What’s your gut reaction to something new?

One of the people I admire a lot, Rolf from Norway, wrote in his blog a couple of weeks back on the way that people react to ideas, based on an interaction he had with some of his colleagues. His post really got me thinking about the way that your ideas, concepts, and thoughts are reacted to.

I am a person who will have a lot of ideas, some of them good, some of them not so good, most of them having lots of obvious flaws when they come out of my head for the first time. When you are sharing about these ideas with people I think you meet (at least!) two basic responses.


The first one (and sadly a very common one) is based on exposing the flaws, critiquing the idea or saying that it won’t work. People will generally start “That is a great idea, however did you think about problem X,Y,Z with it”. This approach I identify as the approach that Rolf described as having the result of “killing enthusiasm“. I can very much relate.

When I’m approached with this way of thinking I generally become impatient, maybe even annoyed, or frustrated. Second approach I find from people is that they start asking questions or give ideas not in order to expose flaws or weaknesses in the idea, but rather to build on it. They’ll say things like “That’s a great idea, it would be even better if we did X,Y,Z”, or “That’s a great idea, how do you think we could make it work in the context of A?”. This type of response creates excitement and energy with me, moves the idea forward and will make me really engaged.

Both responses start the same. Both approaches have their place, and some people will prefer the first to the second and vice versa. They both will be able to tackle issues caused by the idea. However the reaction they will create within me, the way that they will move the idea forward for me, is radically different. To me, the second way of approaching a new idea or concept doesn’t mean that you say yes to everything presented. Rather it is about seeing the value in every concept or idea, and trying to capture in which context or where this can be applied. I am pretty clear of which type of approach I want to be surrounded by and work with, and I’m going to make sure to take steps to myself have this approach to as large extent as I possibly can.

Photo courtesy of nectarous.

The necessity of divergence

It’s easy to converge on things, we feel a need to become specialists, to get good at something, to feel like experts. And I agree, it is important. However, there’s an equally important process, that’s so easy to forget, and that is the process of divergence. When we explore new things, see something different, tread outside of what is familiar, something happens in our heads, new ideas can be born, new thinking emerge.

It might not always be easy to see the point of the divergence – the relevance of it might not be clear, and we don’t see how it relates to what our real job is. However I’d argue that it has all the impact in the world on our real job, because it gives us new ideas, perspectives and a way to solve problems better or even at all. I think my lack of blogging the past few months has been a clear sign of too little thinking outside of what my main focus has been – which is to lead and manage AIESEC in Sweden (not that I ever stop exploring completely – it’s one of my favorite hobbies!). When in such a mode of convergence it’s easy to properly make time for thinking outside, for seeing new perspectives or trying something completely different.

Overall, I think my ambition for my life is to live in varying periods of divergence and convergence. However, that requires that I make room for it in my lifestyle – and it’s a part that I’m still figuring out! Somebody who seems to have got it (I guess he had some more years to think about it than I) is Stefan Sagmeister, check it out:


Making every day a divergent day


This weekend was a busy one, but yet quite relaxing. Me and Alsu took some time for shopping, we watched two interesting movies (I am from Titov Velves, Slovenia/Macedonia and Nirvana, Russia), saw fireworks celebrating the launch of square Flagey (a lot of fuss about a square), visited the Brussels’ bazaar (it’s huge!), worked on the plan for our English education project and also had some time for just relaxing in bed.

The varying activities this weekend got me thinking about creativity, or with a fancier word, divergent thought. Last year I read a lot about creativity and the thing that struck me as most important was that it is born out of being exposed to new and varying things. These create new, unique associations in your brain and will allow you to be creative.

The innovation conference TED relies on this – the mix of different disciplines and schools of thoughts, exposure to new things in order to create new insights. It has been

Three things I think can stimulate creativity every day:

  1. Go someplace you haven’t been, preferrably where you feel slight discomfort (the bazaar for me)
  2. Meet someone who is very different from yourself (try different religion, background, job)
  3. Do something you’re afraid of doing or can’t understand (say, watch football, go skydiving or go to a ballet)

The only catch is – you need to keep finding new things, because new activities, people and places are all like the fruits I bought at the bazaar – only fresh and exciting for a short time.