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Divergent and convergent thinking for more effective problem solving

I spoke in one of my recent videos about "junbi" – the concept of preparation and its importance. And I would like to look at the problem-solving process from precisely the preparation perspective. 

I’m a big fan of problem-solving. There are so many ways to approach a problem. Let’s be aware that sometimes our problem can be just worrying about it (which can be a more serious problem than the problem itself), or you may be focusing on the wrong aspect of the challenge. Sometimes you may be simply not using the right tool to solve a given problem.

You would probably agree that we don’t know what we don’t know. Let me quickly show you how you can use this simple rule in your everyday thinking and problem-solving.

Say, you’re stuck with a decision. For example, you need to communicate something difficult to a team member, but you don’t know how and if it’s the right thing to do, and you are a bit anxious what to do. The more you think about, the more you don’t know what to do and whether the solution you’ve come up with is the right one.  You end up procrastinating and never doing it in the end but are struggling to come to terms with the issue as you haven’t resolved it.

I want you to go back to the drawing board and think differently. I want you to start considering as many options as possible. The purpose is to snap out of the pattern recognition way of thinking. To let your brain explore some new pathways and come up with more options.

You will probably have heard that our brain is a pattern recognition system. What it means is that it focuses on the familiar, so effectively, you will be naturally drawn to the same solutions that you have tried before over and over again. The trouble is, this situation is different, and the circumstances are as well. So yes, using the same solution as previously is an option, but just an option. So give yourself and your brain an opportunity to run free for a bit, be creative and say come up with 10 options before you decide on one. These options can be crazy, clever, silly and unrealistic – the sky is the limit. You’re not looking at solutions at this point, just options. And you’re exercising your brain at the same time by using creative, so divergent, thinking. It’s just a little warm-up for the brain.

A word of warning – this may feel silly at first. That’s because you’re trying something new and your brain is telling you it already knows it all and how to solve it, and this is a waste of time. And it’s silly. And that’s because it may be because you’re doing something out of your comfort zone. Don’t listen to it and do try to work on this from out of your comfort zone. 

Now, once you’ve come up with, say 5-10 options, it’s time to prioritise these options. Which one is the easiest? Which one is the quickest? Which one will make the biggest impact? You can use the prioritisation grid here, which is going to look like this. It is obviously subjective how we understand impact, what is easier for us and what skills we already have that we can use to our advantage in handling this situation. It will also depend on our values.

This process of diverging and then converging your thinking should make your solutions more accurate and effective once you’ve gone through the process of thinking creatively. You can apply this divergent / convergent thinking to any dilemma in your life to produce more creative solutions. 

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