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Lessons from Divergent Using Divergent Thinking in Entrepreneurship

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"What's so powerful about Divergent, and the reason I chose to do this, is that it's about being brave. What's the one thing that makes you diverge from the mainstream, from mediocrity? It's great for [young] people to think about their own lives-who they are and where they belong."
-- Shailene Woodley, Actress, Interview, Entertainment Weekly, March 7, 2014

"Forget that this is a YA book. When you read it, you see scenes, you visualize the world. That suggests a great movie." -- Doug Wick, Co-producer, Entertainment Weekly, March 7, 2014

Women in entrepreneurship today are a different breed, especially those who are founders trying to bootstrap and balance humanity and technology in today's startup culture. We have more to contend with, more at stake on many levels, professionally and personally, and often face more uphill battles that many of our male counterparts don't experience. It's why I wrote my book, The NICE Reboot, and why I am such an advocate of female bloggers in this arena.

Facing great obstacles and finding ways to overcome them are the stuff of legends, of stories, and of epic films. The hero's journey has long held fascination for me as both an educator and entrepreneur. It explains why I was so eager to see the film Divergent, and interpret it using my NICE lens.

The movie is based on the New York Times bestseller by initially unknown recent college graduate Veronica Roth. It was excellent, and well worth my time! It features a strong, relatable, likable, and admirable teenage female heroine, Beatrice (Tris) Prior, played by the very talented and insightful Shailene Woodley. She gives an excellent performance, as do her costars, especially Theo James (Four) and Kate Winslet (Jeanine Matthews), who only has roughly 20 minutes of screen time, making each one count.

The movie is a futuristic take on Chicago and a visual and psychological study in contrasts; landscape, mindset, character, and ultimately behavior. It takes you through the physical and mental journey of one human being, a "good girl" who literally comes from the altruistic faction known as Abnegation. She spends much time trying to find meaning, trying to fit in, and ultimately embracing the unique skills and perspective which make her so special.

The film starts with the premise that adulthood means unlearning what was previously learned, breaks new ground in what it means to be truly heroic, and ends with a message on the importance of being the best version of yourself.

What is so interesting to see are the concrete examples of divergent thinking, shown through the testing experiences Tris has to endure, and the different people she encounters. All of which result in subtle, methodical, choreographed behavior. Behavior showcasing what Tris doesn't do. Actions highlighting what she does do, to gain self respect and the respect i.e. social acceptance from her peers. We know that social currency affects behavior, and Tris shows us how important that is, physically and emotionally.

Her deliberate actions are designed to mask her Theory of Mind, her secret, and draw on her indomitable will to succeed and become part of the Dauntless faction. Through Tris, we get valuable lessons: how to build a fictional world, how to master the art of storytelling, how to become stronger and more resilient, how to handle failure, and ultimately how to lead.

I've already learned a lot about what not to do, but now learned three additional lessons about the kind of entrepreneurial mindset women need, based on this film, and the Tris Prior character:

1. Speak up for yourself and for what you believe in.

Tris tries to intervene when she first meets Peter, bullying one of her peers, although her brother Caleb stops her. She is the first one to jump off the roof into Dauntless "headquarters". She's also the first one who courts trainer Eric's wrath by pointing out the inefficiency in his intimidation routine during the knife throwing exercise. This video hits home the point I'm making, that she doesn't care what others think, or how they label her. She stays authentic and true to herself. Women entrepreneurs need to do the same. It's not just about standing out and being heard, and goes beyond authenticity for branding purposes.

2. Break down your goal into smaller, more easily attainable ones.

Tris knows what she's up against if she fails her initiation, but really lives in the present, while fully aware of her dangerous future. We see this in how she takes small steps towards her goal. For example, she methodically formulates a plan on avoiding being ranked at the bottom. She practices fighting when nobody's around. She refuses to be left behind when everyone goes off to play a brutal version of "capture the flag". It all lies in the "how" and "what" of the decisions made; something Daniel Kahneman talks about here. Women in entrepreneurship can cognitively harness time to rearrange priorities and complete tasks by working smarter, not harder.

3. Accept help and delegate, instead of multi-tasking and trying to be perfect and show no weakness.

Tris slowly begins to understand her strengths and weaknesses, and how being raised in the Abnegation sector and being divergent will continue to shape her behavior, especially her reactions to others. She seeks out a support group of allies, such as forging friendships with a girl from the Candor faction and a boy from the Erudite faction. She accepts mentorship from her instructor Four, and later seeks out her brother for advice and help. It is when she allows Four in, to see her vulnerability and brave human spirit, that he himself lets down his guard and begins to fall for her. The pace and depth of their blossoming relationship rings true, reminding me of this article about eight core truths about people that we need to remember in the business world. Women in entrepreneurship need to remember the human factor of business, and that their strengths lie in their emotional IQ and collaboration skills.

I found the film Divergent to be a refreshing, honest, visually compelling, and emotionally touching tribute to the rites of passage that girls in particular face. It's told through the eyes of one brave girl in a dystopian society that eerily mimics aspects of ours. It reminds us of the basic tenets of humanity, and provides a laundry list of pitfalls facing us when we choose to ignore them.