The Art Of Divergent Thinking To Foster Success

When you have always done something in a certain way, change can be difficult. But if by doing the same things over and over again at work, you continue to generate the same lacklustre results, you may find that it simply becomes necessary.

At the heart of this need for change is likely to be a feeling of unfulfilment, which will inevitably have a negative impact on your productivity.

At US Navy headquarters, the HR division has a saying: “If you’re not happy, you’re not doing something right.” This concept can be applied across an entire organization and is a far-reaching assertion that should be considered by everyone from staff to senior leaders.

The bottom line is that there are a number of factors contributing to happiness or unhappiness in the workplace. Although ultimately you control your own emotional state, it is incumbent upon managers to create the environment necessary for you to succeed – not least because unhappiness can sink the ship.

The issue is that, while the organization may be experiencing some measure of success at the moment, the same may not be true of individual employees, which means they will not be feeling fulfilled. The problem here is that what amounts to success for one does not necessarily mean success for the other.

So how do you create an environment that works for both parties?

The notion of “success” starts in your mind and makes itself felt through your attitudes. Your view of it and your ability, or inability, to achieve it will have a direct impact on your productivity, both individually and as part of a wider collective.

Defining success

Definitions of workplace success are often very different depending on where you sit in the organization – and these different definitions can collide. Quantitative measurement and the desire to assign numbers to everything are big problems in this context, especially because it is not numbers that drive productivity – people do, and they perform better, if they are given goals and qualitative reasoning that they can understand. Numbers are just not motivating.

So, what can you do to tackle the situation? The secret lies in “divergent thinking” and developing qualitative means of measuring success by focusing on soft skills, such as communicating effectively with colleagues. Let’s break these ideas down further:

Each individual’s unique skill set is vital to the success of the organisation. It is important that managers do not forget this fact. But each person also has equal responsibility for their own happiness, which is rooted in their intrinsic motivation.

Individual success is largely determined by an individual accepting that they are accountable for their own actions. The lesson here is, control what you can control by meeting your responsibilities, even if everything around you appears to be out of control. Programming your mind to see the positive is another key to personal and organisational success.

Consider a captain and crew analogy. Your conscious mind is the captain and your subconscious, the crew. The captain (conscious decisions) determines where the ship goes. The crew (subconscious) – as long as it is properly trained – will follow orders and carry out the captain’s (conscious mind’s) will in order to successfully achieve the goal it has been set.

The roles of captain and crew

The crew (subconscious) will do what the captain (conscious mind) says, but it is the crew that pilots the ship rather than the captain, who provides the orders. If the captain (conscious mind) is undisciplined, the crew (subconscious mind) will be even more so, creating a perfect storm of unhappiness.

In other words, if you fail to either govern yourself or be accountable for your actions, it becomes impossible to manage your own circumstances and all too easy to assign blame to others for your failure. While such failure may have been someone else’s fault, that situation would likely have been out of your control anyway.

So, ideally your internal dialogue should become: “How can I fix this situation? What can I do to salvage things and make progress?” Taking this approach will stave off negativity, which tends to inhibit success.

Another consideration is that too few people tap into their life experiences in order to help themselves. But learning how to do so, even if the context is different each time, will help you achieve your goals.

Ultimately, the way to succeed at work is to differentiate yourself from others, which is where divergent thinking comes in. So, define what success looks like to you, establish reasonable goals that are slightly beyond your present capabilities, identify your strengths and then play to them in pursuit of those goals. Avoid focusing on your weaknesses but continue to develop and improve on those areas.

Divergent thinking

So, just what is divergent thinking? It is, in practice, more than just thinking differently. It enables you to automatically recall the sum of your life experiences in order to provide you with a 360° view of a problem or task.

For individuals who are naturally divergent thinkers, the practice will be easy. But newcomers will find that their usual familiar routine is the enemy of divergence.

The issue is that known quantities inevitably make you feel stable and provide you with a safety net. But they also mean that you tend to make guarded choices around how you see and do things. Put another way, it is necessary to change your attitude to affect any real change in your behaviour.

Numbers in general, and metrics in particular, are part of most people’s workplace reality and, more often than not, the bane of their existence. Add the human element combined with a heavy workload and it is no wonder you sometimes feel stressed.

But if you change your view on what success means and how it should be measured, you can change the outcome. Focusing on the qualitative rather than the quantitative nature of success provides you with a greater chance of achieving what you most desire when setting goals based on this measure.

Doing the right thing

It is easy to forget that you have a key role to play in your own personal and professional success. But it is also crucial for managers to create an environment that breeds success, and that they understand the link between employee performance and quality.

When every member of an organization is valued for the quality contribution they make, it will be on the path to success. Helping employees understand their responsibility from this viewpoint, setting realistic goals and encouraging a divergent mindset when completing tasks will ensure optimal productivity. Not only will individuals feel affirmed that they are doing the “right” thing, but they will also feel happier and perform more consistently.

“Right” does not necessarily mean they have all the answers or perform their job perfectly – that would be impossible. Instead, “right” simply means working to the best of their ability in a positive frame of mind.

So, to promote this situation, managers should involve staff members in the process of identifying, setting, and tracking their own individual qualitative goals, and their success in attaining them. The manager’s role is to guide, support, recognise, and reward them as appropriate. Encourage them to own their own growth and success, and then stand back and witness the change in terms of both individual fulfilment and organizational success.

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