Psychology : Understanding Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Paul Guildford, an American psychologist, first introduced the terms convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Convergent and divergent thinking are natural thought processes and are invariably referred to as ‘two sides of the same coin.’ Convergent and divergent thinking is required to solve problems, enhance creativity, enable decision-making, and developing innovative ideas. Convergent thinking and divergent thinking are the polar opposites of each other. Convergent thinking is linear, but divergent thinking stimulates multiple thoughts, leading to multi-directional thinking.  Understanding convergent and divergent thinking can allow you to consciously use the appropriate thought process to get the best results:

What is convergent thinking?

convergent-thinkingConvergent thinking allows the application of knowledge and logic in order to reduce the number of solutions of a problem. This method of thinking is rigorous and analytical, and it demands attention as well as focus. Fine-tuning ideas, improving, and consideration falls in the convergent way of thinking. It focuses on selecting, screening, and evaluating alternatives. Convergent thinking’s goal is to arrive at a single correct answer, or else the best option available.

Understanding convergent and divergent thinking will lead you to the understanding that though the modes of divergent-convergent thinking differ, they are both required to find creative solutions – or rather – for creative thinking. Convergent thinking judges the options generated and divergent thinking generates options which are without judgment.

Convergent thinking is inward thinking


In this mode of thinking, the thought process moves inwards with a very narrow attention focus. It’s tied to the end goal and does not veer out of the area concerned. Ideas are sorted into different categories; then analyzed as well as evaluated. Solving questions in a multiple choice questionnaire is one of the convergent thinking examples, as the answer is quite definite and there can be no ambiguity.

What is divergent thinking?


Divergent thinking generates multiple solutions to one problem. Brainstorming sessions are good examples of divergent thinking. This type of thinking has no limitations and is not bound to a single goal. In divergent thinking, the thought process is not logical. The thinker uses his/her imagination to explore various possibilities. Divergent thinking happens in a free-flowing, spontaneous manner.

Divergent thinking generates ideas in an unorganized and random manner. It is supposed to be the primary method of discovering creative ideas.

Divergent thinking is focused outwards (think centrifugal movement as opposed to the centripetal movement of convergent thinking). The area of thought is vast, and it isn’t tied as much to the goal as convergent thinking is. Divergent thinking is part of the creative process – or rather- the beginning of the creative process. Albert Einstein is one of the most famous exponents of divergent thinking.

Explained: The difference between divergent and convergent thinking


In divergent thinking, the right side of the brain is used; whereas in convergent thinking, the left side of the brain is used. In any situation, convergent and divergent thinking is used, to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the person. Another type of thinking is the ‘Pivot’ thinking – the ability to switch between convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking examples include spelling tests, standardized tests, and so on, which can have only one correct answer. Divergent thinking examples are creative writing and brainstorming.

Strategies used in convergent thinking


In convergent thinking, the thinking process progresses from parts of a particular problem to specific data. It involves narrowing down of several ideas or converging ideas by sorting, analyzing, judging, selecting, and eliminating. It emphasizes accuracy and the thinking process is channelized to arrive at the correct answer.  The strategies used in convergent thinking is:

  • Being systematic
  • Evaluating ideas using logic
  • Using intuition
  • No breaking of paradigms

Strategies used in divergent thinking


Divergent thinking entails imagery and perspectives. It is a complex process. Novel ideas find expression through divergent thinking. Strategies to develop divergent thinking are:

  • Brainstorming
  • Expansion of ideas while deferring judgment
  • Creation of multiple ideas
  • Combining numerous ideas
  • Breaking paradigms

Understanding convergent and divergent thinking is important for the optimal use of both the techniques. They are extremely important for critical thinking and are powerful tools which lead to new discoveries and inventions. All great scientists have used these two modes of thinking and made groundbreaking discoveries. It is wise to remember that imagination and decision-making are both crucial for every innovation.

Dr Prem Jagyasi (c)

Dr Prem is an award winning strategic leader, renowned author, publisher and highly acclaimed global speaker. Aside from publishing a bevy of life improvement guides, Dr Prem runs a network of 50 niche websites that attracts millions of readers across the globe. Thus far, Dr Prem has traveled to more than 40 countries, addressed numerous international conferences and offered his expert training and consultancy services to more than 150 international organizations. He also owns and leads a web services and technology business, supervised and managed by his eminent team. Dr Prem further takes great delight in travel photography.

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