The American psychologist Joy Paul Guilford (1897-1987) introduced the terms divergent and convergent thinking in 1946. The divergent and convergent thinking are two natural forms of thinking (two sides to the same coin) that produces solutions to problems (production type of thinking). “Convergence” refers to thinking that leads to a single correct solution. “Divergence” refers to thinking that leads to number of correct solutions. Both divergent and convergent thinking are necessary for problem solving, decision making, creativity and innovation. Divergent thinking is used to create ideas and convergent thinking is used to judge ideas. Convergent thinking is opposite of divergent thinking. In divergent thinking, one thought stimulates many others and the thinking branches or broaden out (multi-directional thinking). In convergent thinking, many thoughts are reduced to a single one and the thinking funnels in (linear thinking). In divergent thinking, a problem can be solved with different approaches whereas in convergent thinking, there is one answer for any given problem. Divergent thinking is generating options without judgement and convergent thinking is judging the options.
Creativity = “diverge before you converge
Divergent thinking (“thinking up ideas”) + convergent thinking (“assess the effectiveness of the ideas”) = creativity.
Generating many ideas + converging on the best idea = creativity.
Definitions and explanations
Convergent thinking is the ability to apply logic and knowledge to narrow down the number of possible solutions to a problem. Convergent thinking is more rigorous and analytical and is associated with focused attention. Consideration, improving and fine – tuning of ideas are part of convergent thinking. Convergent thinking focuses on ‘screening, selecting and evaluating alternatives’ (Puccio et al. 2006). The goal of convergent thinking is to find the one correct answer or the best answer of the options available.
Divergent thinking is the ability to think along many paths to generate many solutions to a problem. Brain storming is a typical example of divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is essentially open-ended thinking involving non-logical processes which allows using one’s imagination to explore all sorts of new possibilities. The goal of divergent thinking is to come up with many possible solutions, answers or options. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner and many ideas are generated in a random, unorganized fashion. J.P. Guilford (1950, 1967) described divergent thinking as a primary method of achieving creative ideas.
Divergent thinking à thinking outwards—centrifugal movement-- broad focus of attention—less goal bound—gathering diverse points of view—suspending judgement-- idea generation—creative process.
Convergent thinking à thinking inwards –centripetal movement--narrow focus of attention –more goal bound -- sorting ideas into categories—exercising judgement – idea analysis—evaluative process.
Convergence and divergence
Convergence means bringing together and moving toward one point. Divergence means developing in different directions. Divergence is a mode of thinking in which one uses the right brain to explore ideas or solutions without judging them. In convergence thinking mode one uses the left brain to analyse ideas and think them through logically. Convergence and divergence are two necessary types of thinking for being creative. In any problem solving situation from the beginning to the end, individuals are shifting their thinking modes between divergence and convergence. The ability to switch from one type of thinking to other is called pivot thinking. Pivot thinking is a cognitive problem solving style that easily pivots or shifts between divergent or convergent problem solution possibilities. One of the key indicators of an innovative process is the alternation between divergent and convergent thinking modes of thinking with frequent pivots between the two modes. A “converger” would tend to prefer convergent problem solving techniques while a “diverger” would tend to favour divergent problem solving techniques. A “pivot thinker” would display problem solving preferences that easily pivots or shifts between divergent and convergent approaches.
Rules of divergent thinking
A divergent thinking involves imaging, reframing and seeing issues from different perspectives. Divergent thinking is complex, associative process of bringing alternative, novel, and original ideas to emergence. Divergent thinking allows one’s imagination to produce variability and encourages the production of multiple answers. It involves thinking laterally, not just in or convergent ways. Divergent thinking usually occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing and non-linear manner. Einstein was a strong divergent thinker. The strategies for encouraging divergent thinking include brainstorming, keeping a journal, free- writing and mind mapping.
1. Expand ideas and defer judgement
2. Create and accept plenty of ideas
3. Combine ideas and consider novelty
4. Break paradigms and generate strange ideas.
Commandments of divergent thinking (M.D. Jones)
- The more the ideas, the better – “Quantity breeds quality.”
- Build on other ideas –expand the range of options, perspectives and elements.
- Seek wild and unusual ideas –wacky ideas incite humour and open up many paths.
- Don’t evaluate ideas – suspend judgment.
- Fluency –generating many ideas.
- Flexibility – generating different types of ideas.
- Originality – generating novel ideas.
- Elaboration – building on and developing ideas.
Convergent thinking processes move from data, clues or parts of a problem to a specific idea. Convergent thinking involves analysis of ideas and synthesis in to concepts, evaluation and prioritization of concepts. Convergent thinking narrows down a large number of ideas through the process of analysing, sorting, judging, eliminating and selecting (directed thinking). Convergent thinking emphasizes accuracy, correctness and effectiveness. In convergent thinking, there is usually one conclusion or answer that is regarded as unique and thinking is channelled or controlled in the direction of that answer. Convergent thinking allows us to use our knowledge to examine concepts. Convergent thinking is particularly appropriate in science, maths and technology. Convergent thinking is essentially about traditional problem solving.
- Be systematic and analyse the objectives
- Evaluate the ideas using rules of logic
- Use intuition
- No paradigm breaking and draw a best answer.
Convergent and divergent thinking skills are both important to critical thinking. Convergent and divergent thinking tools are extremely helpful when making decisions. Creative achievement requires a complex combination of both divergent and convergent thinking. In the generation stage, teams or individuals use divergent thinking to develop novel ideas. In the application stage, they use convergent thinking to make those ideas useful. Divergent thinking is the wellspring of invention. In academic settings, when a student takes a multiple choice exam, he tries to find out the right answer from a set of incorrect options. Most training in schools encourages convergent thinking.
"Diverge before you converge"
"Not all thinking is the same"
"Not all thinking is the same"