State Policy Network
How to spark creative thinking in your virtual meetings
We can adapt our virtual meetings to spark creativity and problem-solving.

By Todd Davidson, Senior Director of Strategic Development at State Policy Network

In this time of crisis, problem-solving is critical, yet isolation is robbing teams of the spontaneous interactions with colleagues and friends that often generate the best ideas. Add to that the difficulty virtual meetings. Fortunately, we can adapt our virtual meetings to overcome these challenges and structure them to spark creativity and problem-solving. Here’s how.

Diverge then converge.

The creative principle Diverge then Converge is the solution to our challenge. Divergent thinking is the generation and collection of ideas—putting all of the options and ideas on the table. Convergent thinking is the evaluation and selection of the best option. To quickly boost your creativity and your team’s creativity, all you need to do is order this thinking: divergent thinking first, then convergent thinking.

Take planning tonight’s dinner for an example.

When planning dinner with your family you might suggest pizza, only to hear your spouse complain about having pizza last week. Then you find yourself struggling to come up with new ideas that fit your spouse’s criteria. Your spouse’s judgement (convergent thinking) has halted your creative momentum. Your brain is now editing your ideas. You’ve been robbed of creativity and are less able to develop novel ideas.

Now imagine this scenario if the order of thinking is reversed such that the diverge then converge principle is applied. You suggest pizza. Pizza reminds your spouse of that trip to Chicago when you had deep dish pizza. She says, “Oh remember that little pizza shop in Chicago.” You recall it and that lights up a memory of a Chinese restaurant you went to in Chicago. You blurt out, “Chinese.” Your wife, still thinking about Chicago, suggests hotdogs. After this discussion goes around for a bit you have dozens of ideas for dinner in your head or—even better—written down. This conversation is divergent thinking. With all of these options, you are then better equipped to move on to convergent thinking: deciding the most satisfying dinner option.

Applying this concept to all of your work will make you more productive and more creative. Here’s how you can apply it specifically to virtual meetings.

How to apply to virtual meetings

Step 1

Use these three questions to determine whether you need a problem-solving meeting. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you need a problem-solving meeting.

  1. Do I know what the real problem is?
  2. Do know the answer to this problem?
  3. Does my team agree on the answer to this problem?

Step 2

Schedule a 90-minute meeting and a subsequent 30 to 60-minute meeting.  The first meeting is the divergent-thinking meeting and needs more time. The second meeting is a convergent-thinking meeting. Pro tips: Have a at least 1 hour in-between the two meetings. A day in-between is optimal.

Step 3

Prep. Write the divergent-meeting agenda as one question. Send the question to all attendees and instruct them to bring ideas to the meeting. Examples:

Step 4

Conduct the divergent thinking meeting.

  1. Instruct attendees to withhold all judgement.
  2. Set up a virtual screenshare and assign one person to capture all the thoughts. (Sidebar: Conceptboard and stormboard are excellent tools for capturing ideas during problem-solving meetings).
  3. Blurt out the ideas. You might notice that the first ideas are pretty familiar. Don’t fret—you’re just building momentum. Extend your effort and push through. Once you get past the familiar ideas, you’ll start to smash ideas together and develop novel ideas.
  4. Adjourn the meeting, tell folks to sleep on it, and encourage them to keep thinking up new ideas. Pro-tip: Make your virtual idea board available after the meeting for folks to continue to add their ideas.

Step 5

Some organization of these ideas likely needs to occur. Since you are virtual and short of time, you can assign this task to one or two people in between the meetings.

Step 6

Establish the judgement criteria. Typically, criteria include some variation of cost/benefit, impact/effort, likelihood/impact. Send this criteria to the attendees, and solicit feedback if appropriate.

Step 7

Host the convergent-thinking meeting to arrive at a decision. There are a number of ways to converge. Use the technique most suited to your situation. You can combine techniques too.

Step 8

Assign owners and follow-up action items.

This principle of diverge then converge will make your work more fun and more productive, and you’ll develop more innovation and insights. You can apply it to anything from planning dinner, writing a blog, or solving major fiscal crises facing states. If you need any help applying or facilitating this type of meeting, reach out to me at davidson@spn.org.

Categories: Best Practices
Organization: State Policy Network