Ideation = Both Divergence and Convergence

This week we came across an article that had several of us shaking our heads. Titled "Please Stop Ideating," the article seems to criticize the ideation process:

"Let’s face it, ideation is fun. It’s a taste of freedom away from the constraints of an everyday job, and it can feel pretty exhilarating. And yet an ideation-fest invariably creates an illusion of generating new ideas that’s followed by disappointment when it becomes clear that none are actually being developed.  [...]

And it gets worse. Not only might an ideation session fail to improve innovation, it can actually impede the process. Many times I’ve witnessed leadership teams leaving these sessions confused by all the additional new product ideas they need to consider."

And there, my friends, is the problem. When divergence is performed alone, without the convergence, of course you run into trouble. Too often ideation is regarded as only divergence, when that's only half the battle. When you end after the first stage, you only have half-baked ideas without much there yet.

Ideas To Go Creative Process Diagram

In fact, ideation should equal both divergence and convergence. I believe in this so strongly that I consider divergence without convergence to be ideation malpractice. 

Here is the Diamond model depicting our ideation process. The top half shows the divergence process, which gets you to lots of possibilites—but that's only half way. The second half, convergence—when you select the best ideas to move forward and refine—is when the real work begins. 

The truth is, there are lots of companies that can do ideation—it's really not that hard. What's hard is doing it with a strategic focus, and continuing the process—converging—until you have polished, refined results. 

We choose to go for quantity in the initial divergence stage because—to put it in a baseball analogy—you need a lot of at-bats to get a hit, and a lot of hits to get a home run.   

Convergence means that—even once you've hit the home run—you have to leave home plate and run the bases. The hit doesn't count until you complete the diamond. 

So when you're looking for a partner for an innovation session, don't ask if they're good at ideation—ask if they're good at convergence. That's how you'll know you'll walk out happily, with good content to take home—and further refine.

(By the way, you can check out a few of the home runs we helped with here.)

Christine Haskins is a Principal Innovation Process Facilitator, iCoN® Panel Director, and VP of Customer Experience at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

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Emeritus Facilitator Christine Haskins

Christine Haskins is an Emeritus Facilitator and Former Vice President of Customer Experience at Ideas To Go. She worked with customer-centered innovation for Fortune 500 companies across all market categories and industries.