Where is the Groan Zone in Design Thinking?

By Salla Kuuluvainen

Abductive thinking is a skill crucial for Design thinkers. It refers to being able to stay analytical and emphatic, rational and emotional, methodical and intuitive, oriented by plans and constraints, but spontaneous at the same time (Tschimmel 2012,3). We practiced our best capability in abductive thinking in a two-day workshop with Katja Tschimmel, learning a process for Design Thinking called E6 developed in her company Mindshake.

Trust the Process – There Will Be One Solution at the End!

As facilitator I have worked quite a while with enabling better collaboration in teams. In the workshop I paid special attention to the process of divergent and convergent thinking, which is very important in creating new ideas – divergent meaning the space where we create new ideas and convergent the space where we make decisions and prioritize on the ideas. Tim Brown (2009, 68), explains that as design thinker it is important to have the rhythm of divergent and convergent spaces, and with each iteration arrive at a result that is less broad and more detailed than the previous iterations.

I have worked with the Double Diamond process for quite a while, and I was fascinated about the level nuance in the E6 process in regards of convergence and divergence, which in this process were simply not only seen as phases in the process but as qualities of the different tools. I found this approach allowed for a very in-depth process.

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The Classical Double Diamond model – only two iterations with divergence/convergence.

I liked how different forms of prototyping were present in different phases of the process, not only at the end, and how prototyping could also be a generative, divergent tool for expanding on the idea. In our group I noticed very clearly the value of our prototype in not only showcasing the consept, but also in expanding the idea, by working with our hands and thinking at the same time.

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Our first prototype allowed for lots of discussion and expanding on the idea.

Better brainstorming is what every creative team needs

Some more detailed observations in regards to creativity were Katja Tschimmel’s instructions to brainstorming, which I found great. Often the problem with brainstorming is that ideas have a very different level of detail: some are on very high level and vague, others very specific and almost ready concepts.

Often the problem in the Double Diamond method is that we tend to loose the more detailed ideas in the process of clustering ideas under bigger headlines. But in the Mindshake process the vague ideas were developed further and semantically confronted with other ideas to have more detail.

I noticed that we did not end up in the famous Groan Zone, which lies somewhere between the convergent and divergent zones of process, where the group experiences feelings close to despair and has a very hard time finding their way forwards in the process. Even if some facilitators claim that Groan Zone is natural appearance in every process and can indeed produce some of the best solutions, I as facilitator try to minimize it in the processes I facilitate, since I feel that with the right tools the groups can often avoid it.

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I think that the reason why the process felt easy was the fluctuation between divergent and convergent – in most cases people feel at ease on one area of the process but not the other, and now they were allowed to find their comfort zone in many phases of the process.

I still think I have some personal journey ahead to become a full Abductive Design Thinker, but this workshop was a great start on the path of creativity and collaboration.

References:

Brown, T. 2009. Change by Design. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Tschimmel, K. 2012.  Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In:
Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.

2 thoughts on “Where is the Groan Zone in Design Thinking?

  1. Salla’s blog sums-up in a nice way her experience as facilitator and the new findings she has made by exploring Katja Tschimmel’s tool. Especially pleasing was the way she found new angles to the process and ways to avoid or work around the groan zone with new tools. Even an experienced fasilitator can find new ways of working and enhance her skills. Especially pleasing was the thinking that you can work and be productive in the comfort zone and the way she found ways to avoid the groan zone.

  2. Finding a shared understanding in group works can surely be challenging sometimes. With careful listening and strengthening relationship between participants, this phase of stagnation, Groan Zone, can be tackled, as Amanda Fenton puts it (thank you for linking the term). In your blog you mentioned that in your facilitation work you try to minimize this phase of the process by using right Design Thinking tools. It would be interesting to hear, which tools you have found most successful to overcome this challenge?

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