There are two prevailing schools of thought related to how we think, problem solve, make decisions, and view the world: "Convergent" and "divergent" thinking.

If you're familiar with the concepts, then you know that only one really gets your work environment to become more creative and innovative. Lets break down the two concepts further. 

Convergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is the process of finding a single best solution to a problem that you are trying to solve. Basically, convergent thinkers see a limited number of choices as possibilities to solve a problem and choose what they believe to be the best option. 

The focus for this thinking strategy is speed, logic and accuracy. It relies on identifying what's already known and is best suited for situations that culminates in one best right or wrong answer, meaning there is no chance for ambiguity. It entails using existing knowledge by way of standard procedures for solving a problem. Most standard IQ tests, in fact, measure convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking 

The premise behind divergent thinking is this: Those who can seamlessly access the brain's right temporal lobe are able to generate multiple related ideas for a given topic or problem by exploring many possible solutions.

In plain English, divergent thinkers think outside the box. They have the uncanny ability to come up with free-flowing ideas and problem-solving insights in a short amount of time, as opposed to their convergent-thinking counterparts who solve single problems in a systematic and linear fashion.

In a team setting, scientists have discovered that divergent thinkers are known for increasing ingenuity and productivity. 

Why divergent thinking matters

While I'm guilty of showing my bias toward divergent thinking, let me ease the minds of convergent thinkers; you are not broken and you do not need to be fixed.

A team with high convergent IQ can be quite effective by systematically hammering away at a problem until they find a solution to it (while staying within the boundaries of their problem solving).

Divergent thinkers, on the other hand, don't look for one right answer; they come up with as many solutions to the problem as possible.

So from a business standpoint, if your organization seeks to generate more creativity, explore and embrace new ideas and blaze new trails, it would behoove you to hire more divergent thinkers.

How you can tell you have divergent thinking

This ever happen to you? You step into a hot shower and within seconds your mind starts to brainstorm creative solutions to problems. Or you go for a solitary walk during lunch only to be bombarded by a burst of ingenious insight into a problem that your team of six couldn't come up on their own.

Interestingly enough, what research is finding is that there is a strong link between creativity and various solitary activities (such as taking hot showers, meditation, solitary walks, etc.). Studies also suggest that we are much more creative when working alone than in groups. 

The other way that will indicate you bend toward divergent thinking is your thirst for knowledge, exploration, and new experiences. 

Developing your divergent thinking by asking questions

If the prospect of applying this thinking habit looks amazing, you're in luck because anyone can pull it off. One of the best ways to increase divergent thinking is to look at a problem that is kicking your rear from the top of the mountain, rather than from within the trenches. You want to start by exploring all possibilities and asking yourself questions like:

  1. "How else can I look at this situation?"
  2. "What are some different ways to solve this problem that I've never considered before?"
  3. "How am I interpreting this situation? What new interpretations can I see moving forward?"

Divergent questions are often based around hypotheticals. For example, ask yourself:

  1. What if X happened instead, what would that lead to?
  2. What would happen if we switched A and B?
  3. Imagine that C was not true anymore, how would that affect this situation?

Narrow a broad topic into a specific, focused one. For example:

  1. What are the causes and effects of [problem A]?
  2. What options do I have about [problem B]?
  3. What is known and unknown about [problem C]?

To go deeper, write down at least ten questions to challenge assumptions and see things outside the box. Then take out another sheet of paper and write down as many ideas as possible to achieve your desired goal, however absurd they may sound. Just allow your mind to freely express itself with analyzing anything.

Final thoughts

I wanted to end this piece by pointing out one key thing. We cannot say for sure that divergent thinking is always more advantageous than convergent thinking in a team setting because, often, balance, flexibility, and diversity of opinions are the key strengths of a team. To err on the side of caution, as you consider developing the right culture, it may be best to integrate both thinking strategies for competitive advantage. 

Published on: Aug 7, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of