Short-term divergent, long-term convergent

A conversation with colleagues brought this insight to the surface. We were talking about cultivating generative spaces, where a diversity of perspectives is cherished and celebrated, the stakes are low to examine all of them, and enough room for everyone to jam on these perspectives.

Applying the diverge/converge lens, it might seem that such spaces would be classified as divergent. After all, this is where it’s “the more, the merrier,” and everyone is encouraged to pile on their own perspective or riff to create entirely new ones. From this vantage point, generative spaces are the sources of divergence. These are the spaces we reach for when we need to populate that rich pool of ideas.

It was a bit later in the conversation, when we moved on to the topic of convergence and increasing the shared mental model space across the organization that a curious thought occurred to me. What if we shifted our attention to a different set of outcomes that a generative space produces? Namely, the outcomes that result from multiple people playing with a great variety of perspectives. Every new perspective that I try out results in me better understanding it, and thus, acquiring a mental model behind it. Over the course of participating in a generative space, I become more aware of how my peers see the world, and so do they. Our shared mental models space widens. Even though it might look like we’re producing diverging ideas, the process helps us better understand each other, and thus, is convergent in nature.

Generative spaces are divergent in the short term, but convergent in the long term. My intuition is that a sustained generative space is likely the most effective way for an organization to become more coherent and productive, while at the same retaining awareness of its surroundings. While they could seem like “few folks just talking about random topics,” generative spaces might just be the recipe to aid an organization that struggles to converge.

Of course, this makes generative spaces rather counterintuitive and often difficult to describe. “How can we afford just having a chill conversation with no agenda?! We have stuff to design/build/ship!” Yet, every organization has watercooler or hallway conversations, and idle chit chat between meetings. Next time you’re in one, pause to reflect and notice how often they have the subtle overtones of generative spaces. We yearn to jam and riff on ideas. We want to share ours and see others play with them. If only we had space to do that.

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