I’ve got a recurring issue at Stokefire. There’s some confusion amongst prospective clients as to what my role is. Many think I’m the end-to-end creative solutions guy and I’ve surrounded myself with people that can help with execution.
Let me set the record straight. That’s absolutely not the case. I’m very good at certain things, but absolutely horrible at a whole lot of other stuff. Thankfully the stuff I’m not good at most people have no desire to have me do. (I get very few requests to paint houses, balance books, or do high-fashion modeling. When I do get a request like that it’s usually the last one.) I’m good a particular kind of creative thinking. But if you only have that type of creative thinking at your disposal you’ll end up with problems.
Stokefire (and I, as a part of the company) can do what we do because we have built an environment that embraces two distinct types of creative thinking. Last night someone sent me a link to a presentation on the topic of creativity that gave me terminology that I’d not considered using before. Per Bud Caddell, “Divergent Thinking is the free form, often spontaneous, exploration of many novel ideas. Convergent Thinking is the search for the most correct answer to a clearly defined problem.”
Divergent thinking is imagining 100 unique uses for a paperclip. Convergent thinking is your typical standardized test.
Divergent thinking is imagination. Convergent thinking is reason.
To my mind both of the two comparisons above are different ways of presenting the same thing… sort of explaining divergence and convergence by using divergent and convergent descriptions. Pretty cool, really. And he builds from there [full presentation included at the bottom of the post]…
Divergent thinking can often lead the process of problem solving, creating many possibilities to be winnowed down by convergent thinking. But truly creative ideas are often birthed from many rounds of going back and forth between the two. [Emphasis mine. I'll come back to this in a moment.]
Divergent thinking requires the courage to make mistakes, the freedom to play, and a push to explore new perspectives. Convergent thinking requires necessity, well defined objectives, knowledge and reasoning skills.
When I showed these last two to our team at our end-of-week meeting there were audible gasps and a couple laughs. Someone asked who wrote it and how they had snuck in and spied on us.
The last statement of real interest to me is on the tenth page of the presentation. It says,
The design of systems and environments that foster creativity is a process of balancing equal opportunity for, and ensuring interaction between, divergent and convergent thought.
I didn’t show this one to our team.
Because I didn’t have to.
If you work at Stokefire you know this even if we’ve never said it. Divergence and convergence are at the center of every breakthrough we’ve had for years. The way we’ve gotten there is birthed from the rounds of interplay going back between the two.
For those that haven’t visited Stokefire HQ, let me give you a peek at the executive office from behind my desk…
While you can see that Katie McIntyre’s desk is nice and clean – and about 18 feet away from my own – there’s a space between the two desks that invites connection and discussion. When Stokefire is at its best the “thinking couches” (as they’re affectionately termed) are in constant use. Without realizing it we created a haven for exactly the sort of back-and-forth interactions that Bud Caddell suggests are necessary in the early slides of his presentation.
I can’t speak for Katie (who, as our lead strategist, speaks very well for herself,) but for me the reason why we’ve been able to develop breakthrough and effective creative is that we don’t have a one-way arrow from divergent creativity to convergent creativity, which is how I imagine most shops and organizations (if they can tolerate divergent creativity at all) might operate. On the rare occasions where one of the two co-execs is sick or time doesn’t permit the interplay of our two abilities (Katie is far more capable at systematic thinking than I am, I’m more improvisational than she is) we end up not getting where we need to go.
Interplay – or even the word ‘play’ itself – is key here. For a divergent thinker coming up with fifty ways to solve something is easy, but selecting the right one, determining the exact steps and sticking to them during development is hard. To get both at the same time requires that each type of thinker feels safe and can enjoy the process of switching between the two to see what happens. It requires almost turning it into a game.
Divergent thinkers are typically hammered by the convergent ones in a corporate environment. (Note my victimizing framing of we poor divergent types here. I’m pretty sure there are some that would disagree.) We’re the nail that needs to be put back in place. Our ideas break the models convergent thinkers have made standard, so we have to be dealt with. Sometimes harshly.
What makes our thinking couches sacred in my mind is something that I’ve never found anywhere else in my career. It isn’t their location, it’s the fact that the couch opposite mine is usually occupied by a talented convergent thinker who, rather than bashing my ideas to bits to find ways that I’m wrong, sees it as her responsibility to figure out how to frame or adjust a loosely defined, but potentially monumental, world-changing, and unworkably challenging concept into something that will fit within the minds and budgets of our clients or our own efforts.
I love to work at Stokefire because we have created a rare haven where divergent and convergent thinking don’t do battle with each other. When I sit on the thinking couch and have the right person across from me we have divergence and convergence working in tandem to create something that is unbelievably powerful and eminently achievable. We have divergent thinking that understands convergence is needed if we’re to move forward, and convergent thinking that sees divergence as the way to fill our creative pipeline with compelling ideas and options.
So… Where does my creativity come from?
My creativity comes from my surroundings. From the ability of my associates to coax half-formed ideas out of me so that they can help validate, strengthen and build on them. From my comfort in knowing that I can ask “can I bounce an idea off of you for a minute?” of anyone in the office and will have a willing participant who will add something that will make my own understanding of the concept better. From the fact that I have no fear in spluttering through five, fifty or five-hundred unfeasible, impractical, or downright idiotic ideas in front of my team because I know when we hit on one with potential it will be because we got all the crap out of the way so we could see the right one clearly, or that someone saw a spark of promise and was able to bring it to fruition.
My usable creativity comes from my team, from my office-mate, from my environment, and from our clients. Take any one away and you end up with something unusable.
Divergence & Convergence. Yin & Yang.
And while both qualities exist end-to-end at Stokefire the most visible representation is something many of our clients have called “The Tate & Katie Show.” That, however, is a topic for another day.
Now, for those that are interested… Here’s Bud’s presentation in full.