Facilitating Idea Generation — Divergence and Convergence

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I read a great snippet today that said “Innovation is 10% idea generation and 90% process.” I have found, in my work as an innovation strategist and facilitator, that this statement is 100% true! That has inspired me to discuss the Diamond Innovation Process.

Click on the following link to see a chart of the process: Diamond Innovation Process

There are two main components to the idea generation process. The first is the expansion phase, also referred to as the divergent thinking phase. This is where the facilitator helps the group explore lots of territory where ideas might be uncovered. The goal of this phase is to generate lots of ideas around a clearly articulated problem or opportunity. The second phase is the convergence phase. This is the phase where the facilitator takes the group through a process to hone down the ideas and select those that are most likely to solve the problem or best address the opportunity.

The graphic attached called “The Diamond Innovation Process” depicts these two processes in a diamond shape. In the diamond shape, both processes have equal weight — the top triangle is the expansion (divergence) phase and the bottom triangle is the convergence phase. This is not always the case in reality! Teams will often spend the majority of their time on the divergence process and save ten minutes (if any time at all!) at the end for the convergence process. Ultimately, this does not produce the best result. Particularly when problems are complex, multi-faceted or mission critical, teams most likely need to spend at least as much time on convergence as they do on divergence.

Each of these phases has multiple steps as follows:

Expansion phase:

Step 1: Clearly identify the issue that is to be addressed with the innovation process

Step 2: Immersion: Explore information relevant to the problem. This could be trends, current operating environment, market research, competitive data, etc. — specific information that helps to shed light on the issue being explored.

Step 3: Identify opportunity areas: The team identifies buckets, called “opportunity areas” where a solution may be found. For an innovation session focusing on introducing a new snack product the opportunity areas might be “healthy snacking”, “kid focused snacks”, “snacking for energy”, and “indulgent snacks.”

Step 4: Idea Generation: For each of the opportunity areas, the faciltiator leads the team through idea generation techniques to help uncover new possibilities. During this process, the rules of brainstorming apply (see my post on “Setting the Stage” for some effective rules). As you move through the idea generation, new ideas become harder to find and the facilitator must be prepared with exercises that stimulate the group’s thinking. This is often when the best new ideas are born!

The Convergence Phase:

Step one: Setting criteria – the group works together to set the criteria for how ideas will be selected to move forward to the next step. These might include “fits with the brand” and “is unique in the category.” At this stage, be careful not to narrow the sieve too much or you may lose some great ideas before they get a chance to be explored.

Step two: Idea Selection — using a variety of convergence techniques (I’ll talk about these in another post), the facilitator helps the group narrow down the number of ideas to a manageable number. This will include voting, combining like ideas and championing favorite ideas. Championing favorite ideas is important so that the consensus oriented process doesn’t drive out really creative, unique (but sometimes difficult) ideas.

Step three: Synthesis/Discussion – the team comes to agreement on the ideas that will move forward into concept research or whatever the next step of your process will be.  The group provides definition around each of the lead ideas — perhaps, at this stage, creating concept outlines that can be written into concepts for the research step.

Step four: Research Preparation– this is the process where the new concepts are finalized and the research parameters are identified. Parameters include the key objectives of the research, the audience to test with, the screening criteria and the survey or discussion guide.

With this BRIEF description (I know, that’s funny!) you can see how process is 90% of the innovation process and ideas are 10%. Effective idea generation requires strong process for both the expansion and convergence processes. These two phases are equally important to the innovation process. You can generate lots and lots of ideas, but without structure and process for evaluating them they remain only ideas.

— Cindy Diamond, Principal Diamond Marketing Solutions & IGNiTE

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2 thoughts on “Facilitating Idea Generation — Divergence and Convergence

  1. I’m enjoying your facilitation write-ups – quick and clear. The process described above reminds me of Kaner’s description of moving into and out of the groan zone (in The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making).

    Also really like the collage idea (in the vision post) for creating a BHAG – a great way to have people using more than one side of their brain as they go into the visioning process.

  2. its awesome well, will u please tell me “what is meant by divergent and convergent thinking process,which of these processes is essential to built self management skills?” i want decription on this topic ,will you send me the answer of this question?

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