Dave Birss | Divergence

Avatar Disruptive HQ | 04/08/2018

We were joined in the studio by Dave Birss, author of A User Guide To The Creative Mind and co-author of Amazon Bestseller Iconic Advantage. Dave is obsessed with creativity – what it is, where it comes from, its role in history, its place in our future, what makes some people more creative than others – and this obsession finds its way into almost everything he does.
He’s a former advertising creative director who helped to lead the creative departments of many of London’s best-known ad agencies. He’s also been a musician, TV presenter, film director, stand-up comedian, illustrator and radio broadcaster.
Currently the brains behind problem solving hub RIGHT thinking and founder and editor of Open for Ideas; an online magazine that’s dedicated to clarifying creativity and sharing practical advice to help everyone get better at generating ideas.
Dave joined us to explain his chosen topic: Divergence.


Hi! I’m Dave Birss. I’m obsessed with creativity and what I end up doing is I speak to organisations and I speak to students and I tell people about how they can get better ideas out of their heads and how organisations can get better ideas. And I do that by working with organisations. I do it by speaking at events all over the world and I’m an author.

So at the beginning of the year I was involved in writing a book called iconic advantage which was looking at a better way of using innovation as a way of growing your brand and in November I’ve got another book coming out that’s currently titled “How to get to a great idea”, and that’s looking at how we can use our brains and how organisations can manage better to be able to come up with better ideas.

So when we start talking about what makes a good idea, one of the things that we need to do is clear that up – because a lot of people don’t understand it.

So, on this axis here we’ve got non-obviousness and in this axis here we’ve got value. So, the idea is that most people play with are usually pretty obvious and have dubious levels of value to them. What we are looking for for ideas that are going to be great for an organisation is up here because, up here, when you’ve got an idea that’s non obvious – and it’s valuable, so actually helps you achieve something, it means that you’re going to be able to differentiate yourself. You’re going to be able to spot opportunities that other people don’t spot and these are the kind of ideas that I help organisations to have.

Now one of the things, if we’re wanting to get to that kind of idea, one of the things we need to understand is every group of people has a norm and this is a natural thing to have a norm.

There’s evolutionary reasons for it if you were part of a group in Palaeolithic times, out on African plains, you know being part of a group meant there was a good chance that you would get to pass on your DNA. If you were an individual living by themselves there’s probably more chance you’re gonna pass on your protein to a wild beast. So if you wanted to pass on your DNA it meant that being part of a group.

Being comfortable being part of a group was a selective trait so it means that humans that around now have this trait that we feel is pulled to the centre of an norm. And you get norms of all scales. So you get norms of what it means to be the person in your country, to be your nationality. So I know what it means to be Scottish and then you’ve got other norms all the way down to smaller groups of people that you’re with. So your groups of friends you’ve got your norm. Your organisation that you work for you’ve got a norm. And that means that you’ve got similar understandings you’ve get similar knowledge you’ve got similar assumptions you’ll get similar ways of doing things and that means that if you’re just like everyone else you’re gonna come up with the same kind of ideas as everyone else that isn’t valuable. It’s obvious if you want to get to these great valuable ideas – they lie outside here – they lie outside a norm.

And that means that we need to be able to diverge from our norms if we want to be able to access these valuable ideas.

Now, there’s some people who naturally diverge from the norm. They’re going to be slightly different to other people in the group. There’s two different kinds of divergence.

The first kind of divergence is one we’ve got no control over – that’s involuntary divergence. So one of those would be… there’s four of these we’ve got diversity. You’ve got your upbringing. You’ve got trauma, things that change, the course of your life, and we’ve got illness and with one and four people in the West at the moment suffering from a mental health issue actually this is one of the biggest things that we’ve got in the workplace is people whose minds work in a different way.

Now another kind of divergence that we’ve got is voluntary divergence. Stuff that we’ve got control over and again we’ve got four kinds of these we’ve got contrarianism. That’s
people who will ask questions. They’ll ask why, they’ll go against the grain. But you need to do that in a positive way so that you’re actually coming up with alternatives.

Another we’ve got is dreaminess so people who can actually just let their mind drift and imagine different scenarios that’s a highly valuable thing that is imagination and some people they prefer to dance with a unicorn in Narnia then do their spreadsheets. These people if you give them the right kind of stuff to work on can be massively valuable to an organisation.

Then look at altered states. Now of course I came from the advertising industry and they like to have altered states – through a lunchtime pint (or six) and any other way of doing it. But there’s different ways that we can alter the state of our mind. Exercise is one of the best ways that we can do that.

And then we’ve got play. Playing one of the most misunderstood things in business. All
play is doing is giving you a different norm to operate within for a limited period of time and that helps you access these valuable ideas around the outside.

So if you want to be different you have to understand that most people within their norm a very narrow input under narrow input just like everyone else’s leads to narrow output. If you want to be valuable to your organisation you need to have a broader level of input and that broader level of input lets you have a broader kind of output. This input, process, output. And if you’ve got the same stuff in your head as everyone else you’re gonna come up with the same kind of ideas as everyone else. So you need to embrace your difference and you need to embrace the difference of those around you within an organisation because most organisations they try to limit things to their norm – but we need to embrace everything round about.

The companies that are going to be successful in the future are the ones who are able to embrace people’s difference and allow that to become a valuable thing within their organisation.

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