Find the best opportunities and solutions with divergent ideation

Premature convergence is the most common mistake I see startup leaders make. Premature convergence is where a team chooses a solution or even a problem to solve before considering all of their options. This usually leads to wasted effort on initiatives their customers or market don’t care about, and investment in solutions that don’t actually solve their chosen problems.

The principles of divergence and convergence can help leaders to understand and improve the problem-solving process.

  1. Divergence is the act of turning one idea into many. Divergent activities expand and diversify the number of ideas or concepts available to you.
  2. Convergence is the act of narrowing down many ideas into one or a few most viable or appropriate ideas. Convergent ideas help you to determine which of your ideas or concepts is most important or valuable.

When you solve problems, create products, and build startups, it’s crucial to employ both divergent and convergent strategies.

Divergence, convergence, and problems

Before you build a solution, you must choose a problem to solve. Many startups are born out of the desire to solve a very specific problem, often already experienced or at least witnessed by the startup founders. This means startups initially have high confidence in the first problem they solve.

After this, however, startups struggle to identify additional problems they should solve. Many reflexively move onto problems that sound exciting but aren’t crucial to their markets. These startups invest massive amounts of effort into low-value initiatives.

When looking for a problem to solve, startups should first employ divergent thinking. Don’t leap into the first or most exciting feeling problem. Ask yourself: how can I create a comprehensive list of the many problems we could solve? Go through this process before you commit to any specific problem.

Activities that can help with divergent problem identification include:

After you’ve accumulated a long list of problems you can solve, switching to a mode of convergence is important. When looking for a problem to solve, convergent thinking is about gradually narrowing down your list of opportunities until just one (or as many as you know you can juggle) remains.

Activities that can help with convergent problem identification include:

Always consider your confidence in your assumptions when prioritising your work. When two problems seem similar in value, lean towards the problem you’re most confident in.

Divergence, convergence, and solutions

After you’ve selected a problem to solve, it’s time to find a solution. Many teams fail to meaningfully solve customer problems because they choose ineffective solutions. Most of the time, when a team chooses an ineffective solution, it’s because they went with the most exciting or even the first idea they came up with. They failed to employ divergent thinking.

When looking for a solution to a problem, divergent activities help you consider various potential solutions before you select a winner. Example activities include:

When looking for a solution to a problem, convergent activities help you to select the best solution for implementation. To converge on the right solution, teams need:

By starting with a simple and fast-to-implement solution, you can quickly validate your assumptions around the problem and solution. Always be biased towards getting something into the market soon.

Premature and delayed convergence

Many teams fail to deliver meaningful outcomes because they converge on problems and solutions prematurely.

Delayed convergence is equally as self-sabotaging.

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