Divergent Collaboration

Bart Barthelemy December 12, 2013 0
Divergent Collaboration

Dr. Bart Barthelemy and Candace Dalmagne

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it; you must learn to see the world anew.”

Albert Einstein

When we combined these two Einstein quotes and applied them to very tough challenges, something interesting occurred.  We called it, Divergent Collaboration℠.  The main idea behind Divergent Collaboration℠ is that attacking a problem with diversity and collaboration yields more powerful results than focusing only on generating solutions.  By connecting individuals from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, fresh thinking is infused into a problem as it is explored in novel ways.

While typical collaborations try to harness diversity from traditional places – different departments of an institution, different fields in the same industry, or different stakeholder groups along the value chain (such as customers, suppliers, or even competitors) – Divergent Collaboration℠ takes a more radical approach.  It brings together people who have a range of relevant expertise on a problem, in the form of hobbies, work, education, or experiences, but in a different or tangential application, environment, or industry.  New insights and ideas emerge from unrelated areas that would be missed using classical approaches to solving complex technology and business challenges.  By innovating around the problem before jumping to solutions, there is a greater potential for coming up with truly innovative outcomes.

Many teams, groups and organizations approach innovation in relatively traditional ways:  brainstorming for new ideas and approaches, setting up internal innovation teams, organizing Integrated Product Teams (IPTs), looking to their R&D laboratories for solutions, formally and informally soliciting inputs from outside solution providers, and using the developing networking technologies to scan for solutions and expertise throughout the world.   All of these methods work quite well, particularly when the challenge or opportunity is reasonably well-defined and the potential solution space is generally predictable.  But solutions are usually solicited from a relatively limited and traditional set of potential solvers and, not surprisingly, from experts or domains that are well known to the problem owner.  This limits the possibility for really new and novel ideas and often leads to incremental improvements rather than breakthrough innovations.  With Divergent Collaboration℠, organizations can open up the problem as much as possible and as early as possible, by looking at it from a variety of different and atypical perspectives so as to increase the potential for creative solutions.

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