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Designing a divergent thinking sheet


In considering group creativity recently, I read several research reports and articles claiming that individual thinking is more productive than group thinking. I think that brainstorming has it’s place, and a brainstorming can be effective if well moderated.

However, individual idea generation is the situation most of us find ourselves in most often. We might be sitting at our desk trying to think of the best way of approaching a particular task or challenge, or our boss might have just asked us for an idea on a certain subject. Sometimes it can be difficult to get started – whether its because of a stack of emails, a noisy office or just the intimidating appearance of a blank page – so I wondered if there was something that could help.

To this end I’ve been collaborating with Dave Seah, a freelance designer specialising in information layout and interactive design. I showed him the mindmap I created whilst thinking about content for my brainstorming blog posts. It lists various different creativity techniques, so I thought it might be possible to design some sort of ‘divergent thinking sheet’ that nudged the user in certain directions to help their creative process.

Ideally, by the time someone sits down with such a sheet, they want to have an idea. It might be that their boss has asked them, or they might be a budding entrepreneur, or just a creative person. They’re ready. They’re willing to give it a go. The sheet could take them on a journey, like an inspirational flow chart, or a choose-your-own-adventure book (remember those?), or the Business Model Canvas. It could start with ‘write down your dream’, and go from there, with branches zooming off in different directions. One direction might be practical things like ‘who is it for?’, another might be ‘what does it look like?’ etc etc.

Then after the next level there might be other directions, then more directions after that, or a line could lead them back to another of the above options. It’s getting them to use creativity techniques in a simple way. It might also help the user be brave by asking them to think of the tame / average / ambitious / crazy versions of their ideas, and encouraging them to develop each. More often than not the ambitious & crazy ones will be the best.

Refining and choosing isn’t important – it could be a divergent thinking sheet to help them come up with 7 or 8 ideas after first defining one problem / dream.

We both agreed that it would be hard fitting it all onto one sheet, and that it would need to strike the right tone between wackiness and business use. It needs to be creative, but not so much that it’s appearance & style overly influences people’s ideas. It needs to be a catalyst, an offerer of options and routes to keep the thinking process rolling. People should be encouraged to fill it out quickly, then rip it off and do another one. Then they can evaluate all the ideas afterwards.

Dave has made several versions of the sheet, and he has blogged about his take on the process. Let us know what you think of the idea, and whether you would use such a sheet.

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