Divergent thinking, often referred to as lateral thinking, is the process of creating multiple, unique ideas or solutions to a problem that you are trying to solve. Through spontaneous, free-flowing thinking, divergent thinking requires coming up with many different answers or routes forward.
Divergent thinking can benefit work processes in the following ways:
A divergent thinker will explore all possible solutions to a problem, increasing the likelihood of finding a solution that fits a particular problem perfectly.
By dismissing the first idea, teams are encouraged to think outside the box and exercise their creativity. This encourages teamwork as they compare ideas and collectively work towards one goal, boosting team morale.
When faced with a complex problem, divergent thinking allows management to adapt their plans and processes to find an appropriate new solution, encouraging proactive development as opposed to restrictive reactive thinking.
Too much divergent thinking can lead to endless ideation, and no solutions.
That’s where convergent thinking comes in handy. Convergent thinking organizes and structures new ideas, separating those with worth from those which can be left behind.
Creative problem solving begins with divergent thinking — to collect free-flowing ideas — before converging them so they’re relevant to the issue at hand.
Both stages are critical. The divergent stage pushes you to explore all possible options, while the convergent stage ensures you’ve chosen the most appropriate solutions given the context.
Convergent thinking focuses on finding a well-defined solution to a problem by embracing clear solutions and structure.
For example, if a copy machine breaks at work, someone identifying as a convergent thinker would quickly call a technician to fix the machine.
Usually, project managers embrace convergent thinking without even knowing it, so you might already be familiar with this mentality.
Benefits of convergent vs. divergent thinking:
There is no room for ambiguity.
You tend to find solutions more quickly.
Perfect for linear processes and organization.
It allows you to align teams, plan projects, and create workflows in the most efficient way possible.
It’s a straight-to-the-point kind of approach to problem-solving.
Divergent thinking refers to the creative solutions you could find for a problem. This type of thinking allows for more freedom and helps you generate more than one solution by typically using brainstorming as the cognitive method.
Although the means differ from convergent thinking, the end goal is the same — to find the best idea.
For example, a divergent thinker would try to find the cause and develop a fix for that broken copy machine from the previous example.
They might even send a company-wide email to check whether any employees have fixed copy machines before.
Benefits of divergent vs. convergent thinking:
Using creativity to find solutions to problems.
Analyze ideas from different angles.
Identify and apply new opportunities.
Helps the user adopt a learning mindset.
Stand out from competitors by implementing creative ways to solve common problems.
Helps you learn and understand other people’s perspectives when brainstorming.
Divergent thinking involves a whole range of psychological steps. Usually, divergent thinking happens in a free-flowing and spontaneous manner, so ideas appear in a random, non-linear manner.
This is how divergent thinking opens the mind to the potentially limitless solutions to problems that might not be obvious through linear, convergent thinking.
Divergent thinking is an essential part of creative thinking.
The best idea is never found by luck or pure chance. The creative process involves many steps that lead to new ideas.
From plucking out varieties of possible results to applying the idea to the problem at hand, divergent thinking is bound to lead you to more unique ideas than more straightforward, convergent thinking.