Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking: You Need Both to Get Unstuck and Solve Problems, The Incrementalist, Ep. 12

When you’re working on a complex problem, how do you innovate and fix it? Is it better to generate creative insights or to use logical reasoning?

You need both for creative problem solving. You spark ideas and explore multiple solutions with Divergent Thinking. You analyze ideas and choose the best solution with Convergent Thinking.

Linear thinking is the common, default mode when we work on projects and tackle problems. This includes making specific plans and listing action steps. It keeps us organized and on track. But linear thinking is not effective in addressing adaptive challenges with uncertain outcomes. 

To get unstuck and solve complex problems, you could blend Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking. This leads to creative problem solving, where you generate new, original ideas that are meaningful, valuable and practical. 

In 1956, American psychologist J.P. Guilford coined the terms Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking to describe two cognitive approaches to tackle problems and find innovative solutions. The interplay between these two contrasting styles of mental processing leads to optimal performance. 

Divergent thinking asks, “Why not?” Convergent thinking asks, “Why?” 

Divergent thinking generates different ideas and multiple solutions. You begin with a prompt and generate many solutions. Although the process is structured, you stay open-minded and open-ended as you brainstorm ideas and explore possibilities. There’s no analysis, no judgment, and no arguments being made.

Convergent thinking narrows down multiple ideas into a single solution.  You begin with information and converge around a solution that works best. You organize your ideas, evaluate and analyze them, weigh the pros and cons, and make decisions.

In episode 12 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will discover:

1) The four steps in JP Guilford’s model of creative thinking

  • Define the problem you wish to solve
  • Apply Divergent Thinking to spark ideas and create choices
  • Use Convergent Thinking to evaluate ideas and make choices
  • Finalize the solution and prepare to implement it

2) Why you need to keep the two modes of thinking separate from each other

3) How to use Nominal Group Technique (NGT) for brainstorming sessions

4) Creativity tactics to generate ideas and innovation 

  • Work under a lofty ceiling
  • Make noise
  • Dim the lights
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Take a nap
  • Do yoga. Or meditate

5) Two examples of Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking working together to create a successful service or product: Twitter (social medial platform) and 3M’s Post-it® Note (sticky note). 

Resources cited:

  • Anne Manning, Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking: How to Strike a Balance (May 10, 2016, Harvard Extension School, Professional Development Blog)
  • Donald M. Rattner, My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation
  • Dyan Williams, Mind Mapping: A Mental Tool for Generating Ideas and Solving Problems, ABA Law Practice Today

Stay creative & logical,

Dyan Williams

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps


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