I’m sure you’ve at least heard of (and maybe used) the home cook’s trick of throwing a strand of hopefully cooked spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks. If it does it’s cooked. If it doesn’t wait a minute and throw another one. Sometimes when the first one doesn’t stick we might think we didn’t throw it very well so we throw another one to make sure it wasn’t poor execution that caused it to hit the floor.
Of course there is a more planful approach as well. Follow the recipe. Boil water in a large pot, add salt, insert spaghetti carefully and spread around the pot, set the timer for 10 minutes and drain well when finished.
There has always been a debate between the “measure twice, cut once” approach and the “throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks” approach. In fact that debate is going on inside me right now … I’m living it right now and I thought I would share my thoughts about these two approaches.
As I’ve moved from part-time coach to full-time coach I’ve had a need to pay more attention to business development. Business development is all about finding opportunities. The nature of opportunities is that not all of them turn out so it is necessary to pursue multiple opportunities. So the debate is, do I select opportunities serially, in a planful manner, or do I pursue multiple opportunities at once, in effect seeing which ones stick to the wall?
What I’ve come to realize is that we are most effective when we move deliberately between the two approaches, with each approach more effective at certain stages of pursuing any given opportunity. And it makes sense. Throwing stuff at the wall is a divergent approach, with a goal of generating possibilities. Being planful is a convergent approach, designed to narrow possibilities down to an actionable agenda.
Let me describe what I mean by each of these stages, using my journey from an executive position to an independent coach as an example.
The emergence of something new always starts from the realization that something is lacking. There is a void waiting to be filled. The issue is usually … what does it want to be filled with? In my case, the void I had clearly identified was that I was no longer deriving satisfaction at work and so I engaged a coach to help me explore possibilities of what might possibly fill that void. I knew that work as I knew it needed to be replaced by work that provided motivation. My work with my coach led me through layers of discovery, ideas that related to the cause of the void, big picture ideas of the types of things that would fill the void, and lists of what roles might be available to me which would provide me meaningful work.
As I began to narrow down the possibilities, I came to have a strong sense that of all the roles identified as possible for me, the most meaningful opportunity would likely be coaching. This then brought to me the realization that I wasn’t fully prepared to be a coach. I had experience being coached, and I had applied some of the knowledge and experience I gained from my coach to experiment with coaching others and all of that taught me that I needed to prepare more fully if I was to be as effective as I wanted to be in my new space. As a result I entered a highly regarded coaching school and devoted about a year to becoming a certified coach.
So I have now described a first round of divergence and convergence. In effect, in this early stage I was throwing stuff at a wall to define and prepare a wall that I wanted to throw stuff at for the long-term!
Having made the leap into full-time professional coaching, the void I now have is that I have doubled the amount of time I have for my coaching practice and I want to find new ways to meaningfully fill that time. Creating growth often requires pursuing many threads and hence I engaged with many different possible opportunities. At present, there’s a bunch of spaghetti on the wall and perhaps a few additional strands still in the air. It at times is daunting to keep track of everything I have launched, and it is in fact this feeling that has caused my exploration of this topic, wondering if the approach of throwing stuff at a wall is serving me well or whether so much activity is just bogging me down.
I now think this sense of unease is an important part of the process, signalling me to look at shifting from a divergent to a convergent or more planful approach. I’m also realizing that we don’t have to be solely in one mode or the other, but I have to be aware of the balance. At present, I feel like starting more new things might be overwhelming, so I’m focusing on evaluating which of my more mature opportunities are ones which are worthy of more energy. For example, I had a meeting with a person who runs an executive coaching organization. I love their philosophy and I love the energy of the owner, but their approach is restrictive with respect to what I love to do so unfortunately I’ve had to decline. Yet I’ve chosen to continue to pursue an introduction to a corporation which promises multiple clients where I can be more of myself.
In the times when we engage in divergent thinking , it is important to understand “what is possible” for the future and not to be judgmental about what opportunities we come up with. The intent should be to create “too much opportunity” by removing all constraints (other than it had to relate to my coaching practice) and just exploring what might be possible.
What makes it more comfortable to engage in divergent thinking is knowing we will always have the ability to make conscious choices on which items we will pursue by engaging in convergent thinking. As we then pursue the chosen opportunities we learn from them and harvest knowledge from them that we use to expand our thinking about our overall pursuit and begin a new cycle of progression.
What are your thoughts with these two approaches? Do you use both? Or do you favor one over the other? What causes you to choose the way you do?