In the workplace, “divergent” can often have a negative meaning. Divergent is different, and different can be perceived as dangerous. One interpretation may be that “problem” employee that always goes against the group. Another is the inability to create a group consensus in teams. That differentness is seen as challenging to a larger entity, group, project, or organization.
A divergent thinker is a creative mix in the organizational stock pot.
Repeat after me, “Divergence is good.”
As leaders and those interested in organizational development, we want opinions that differ. Groupthink is often the product of those that are like minded, or give too much power to those that are more comfortable speaking in front of others. The articulate are able to express themselves on a scale that implies confidence in their ideas. Those dominant personalities can rule the room and easily shut down divergent thinker, who may be just as articulate, but is pointing at the sign to the road less traveled.
Mr/s. Groupthink is confidently smiling and leading you to a well-traveled, paved, landscaped, and previously milestoned path. It has signs for the lottery and car dealerships; it’s so well used. Groupthink promises that at the end is a large predictable metropolis that appears comfortable and stable.
Mr/s. Divergent is directing you towards a road that is mostly uphill. It is uncharted, but there lingers a possibility for rewards, recognition, and even songs written in your honor.
The choosing process can be equally traumatic. Groupthink has a little more support, but Divergent is gaining ground. The team is troubled and having difficulty coming to a decision. Many leaders would assume that the group is now dysfunctional. However, this can simply be the phase where good ideas are flushed out of the shrubbery. Without sounding too dramatic, this is where the magic happens. Allowing your team the time to get to this point is integral to a creative decision.
Janis (1972, p. 9) described Groupthink as a “mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.” Divergent thinkers are often shut down simply because their ideas oppose the majority.
Supporting divergent thinking is the necessity behind the diverse workforce. Diverse and divergent thinkers provide a perspective that is not representative of a quick decision. It is important that your organization create a foundation of teambuilding and a culture of inclusivity which promotes a respectful and encouraging environment.
To better support your divergent thinkers, leaders may provide the following:
- An inclusive atmosphere where all perspectives are heard openly and regarded with respect.
- Time to review and rehash all ideas so that no quick decisions are made. Avoid the easy choice.
- Create a diverse workforce comprised of different backgrounds and perspectives to encourage creativity.
- Provide resources and training for team building, collaboration, civility, and communication.
Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of groupthink: A psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Oxford, England: Houghton Mifflin.