaborate with special people, people who in their own way make the world a much better place. Garry Gelade, our dear friend, colleague and mentor, who passed away on July 5th, 2020, is one of the best examples of this fact. Beyond our sadness over his passing, it has been difficult to write this because of the myriad different ways in which Garry was so special. 

He was a truly unique individual whose varied accomplishments and interests made him more fascinating as relationships deepened and the longer you knew him and the more you found out about him. This may be the best succinct description of him: “An amazing, positive and interesting person.” 

He was a devout Buddhist who believed that it is important to “understand the nature of the world, otherwise people will be wanting and expecting things that are just not in accordance with the way things are, and they won’t be able to understand why.” It’s fair to say that this belief guided his work as a master statistician, in that he wanted his work be useful to people trying t make an impact. He also had a very curious nature and applied his expertise in whatever endeavors appealed to him, so his impact was made in some very different fields.

Early in his career in psychology, Garry co-authored with Anne Treisman foundational research on human perception that continues to influence the field of cognitive psychology. Later, in 2010, Garry argued persuasively that the Journal of Occupational Organizational Psychology become more relevant to practitioners by focusing more on research questions of interest to practitioners and to increase the analysis of practical implications in the discussion section.

Beyond the field of psychology, Garry played a pioneering, seminal role in sports analytics for Chelsea Football Club, and later consulted with Paris St. Germaine and Real Madrid football clubs, and was considered by many to be the elder statesman of football analytics. In each of these examples Garry’s goal was to make clear through data the way things actually are so that those involved could make a real positive impact.

We like to think that this, the desire to make a positive impact, is why Garry reached out to us in 1994 and remained a colleague, collaborator, mentor and friend until the very end: That he believed that our training and facilitation truly makes a positive impact on the creativity and innovativeness of the people and organizations we work with, and that the data bears this out.

As a colleague and collaborator, Garry contributed greatly to Basadur Applied Creativity’s development and scientific foundation, and to our ability to explain the underpinnings of what we do and how it works to make individuals and teams more creative and innovative.

As a friend and mentor, the memories and stories we have of Garry and how much he meant to us are too many to mention (despite their typically being an ocean between us!). We spent many days writing and collaborating on research in his flat in St. John’s Wood, right near Abbey Road in London (we even ran into Paul McCartney once, in a restaurant one Sunday morning pushing a baby carriage!), or in London, Birmingham or Wolverhampton or Florida at training workshops, or even in Oklahoma City presenting a paper on the predictive validity of the Profile at the Southwestern Academy of Management (Garry figured out how to analyze all of the data we collected from the “Like to do/Don’t Like to Do” Profile quadrant exercises in our workshops). There isn’t a single instance during these times that was not fun, no matter what we were doing.

We had a chance to talk to him in his last days. He made it easier for us being a devout Buddhist and his belief of “living in the present” was always at the forefront. He will be greatly missed and with heavy hearts we bid him farewell.

Please see below the login details of the webcast of his funeral.

Also attached is his obituary. Min & Tim Basadur

Managing for Diversity and Inclusion in our Climate of Change

This post is brought to you by our partners at Leadershipdialogues.com and we are proud to share.

The recent protests in the streets show us that people really want to be heard and included in how we run things.  These desires can’t help but spill over into organizational life. Leaders will now need to hear the voices of those who before now have not felt empowered to speak.

So what can effective leaders do?

Creating awareness that minority employees feel marginalized is an important first step.  In the past, these employees have experienced some voices being listened to more than others. They have also experienced being excluded from decisions which often seem to be made by a select group of people who are not very diverse.

But creating awareness is not sufficient according to research by the  Neuroleadership Institute on Diversity and Inclusion. If training focuses only on what people should or should not say to be culturally sensitive or politically correct, this can backfire.  People may feel threatened and worried that they may say the wrong thing, retreat, and become disengaged,  

A different approach is to create diverse and inclusive teams who are given important meaningful problems to solve with common objectives with their different perspectives.   Research has found that teams that lack diversity are more comfortable working together but teams of diverse members perform better, despite having a less comfortable experience. But research also has proven that they need a common process to guide their problem solving as a unit. This is because each individual has their own unique process of tackling a problem, without understanding their teammates’ approaches. They have to synchronize their approaches using the process to collaborate effectively and begin creating a culture of diversity and inclusion

For the last 40 years, Basadur Applied Innovation has successfully brought its Simplexity Thinking methodology to create diverse experiences, perspectives, and cognitive styles to solve organizations’ most pressing problems.  A simple example is their Fact-Finding process in which all team members offer their answers to these six questions.  All answers are accepted without judgment and evaluation is applied afterwards.

1. What do you know, or think you know about this fuzzy situation?

2. What don’t you know, but you’d like to know?

3. Why is this a problem for you? Why can’t you make it go away?

4. What have you thought of or already tried?

5. If this problem were to be resolved, what would you have that you don’t

have now?

6. What might you be assuming that you don’t have to assume?

Team members almost always report that these questions open up new ways of looking at the problem they are trying to solve and important perspectives they hadn’t considered. In essence, they are also dispelling some biases they may have had based on limited experience.

After all the answers are exhausted, collaborative evaluation begins. The team proceeds through a “telescoping” process in which each member chooses the few answers seen as most important.  Then each member gives voice to why they made those choices. Finally, the group works together to select the critical few answers to explore further. In telescoping, everyone shares the options they most prefer and explains why. Everyone actively listens with an open mind and asks for clarification as needed. Often people say things like “Oh, now I understand what you meant and why you picked it!”. This leads to brand new options emerging even while evaluation is underway. Another good thing about telescoping is that everyone believes their views received a good hearing. This creates consensus and commitment.

Simply using this process in meetings can lead to the possibility of more innovative solutions and a sense of arriving at them together.

How might you try this out with your own teams and see what can happen?