Divergent thinking — from design technique to a multidisciplinary tool

Divergent thinking has been a core technique of good ideation in the design and creative industries for as long as I can remember. But there’s still a lot of potential to expand these techniques further and add value to other disciplines such as sales and operations. Recently I had the chance to explore first-hand how divergent thinking techniques can be applied to fields other than design.

Divergent thinking at SEEK

When I was at university, during an advertising and media class, I still remember a professor emphasising the importance of dismissing your first idea or approach. The aim being, to force you to push your creativity further and explore all possible solutions to a problem. While the rule seems very simple it was an effective technique to increase your creative output and the likelihood of finding a better solution to a problem.

While that rule is still a great habit, things have come a long way when it comes to divergent thinking. Most people in the creative and design industries have been using better divergent thinking techniques every day.

At SEEK we’re often trying to solve complex problems, whether it’s in the area of product design or sales strategy and operations. We like to cross-pollinate our knowledge and techniques to the broader business. Recently, SEEK ran an internal Careers Fest where teams were exposed to different areas of the business. One of the workshops was about divergent thinking and it was developed by the UX & Design team at SEEK and led by Cam Rogers and Scott Lacey.

Following the initial session I ran a follow-up workshop with the sales teams in our WA and SA offices with the aim of empowering them to incorporate divergent thinking design technique in their everyday work.

The divergent thinking technique — 6-Up to 1-UP

At SEEK we have use 6-UP to 1-UP templates to sketch UI & product design ideas. This helps us explore an array of solutions quickly.

6-UP template (left) and 1-UP template (right).

It’s a structured framework that goes along these lines:

  1. Consider the challenge
  2. Diverge by spending 10 minutes drafting 6 different ideas (6-UP template)
  3. Present each idea for a minute and seek feedback
  4. Converge by developing the most promising idea further
  5. Diverge again (1-UP template)
  6. Converge by presenting, or consider further and seek out feedback.

At this point you will have very quickly:

  • grown your first idea into a number of ideas
  • received some early feedback and
  • increased your likelihood of ending up with a better solution.
Translating divergent thinking techniques from design team to Sales team at SEEK

The great thing about divergent thinking is that it’s not about design, it’s about ideation. So regardless of the discipline, generating ideas in this structured way can be useful for all sorts of things.

During our workshop we discussed examples of how the framework can be used in a different context.

Let’s imagine the challenge is not a product design one but instead it’s about understanding and communicating a solution to an external client. Using the 6-UP to 1-UP process helps you diverge your first idea while also getting input from peers where applicable. Imagine 6 sketches for 6 different approaches when framing an email or proposal to a client. Then you get feedback on them and converge to the most promising approach very quickly. This increases your divergent thinking and increases the likelihood of a better result.

So a conceptual approach for our translated framework would be:

  1. Consider the challenge
  2. Diverge by spending 10 minutes typing out 6 approaches with key points
  3. Converge by considering each idea for a minute and seek feedback
  4. Diverge again by developing the most promising approach
  5. Converge by considering further and seeking feedback

Now you can feel confident that you have explored and thought through the best way to communicate this key conversation with your client.

While divergent thinking is not a design-only practice, it’s commonly used in the design and creative industries. But there is the potential to use these techniques elsewhere. Also, teaching people to incorporate and internalise this new way of thinking provides them with a distinct advantage. Now, when I recall my Uni professor & her “dismiss your first idea”, I really appreciate the learnings behind it. It’s about pushing your thinking further in order to increase your value and also the quality of your outputs.

I’d be interested to hear if this has helped you solve problems in areas other than design. Let me know how it goes…

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