In the world of ideation and problem-solving, there are two different concepts applied by most organizations — convergent and divergent thinking.

But what do these terms mean? What makes them different?

In this article, you will learn six factors that make them separate from one another. You can also take a look at how to use both of these schools of thought in your ideation process.

Let’s start!

What is convergent thinking?

Convergent thinking is a term that centers on looking for a sole, correct way of solving any issue through a set of specified, coherent advances. In the concept of convergent thinking, answers are either wrong or right, with zero vagueness in between.

In other words, this type of thinking limits options by examining potential alternatives.

That way, businesses can determine which method works best in resolving problems as every option is analyzed in relation to existing restrictions, conditions, resources, and criteria in the company.

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Convergent thinking is also referred to as logical or upward reasoning.

It takes all facts into account and studies them theoretically to identify the most appropriate and only effective way of addressing issues.

Thus, an individual who applies convergent thinking aims to narrow down options and distinguish a single, provable solution to any problem using speed, logic, and accuracy. Meaning, only one solution will be implemented in the end.

What are some examples of convergent thinking?

Convergent thinking is exhibited in different areas. In the world of business, possible solutions are thoroughly screened to understand and decide which option best fits the organization’s goals and resources.

Innovation-wise, ideas are tested and experimented with to see which concept corresponds to their innovation objectives. Hence, this kind of reasoning enables employees to focus all of their time and energy on refining a sole suggestion that will be executed in due time.

In addition, experiments observe a series of proven and existing steps that lead innovation teams in reapplying readily available techniques and other stored information in doing standard procedures within the company.

What is divergent thinking?

Divergent thinking involves understanding every factor behind a specific problem faced by the company. It finds new opportunities and ways to resolve intractable issues or anything that challenges the company’s status quo.

Applying this kind of thinking is beneficial in the sense that it inspires and motivates employees to share their insights in addressing issues.

Meaning, it takes diversity into consideration as it uses multiple perspectives in studying innovative solutions and other breakthrough possibilities.

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Understanding how receptive divergent thinking is in accepting suggestions, this concept allows learning for every individual in the organization. In addition, this type of thinking is applied in spontaneous environments where innovation culture is practiced.

Hence, with divergent thinking in place, powerful solutions are formed as ideas and expertise are combined to generate advanced and progressive concepts. In effect, creativity is enhanced even further due to the concept’s non-linear and impetuous nature.

What are some examples of divergent thinking?

Businesses that implement a culture of innovation use divergent thinking in ideation sessions where participants are encouraged to be vocal about their ideas and opinions in tackling problems and opportunities.

This often happens in brainstorming forums and in other early stages of ideation.

Once you encounter a challenge and you need to come up with numerous solutions, or when you enter the validation phases of your work, you are applying divergent thinking in the process.

In addition, when you explore various concepts together with your stakeholders and target audience, you go deeper in considering which products and services will work for them the most — and that too is divergent thinking in action.

What are the differences between convergent and divergent thinking?

To understand the differences between these two terms, it would be ideal to discuss them side-by-side through various focal points. 

Number of solutions

Convergent thinking considers only one solution to a problem. It erases every possible alternative and focuses on a single route.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, studies multiple ways of addressing an issue along with an objective to produce different innovation concepts.

Direction of thought process

Convergent thinking is a straightforward measure that centers on sorting out the best response to an issue. Whereas divergent thinking is non-linear as it explores various options and tries out different possibilities.

Methods applied

Convergent thinking takes recently evaluated methods into account and reapplies them along with readily kept data. It also limits itself to a solitary approach. 

On the contrary, divergent thinking determines new courses of action regardless of existing procedures. It sees the problem through various lenses, creating a limitless number of solutions no matter how unrelated they may be.

Ambiguity

Convergent thinking assists with discovering the most ideal response to any issue — one which is most often precise and has no space for vagueness.

However, divergent thinking stands by possible alternatives and refuses to identify a single, accurate answer.

Receptiveness

Convergent thinking sees an answer as either 100% wrong or 100% right. It believes that the world is either black or white, with no other colors and possibilities in between.

Meanwhile, divergent thinking is a more flexible approach as it welcomes other remedies.

Elements

Because of its traditional views, convergent thinking only emphasizes three elements:

  • Speed. Convergent thinkers like to move fast by choosing a singular approach. In fact, when a method is proven effective in solving a problem, convergent thinkers apply it immediately instead of wasting time generating new ways of addressing it.
  • Accuracy. Business leaders who think convergently stick to the “either completely wrong or right” concept. Hence, they believe in the accuracy of their chosen method, maintaining it to be the only effective way of addressing the issue.
  • LogicInnovation leaders with a convergent way of thinking strictly follow and observe their selected course of action. Cohesive steps in achieving innovation success are pre-determined and performed perfectly, with no alternatives to look into.

Due to its multifaceted nature, divergent thinking highlights eight different elements:

  • Intricacy. Because it considers plenty of solutions, divergent thinkers have the ability to conceptualize complex ideas. They are looking into every possibility when trying to achieve a specific objective.
  • Inquisitiveness. Organizations with a divergent way of thinking show an enormous amount of curiosity in testing practices and identifying new information about a certain topic.
  • Elaboration. Since they are not bound to a single path, divergent innovation teams are capable of building off and enhancing their current innovation concepts. Whenever new ideas arise, modifications are carefully inserted into existing projects of the company.
  • Flexibility.  This refers to the ability of divergent thinkers to view problems through different lenses and create a diverse range of solutions to respond to the existing challenges encountered by the organization.
  • Ingenuity. Innovation leaders who think divergently can incite numerous activities to increase the number of ideas that the team has in store for innovation. They like to entertain numerous suggestions and proposals on accomplishing innovation projects.
  • Inventiveness. Divergent thinking is what pushes businesses in a free-flowing direction. As a result, their employees have the ability to conceptualize new and unique concepts that may lead to breakthrough products, services, and organizational changes.
  • Novelty. When organizations create an innovation culture where people are constantly encouraged to come up with and share their incredibly fresh and eccentric ideas, products, and services that are never before seen might pop out at a certain time.
  • Openness to risk. Divergent thinkers like to come up with nontraditional ways of handling problems. This quality makes them natural risk-takers. They are open to apply non-proven methods, even on a trial basis.

Use both convergent and divergent thinking for generating ideas

Convergent thinking is well-defined and structured, while divergent thinking is free-flowing and abstract. If you think about it, these are two distinct ways of thinking that may compete with one another.

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But here’s a great secret to remember:

None of them is better than the other. Both of them are incredibly vital and significant for creative work and problem-solving, which means they can work together to create magnificent results.

Here’s how you can do it.

Apply divergent thinking in the first few steps

Divergent thinking can be overwhelming for innovation teams that do not necessarily pride themselves as creative. However, diverse backgrounds and expertise can be used as a way to generate imaginative concepts.

Hence, innovation leaders must implement a culture of innovation, where employees are free to explore and share their creative sides. Encourage them to be vocal about their ideas and document them.

Afterward, discuss the suggestions with the rest of the team.

If you are an innovation manager, you can create collaborative sessions with members and stakeholders alike. This way, you can enhance everyone’s ideation, brainstorming, and design thinking abilities.

You can also choose to bring in both internal and external experts to acquire knowledge on available platforms and identify necessary changes to your existing processes. In effect, you get to review and synthesize your current research findings.

Finally, enhance everything with convergence

Now that you have a list of ideas, it’s time to tune them down to the ultimate solution. This is where you can implement the changes that you found in the initial parts of the ideation process.

With convergent thinking, you can narrow down your list and take certain factors into consideration, like customer preferences, budget, manpower, timeframe, and many others. Define a set of criteria and evaluate every suggestion through it.

You can get your team on board by using innovation platforms with upvoting and scoring capabilities. Select what resonates with your audience the most and what option perfectly fits your strategies.

Both schools of thinking could greatly help with ideation. But if you want to learn more about idea management, you can download the ultimate guide to idea management entirely for free.