Creative thinking tools for convergence: how to select the winning idea
Generating as many ideas as possible as part of ideation in creative thinking will without a doubt lead you to having a lot of ideas, some of them brilliant, some of them implausible, some outright hilarious. And that’s the point of using creative thinking tools to stimulate divergent thinking in Step 3: Ideation.
In Step 5 of the analytical thinking process, you’ll have to go through the ideas that made it past the incubation process and select these that are the best fit for possible solutions. This process requires convergent thinking – narrowing down and selecting. And yes, there are specific tools to do this too! Here are some I tried, applying them to a variety of work, career and business problems.
While usually used with teams, this tool can also work when you’re going through ideas by yourself. Imagine you have a limited number of votes, say 10. Distribute them among the ideas as you assess them, allocating any number from 0 to 10 votes per idea, until you run out of votes. The idea (or top 2 or 3 ideas) that gets the highest number of votes wins. You can use stickers or a marker to cast your votes. You’ll be surprised how just the fact that you have to quantify your preference makes it easier to focus on the ideas you find most appealing. Of course, the downside of this solution is that it won’t work when the selection should be based on some more objective criteria than just what you think is the best idea.
Grouping or clustering
Group similar ideas together into clusters. Then look at how you can formulate one bigger idea that captures the essence of the whole cluster. This way, you’ll be able to synthesise all the various ideas you came up with. Another benefit of this tool for synthesis is the fact that it’s visual, which can help you process information better.
Many ideas that you came up with will not be feasible, would take too long or too much money, or just won’t work for one reason or another. To wither the list of ideas down and eliminate these that are a clear no-go, write down a number of filters that hold in your situation (budget, time constraints, resource constraints, etc.), and then apply them to each idea. You need to make sure you have a good and complete list of filters before you start.
Paired comparison analysis
Using this tool, you can quickly work through quite a big list of ideas. Assign a letter to each idea, and create a matrix of letters as rows and columns. Then compare the ideas one against the other in the table. Count how many times a given letter corresponding to the idea comes up, and the letter (or top 2-3 letters) that is most frequent, wins. You can then repeat the exercise with a pared down set of letters if you like.
This tool is similar to benchmarking from analytical thinking. In here, you also evaluate all options according to a set of predefined criteria by giving them a score on a scale. The idea that gets the highest total score is the winner. You need to make sure that you have as complete a set of criteria as possible before starting to use this tool.
What other critical thinking tools for convergence would you add to this list?If you’d like to learn more, subscribe to Lessons in Thinkfulness and receive free, weekly lessons designed to help you become more thinkful at work, in business and in life.