After generating a pile of ideas, it’ll be time to reduce the number of options and determine the best fits for the challenge at hand.
This kind of thought process is called convergent thinking. In an ideation session, two modes of thinking – divergent and convergent – must be balanced.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, we should defer judgment until a later stage in the creative process. Therefore, the two ways of thinking should be separated from each other and we should generate as many possible solutions as possible before deciding on the most suitable answer.
How do we find the most appropriate answer for a given task, then?
The main tenets of convergent thinking are
- focusing on the advantages of each and every idea that you come up with.
This principle is important to avoid sudden judgments and give novel and unusual ideas a chance to survive before rushing to label them as inapplicable.
Every alternative deserves fair evaluation. We should take enough time to make a decision and consider each option thoroughly.
- being crystal clear about your objectives and priorities.
Our decision should consider the project’s objectives and priorities. To be able to rate an idea, we should know our success criteria. Our goals and priorities determine these criteria.
- several cycles of filtering are necessary to identify the most promising ideas.
For this, besides considering each option separately, they are rated based on a theme.
Here is a suggested action plan to reinforce these principles.
Saturday: Give each idea an equal chance and create groups
Today, remind yourself what you’ve thought of during ideation.
Put together all the ideas you’ve come up with during the divergent thinking phase and go over them.
- Sketch each idea
Write down the main highlights of each idea along with a quick sketch on a sticky note.
In order to use a rating system from this point on, you can give each idea either a number or a name which reminds you what it is all about.
Go over all of the ideas in this way and put all of them on the wall.
The authors of Sprint describe this process as loading all of your ideas into your working memory at once. In a way, you prepare yourself by making your brain into a good evaluation setting.
This is particularly effective if you have generated your ideas over a long period of time.
- Apply affirmative judgment
After making yourself familiar with your ideas, concentrate only on their pros.
Each time, ask yourself what’s good about this idea? What are the strengths and potential benefits?
Then, on the corresponding sticky note, add a remark about all the advantages you can think of.
This step is especially important so that you don’t dismiss fresh and unusual solutions. Applying such a systematic approach will avoid impulsive decisions.
- Cluster ideas
During idea generation sessions, a large number of ideas are generated. By now, your wall should be filled with sticky notes. In order to create a more manageable number of ideas, a common approach is to group similar ideas together. This is called clustering.
Consider common topics or concepts among your ideas and give a name to each theme. Rearrange the notes on the wall by putting ideas with the same theme closer to each other. Create clusters on the wall.
Add additional notes around each category to highlight the essential points.
Sunday: Prepare a short list and refine ideas
Today is selection day. Go over the objectives of the challenge and prepare a short list of standout ideas.
- Consider the drawbacks
For a deeper analysis, consider the cons of each idea from the clusters you prepared yesterday.
What are the disadvantages, limitations, execution difficulties, weaknesses and negative attributes of the ideas?
Based on these considerations, you should be able to eliminate some of the ideas already.
Filter out the implausible ideas and remove the corresponding sticky notes from the clusters on the wall.
- Identify the most important success criteria
How will you eliminate ideas and identify the ones that will end up on your short list? You should decide based on the most important success criteria.
In order to achieve the project goals, what has to happen?
Typical success criteria are budget, time and resources. Based on your project, you can also define things like number of people who sign up for an email newsletter, sales volume, paid ad conversions and impact on social media, etc.
List your criteria in order of importance.
You’ll use these criteria to rate the ideas and prepare a short list using an evaluation matrix.
- Use an evaluation matrix
An evaluation matrix is a grid where you list the selection criteria on one axis and the ideas on the other.
Place a big piece of paper on the wall this time and put the remaining ideas from above on the y-axis. On the x-axis, list all of the criteria.
In order to rate each option, you can use a thumbs up / thumbs down or happy face / sad face sticker or emoji. If an idea satisfies the criteria, place a positive sticker on it.
When you’re done, the ideas that have the most positive emojis win and you’ll have your short list of standout ideas.
You can go on in a similar fashion by reducing the number of plausible ideas. Take two of the most promising ideas, place them side by side and rate them based on specific criteria to eliminate more and select which one to implement.
If you’re having difficulty selecting one idea, it can be helpful to consider how to turn the ideas in your short list into workable solutions. Based on your current circumstances, some of them may not be executable immediately.
How will you develop these raw ideas and bring them to life? Think about ways to refine and improve the short-listed ideas.
During this stage, you can list categories or components related to a suggested idea. Then use chunking to analyze different categories to find ways to refine or improve that aspect of the idea, as explained here.
For the same purpose, you can use mindmaps to group and regroup different components of an idea and see the relationships between them. Make comparisons to identify areas for refinement.
After giving some thought to refinement, evaluate the drawbacks, disadvantages and potential issues of these ideas again.
This kind of back-and-forth evaluation process is necessary until you find the one idea that you’re really going to execute.