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.
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.
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