Sunday, December 5, 2010

When to ask divergent questions

What's the point of reading a blog if you can't apply what you find?

Application is the subject of the third question: When does it make the most sense to ask divergent questions?

As a facilitator, I probably ask too many divergent questions, just because I like to get people thinking and generating ideas. But as a teacher (and a manager of the time of others) I see two distinctly appropriate "times": early in a process, and any time you are stuck.

Early in the process
This use is almost too obvious, and there are just too many benefits to do anything else.
-Ask a divergent question to generate fresh ideas: "What are some of the ways that we could drive additional revenue?"
-Ask a divergent question to get the juices flowing: "If you had unlimited resources, what kinds of things might you do to attack this problem?"
-Ask a divergent question to get people involved in whatever you are trying to accomplish: "What do you think might make a difference?"

Nothing you can do as a leader has a potentially more positive impact than asking a divergent question to open a dialogue (or a "multi-logue"). So start the process with a divergent question, carry out whatever process you have in mind, and go to closure by asking a convergent question.

For re-starts or re-groups: When you get stuck
Your conversation (or meeting, or class, or negotiation) has gone awry. You have hit an impasse, or an obstacle, but you are not ready to give up. You need to clear the air. Or you need to change the subject. Ask a divergent question: "If you were not sitting in this room working through this, where might you have been today?" Or, if you are the more serious type: "What are some of the ways you can imagine that we might come to an agreement?"

So finally, 4 posts later, that's the core I have to offer on divergent and convergent questioning. What do you think?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Divergent Questioning: Why?

If you think about these last few posts, you probably already know the answer to this question. We need divergent questions to break out of a rut, to open up the consideration of new solutions.

Recall the counter situation: You have a system, or you have a solution, and you are happy with it. You know your current approach works; you just don’t know why one particular part is not functioning the way it was a week ago. Most likely, you want to focus, to zero in on the location of the problem, look at anything that is directly relevant to the problem, find the most likely cause, eliminate other likely possibilities, and solve the problem.

In this situation, you use convergent questions:

• Where and when is the problem occurring?
• Where and when is it NOT occurring?
• What are the possible causes?
• What possible causes can you eliminate?
• …and a few more questions that narrow down to the solution.

You use these convergent questions because you like your system, and you’re not seeking to change it; you just want to find the problem and fix it. An example might be the IT help line, and the technician who is paid to identify (and fix) the problem that is keeping a user from being able to do exactly what the system was created to do.

Let’s suppose, though, that the problem you have been hired to solve is that the current approach is not getting results. The system is working the way it is supposed to work, but the end result isn’t there. For example: everything in your racing car works, but you’re not winning races.

This is a different kind of problem, and looking for broken pieces isn’t going to solve it.

Instead, you’re going to have to revisit the results you want. Instead of focusing on the system you put into place, you will probably need to look at the problem again. And that’s why you need divergent questions: you need to look at the situation more broadly, or from a different perspective.

So if everything in the car is working, what might be some reasons we are not winning races?

This line of thinking is pushing us toward the last question about questioning – the subject of the next post: When, in a group session, might be a good time to use a divergent question?