Guided Divergence

We’ve been sufficiently polluted by lean and Six Sigma, and it’s time for them to go.

Masquerading as maximizers, these minimizers-in-sheep’s-clothing have done deep harm. Though Six Sigma is almost dead (it’s been irrelevant for some time now), it has made a lasting mark. Billed as a profit maximizer, it categorically rejects maximization. In truth, it’s a variation minimizer and difference reducer.  If it deviates, Six Sigma cuts its head off. Certainly this has a place in process control, but not in thinking control. But that’s exactly what’s happened. Six Sigma minimization has slithered off the manufacturing floor and created a culture of convergence. If your thinking is different, Six Sigma will clip it for you.

Lean is worse. All the buzz around lean is about maximizing throughput, but it doesn’t do that. It minimizes waste. But far worse is lean’s standard work. Minimize the difference among peoples’ work; make them do it the same; make the factory the same, regardless of the continent. All good on the factory floor, but lean’s minimization mania has spread like the plague and created a culture of convergence in its wake. And that’s the problem – lean’s minimization-standardization mantra has created a culture of convergence. If your thinking doesn’t fit in, lean will stomp it into place.

We need maximization at the expense of minimization, and divergence before convergence. We need creativity and innovation. But with Six Sigmaphiles and lean zealots running the show, maximization is little understood and divergence is a swear.

First we must educate on maximization. Maximization creates something that had not existed, while minimization reduces what is. Where Six Sigma minimization converges on the known right answer, creativity and innovation diverge to define a new question. The acid test: if you’re improving something you’re minimizing; if you’re inventing something you’re maximizing.

Like with He Who Shall Not Be Named, it’s not safe to say “diverge” out loud, because if you do, the lean Dementors will be called to suck out your soul. But, don’t despair – the talisman of guided divergence can save you.

With guided divergence, a team is given a creatively constructed set of constraints and very little time (hours) to come up with divergent ideas. The constraints guide the creativity (on target), and the tight timeline limits the risk – a small resource commitment. (Though counterintuitive, the tight timeline also creates remarkable innovation productivity.) Done in sets, several guided divergence sessions can cover a lot of ground in little time.

And the focused/constrained nature of guided divergence appeals to our minimization bias, and makes it okay to try a little divergence. We feel safe because we’re deviating only a little and only for a short time.

Lean and Six Sigma have served us well, and they still have their place. (Except for Six Sigma.) But they must be barred from creativity sessions and front end innovation, because here, divergence carries the day.

5 Responses to “Guided Divergence”

  • I fully accept that Six Sigma & Lean had done enough damage to Innovation and Growth.
    Let us think of .Gandhian Engineering which calls for great moves viz- :
    ‘From Low Cost to Ultimate Low Cost,
    From Affordability to Extreme Affordability,
    From Incremental Innovations to Disruptive Innovations &
    Exclusive Innovations to Inclusive Innovations’ –
    as per Dr R A Mashelkar, the leading mentor for innovative practices in India.

  • This post made me laugh. And, as a comic friend points out, we often laugh because its true and and no one else dares to say it. On the other hand, I’m currently working with a bunch of Lean guys and they are very forward-thinking. They came to PRIZM because they’ve realised the same thing Mike just said. Lean is not enough on its own. Happily, Leaniphiles secretly want to love creativity and they can easily learn to love divergent question-asking and divergent problem-finding, if you put it to them right. Our own personally guided [and sometimes tool-assisted] divergence questions are a bit faster than Mike suggests – they only take 5 minutes, and easily fit into the 30 minute creativity session Lean facilitators are supposed to provide to their clients in turn. That seems to be a relatively easy way to turn the tide, at long last.

  • Steven E:

    Both Lean/Six Sigma and explosive innovation. By ignoring either one, we reduce the potential for fun and profit. It’s best if they can work together, but even their conflicts bring strength to the organization, as long as they continue to communicate and respect each other. Geniuses can balance both in their heads, some of us would rather specialize and obtain from others what we can’t bring ourselves to do. Enjoy the weekend, Mike!

  • I strongly believe that Six Sigma and LEAN, were more of a platitude development for Mfg engineers to give their counterpart, idle floor workers, more info to study and data to collect about their automated process, so they would not loose their operating(Blue Collar)job, than a true science to achieve process capability study matrix.

    Capability Analysis has been applied to very unpopular and unrealistic activity in manufacturing of parts. The failure of the Auto Industry and it’s 2008 GOv’t buyout is an example of Lean/Six Sigma gone amuck!


  • six sigma, ISO, etc., have always been considered time wasters at my company. Frequently customers will ask “when are you getting ISO”? I reply when I don’t have to pay for it, or spend a week explaining what I do to young kids in cheap suits. Some customers ask “well then what is your quality plan” ? I always reply, same as it’s ever been, we don’t hire idiots, we only hire very smart, energetic people with tons of common sense and they personally touch and inspect every item as though they were the customer. That’s it, real smart people touch all the stuff that goes out the door. To paraphrase Kenny Rodgers, we are too busy dealing (making stuff) to waste our time counting (six sigma/ISO, etc.)

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