Dear Colleagues,

Diverging and dreaming outside the engineering box is a key attribute of innovation and creativity. A critical part of the creative process is to diverge from the initial concept – moving out from the initial point and examining the problem from many different directions (many probably hopelessly ludicrous and foolish as Steve Jobs remarked); branching out, discovering new ideas and then refining these different approaches.

Converge Creatively
Once you have a whole heap of solutions to your problem or design; the issue is then to converge to a solution by eliminating approaches which are not going to work effectively.

You may need to move between diverging and converging approaches many times until you refine your solution to arrive at a functioning product (or service).

Apply this to Next Presentation
One area where we are constantly creating and being reasonably creative is in presentations. Most of the time; we put a ferocious amount of effort into creating a sequence of slides and then re-arranging them to try and putting them into some logical order. Then we deliver the presentation with gay abandon. Often the slides and presentation are disorganized, clunky and confusing. People are not quite sure what you are trying to tell them and what you want them to do.

Diverge and Converge with your Next Presentation
A good strategy with your next presentation is collect all your ideas on separate pieces of paper (or electronically) in such a way that you can easily move them around. Put only one idea on each piece of paper.

Then rearrange the pieces of paper into:

  • Introduction of idea
  • What is the Benefit in going through this
  • The Key Ideas
  • Concluding Points and Summary
  • Call To Action

Eliminate any superfluous or irrelevant information.

This Approach Works Well in a Team
If you’ve ever watched a BBC TV (generally fictitious) crime investigation; you will see how they enhance the creativity of the team of detectives. Every bit of information or observation (and picture) gets pinned to a whiteboard and then the entire team trys to work out the sequence of events and the linkages between the individual elements. You can do the same with a team presentation. Take all the individual contributions for the proposed presentation on (sticky yellow) pieces of paper and put them up prominently on the whiteboard for all to see and critique and then try and sequence them logically as noted above.

Naturally you will have to throw away dysfunctional or irrelevant information and content. This does sometimes require a clinical approach but shouldn’t detract from your overall creativity.

As George Lois rightly says:

Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.

Thanks to Susan de la Vergne of the IEEE for a thought provoking discussion on the importance of divergence and convergence in creating a product or service.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve