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Divergent Thinking Acivities

Both of the following activities start as divergent thinking exercises to generate ideas. Then they guide you through a follow-up discussion to help you and the team understand those ideas and start to converge around a common direction. These activities call for “thinking outside the box”, also known as brainstorming. Let go of any thoughts that keep you in the world of practicalities, constraints, timelines, and budgets. Allow your mind to wander into a world of possibility.

Top Five

“Top Five” is a brainstorming activity that gets the team to articulate their ideas, then rank them for discussion and critique. The directions are written as if the team is co-located, but this activity can also be done remotely using video chat applications.

  • Markers
  • sticky notes
  • colored dots
  1. Idea Generation
The team sets five minutes on a timer. Within this time limit, each person on the team brainstorms—on their own—as many ideas for the design solution as they can. Each person puts each of their ideas on a sticky note. This activity is done silently.
  2. Individual Ranking
When five minutes is up, each person reviews their ideas and then chooses their top five.
  3. Show the Team
Each person places their top five ideas up on a wall for the team to review.
  4. Silent Reading
Using a five minute limit, the team silently reads everyone’s ideas.
  5. Question Time
Taking no longer than 45 minutes, each person now gets to ask questions of each other. You can ask questions in a formal way, by alotting each person a turn. Or you can ask questions in a free-flowing way, allowing whomever feels compelled to speak in the moment to do so. The most valuable questions are those that seek to understand the intention behind each person’s idea.
  6. Clustering: As different people’s ideas become more clear, group together any ideas that seem similar or cut from the same cloth. (In design the act of putting similar things into a group is called clustering and the groups of ideas are called clusters.) Agree on a name for that group of ideas. If some ideas don’t belong to a particular group, allow these ideas to stand on their own. Make sure to include them as part of your larger canvas of ideas. You can gain insights simply by observing stand alone ideas in relation to ideas grouped by likeness.
  7. Voting: 
Allow three minutes for each member of the team to take their sticker dots and use them to mark their top five ideas. If you have clusters, use your sticky dot to vote for the cluster as a whole, not the individual ideas that are inside it.
  8. Count the Votes:
 Take the top five ideas and move on to the next activity. If you don’t hit five, that’s okay! But make sure you have more than one idea to move forward with. You’ll test multiple ideas in the field to ensure that you are meeting as many of the participants’ needs as possible.

Concept Mapping

This activity invites you to see a concept within its context. It prompts your team to share important components around a concept and find the connection among them. It takes a concept and places it against the backdrop of a larger ecosystem or landscape. Creating this big picture helps facilitate more expansive group thinking, problem framing, and solution making.

  • Table tops or big, empty walls
  • painter's tape
  1. Unpack the ideas:
 Look at the first idea that you selected from the previous round. Individually, use your sticky notes to write all the attributes or components of the idea that you can think of. (This is the “unpacking” part.)
  2. Show the team
: As a group, share your attributes and components by placing them on the tabletop or on the open wall.
  3. Clustering:If there are components that are similar, cluster them together. Agree on a name for the cluster that encompasses the attributes or components in that group.
  4. Start the map:
Now that you have all the attributes and components out in the open, begin the work of organizing them. Place broader, more abstract components toward the middle. Place more specific, concrete components toward the edges.
  5. Draw the map:
 Draw lines between related components and attributes.
  6. Define the idea’s structure
: As you see how the attributes and components are related, write them down or sketch their flow from one to another. Once you have this initial flow of attributes down, you will have an idea for how this idea works or fits together and how it might drive your design process.
  7. Repeat this process: Repeat for each of your ideas.