Bridging Divergence and Convergence

Four years or so ago I was sitting at a cafe in Davos Switzerland with two junior executives from GE. Their main concern seemed to be getting access to a treadmill for their respective senior executives … which is a whole other story in itself. Anyways, we got to talking about the nature of creativity in corporations. They both had gone through the famous Crotonville training facility, which I first learned about in business school, so I was fascinated to hear what they think – especially in an environment famous for championing the whole six sigma thing.

One of the junior executives explained it all with a simple drawing that I have re-created above from memory. It went like this:

On the one hand you want to make things happen. You need people who can focus on the main task and get it done. They need to work together on a common goal, stay on schedule, and meet the deadline. They are people who converge towards a single solution. That’s the essence of six sigma – to achieve what is closest to perfection through strict processes.

On the other hand you want to have new ideas. You need people who are professional wanderers. Ones that can go way way way far afield and hunt for what might not seem obviously useful at first. They are the ones who diverge away from a common goal. They don’t want to travel the main road; they are comfortable being uncomfortable. And they often travel alone instead of within packs. That’s completely what a corporation doesn’t want to happen, but absolutely needs to happen for invention and quantum leaps in growth to occur.

I asked them, “So does that mean you need a concentration of one type of person versus the other? Do you need more convergers than divergers? Or vice-versa?” I enjoyed his response:

You need both types of people, and you need to be open that some of them are ambidexterous – they converge just as well as they diverge. But what you need the most is the people who function well as bridges. They are the people who connect the work of the convergers together with the work of the divergers. A good manager often serves this role; and great team members know how to do this without missing a beat.

So, I left them to their hunt for a treadmill for their executives. And ever since then, I’ve thought about how building bridges in everything one does … is everything, isn’t it? -JM