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Evangelist’s Toolkit: Facilitating the Conversation

Submitted by on October 9, 2008 – 7:18 amOne Comment

Here is one of the  tools that I use to help mobilize energy and stay on a productive path during an engagement:

Divergent thinking describes a mindset where anything is possible, new ideas are welcome from all quarters, where issues and opportunities are freely discussed.   It is the realm of strategy and planning.

Convergent thinking is strictly goal oriented, a mindset of managing scope, schedule and budget where strategy is realized.  It is the realm of execution, of project management and risk evaluation.

I have watched many conversations in the executive office swing wildly from divergent possibility to convergent peril;  from “imagine if we did X’ to “imagine if we lost Y.”

Here is the thing: these two mindsets are necessary for a healthy, functioning business but they do not coexist well in the same conversation. When creating new possibilities for your organization you need divergent thinking.     When executing on a project you need convergent thinking.      During any discussion, people in the room will gravitate to the dominant mindset of their formal role;  the IT manager who decries the security risk of social networks (convergent)  the rogue change agent (did I say Creative Director?)  who wants to turn everything upside down (divergent), the CMO who is terrified of losing control of the message (convergent).

If you can consciously move everyone to the mindset appropriate to the moment you will be amazed at how much easier the conversations run.   I am explicit.   I start out a meeting with the goal and the stated mindset and ground rules.   If we are divergent – I explain what I mean by divergent thinking and ask people to hold any discussion of risk, scope, schedule and budget until a set of possibilities has been gathered.    Conversely at a certain point it is absolutely necessary to begin the hard discipline of closely subjecting exciting possibilities to critical questions.

And here is the interesting part;  when you free people from their formal role in the organization you will be surprised how much enthusiasm they can bring, divergent or convergent, to the task at hand.

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