Video Transcript: Divergent & Convergent Thinking (Part 1)

Bob Lloyd, PhD, Executive Director Performance Improvement, Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Often times when teams are trying to develop ideas for improvement, it’s very handy to actually engage in a formal process of divergent and convergent thinking. So, if you think about a bell curve, and this is not a statistical bell curve but more of a heuristic teaching bell curve, we have, when a team gets together, very few ideas. So, as you think about what they’re doing, and they are asked to come up with new ideas, they often times struggle.

So we start with a few ideas, maybe a couple folks have them, but then there are a number of techniques that we can use, that basically allow us to engage in divergent thinking. That is to open up our brains, and come up with new ideas, to be creative. And there’s two major tools that fall into this group, brainstorming, and another tool called nominal group technique. Now, what happens is as you open up your brain, you start building more ideas, so now you’ve got a whole bunch of ideas here, twenty, thirty ideas maybe that people have generated, and this is where you now need to use some way to organize those, and the tool we use here is called an affinity diagram. And what that does is it allows us to group and cluster various ideas that more or less hang together with a central concept, and again we’ll talk more about that. So I’m going to put affinity diagram as a way to organize our thinking.

Now, on the other side, we’ve got all these ideas now, and you need to engage in convergent thinking to narrow down the list, to get, again, a few ideas that we can take to our PDSA cycles to test them and to be able to agree that this is what the team has come up with. Over here, the few ideas might be from individuals, what we’re going to end up with is a few ideas that the team has reached agreement on and there’s several basic tools that we use in this regard – the first one is multi-voting, the second one is rank ordering, and the final thing we do is something called structured discussion.

So in the second part, we’ll talk about the particular tools and how we use each one and the steps by which you engage in these different methods.