Almost sounds unpleasant doesn't it? Something that was frowned upon in Victorian times? Well, I am a divergent thinker, and more...
Problem solving and learning fascinates me - especially the interaction with teams. The how and why people learn in different ways and how they approach different problems. Luckily, sitting in a software test engineering environment, I get to think about this, put it into practice and continue to learn and develop daily.
Whenever I sit down with someone to look at a problem - whether it's brainstorming, bouncing some ideas around or to help someone out - I'm intrigued by the different approaches and paths people take to tackle a problem.
Problem solving is like going on a journey - lots of different ways to do it (paths to take) - hopefully arriving at the same destination (the problem in question is solved.) This has a very close analogy to the way people think and learn - lots of different ways to do it, to hopefully achieve the same result.
So, what am I?
Many years ago I was involved in a self-managed learning program. Out of that my instructor and myself came to the conclusion that I was a divergent thinker. Okayyyy I thought...
Is that all?
No, we also concluded that I was an emergent (constructive) learner. Not bad, but what does all this mean?
Some key attributes are:
- Building knowledge from the bottom-up
- Diving-in to learn from experience rather than from a book
- Evolutionary - adapting to change and being self-organising
- More DIY-learning...
- Looking at the problem from several angles -> "Big picture" & "out of the box
Sounds great to have these qualities in a test team.
Of course, there are drawbacks with these. Emergent learners may have holes in their knowledge as they haven't gone via the classroom - but I think the ability to adapt and learn makes-up for this.
This doesn't mean that one type of learning/approach is better than another - as with any team, it needs a healthy mix of all types - then everyone is backing each other up... That includes mixing high-flyers and less-able members - it's the team that counts, not the team hero.
Similarly, I wouldn't want a team of only brainstormers (or even brain showers!) - all that whiteboard and post-it activity - they'd never do anything!
In practice, is it true? Has it worked?
In early 2005 when I joined an organisation as a system integrator - with part of the role being to establish a system integration process and organisation - I was the only tester not to be sent on a training course for the HW/platform we were using. My manager's explanation: "we're time stretched and you're the sort of person that will learn more without the course..."
Well, I didn't completely agree - it was like a bit of tightrope walking without a safety net - but I pulled on my waders (or was it diving suit) and jumped in at the deep end.
Horrible mix of metaphors!
True enough, I adapted and evolved both a strategy and process - this attitude fitted nicely as the org was an incremental development project in start-up, so there was plenty of change, modification and adaption.
Does this mean these traits are more suited to incremental development? Yes, they're good to have but again I think it's the healthy mix of competences that makes the project work. Everyone has elements of all learning styles - just that some are more practiced than others...
Is that all then Ted?
Recognising and understanding the differences is what's important. As a team leader it's very handy to know (or guesstimate) these styles in different team members because adapting the presentation to the individual wins every time! Also tasks can be shuffled around to match strengths, or even exercise/improve weaker areas.
As an aside, if you're interested in mind-mapping (will appeal more to the divergent thinkers) there's a lot of good software tools out there. One I've been playing with recently is bubbl. Quite nice.
Don't confuse emergent learning with emergence - this is another term I'm interested in - more to do with how teams can self-organise...