Convergent thinking and divergent thinking might sound complicated on the surface, and they can be when practiced, but as concepts they are fairly simple. Both styles of thought are employed in problem solving, and each may complement the other. In this article you will learn the difference between convergent thinking and divergent thinking, and also how the two types may best complement each other.
1. Understand Convergent Thinking
This is perhaps the more predominant style of thinking in contemporary technological society. In convergent thought, we locate a problem at the “center” of our focus and then gather peripheral resources to bear down on the problem. So then our resources “converge” on the problem. Often times with convergent thinking, there is a single best solution that is sought. An example of convergent thinking might involve taking a multiple choice test in which there is a single “correct” answer. The test-taker brings knowledge from outside of the problem (perhaps learned in a course) and converges it all onto the problem in order to choose the correct answer.
2. Understand Divergent Thinking
Divergent thinking involves some stimulus, which can take the form of a problem, and we can locate this at the center, as we did with convergent thinking above. However, the procedure is different. Rather than gathering information and converging it on the central problem, we branch off (diverge) and shoot for novel ideas, new perspectives and creativity. Instead of a single correct answer, there may be a whole host of possibilities. An example of using divergent thinking might involve taking an open-ended test that asks how many uses one can imagine for various (often mundane) objects. What can you do with a pencil? A string? A rock?
3. Combine Convergent Thinking With Divergent Thinking
Perhaps the most clear-cut way in which convergent thinking may be optimally combined with divergent thinking is to engage in divergent thinking in order to generate many novel ideas, and then to evaluate these ideas by using convergent thinking. The fecund imagination of divergent thinking is tempered by the selective critique of convergent thinking.
4. Practice Everyday Application And Relationships
It is probably wise to diversify your thought patterns to include both divergent and convergent thinking. Most of us are better at one than the other, but at least a little of each complements the other. This isn’t just a matter of intellectual pursuits, but it can also come to bear on personal relationships. The old adage “opposites attract” might be especially applicable here too, as a predominantly divergent thinker may admire the “logical” convergent thinker, who may in turn become infatuated with the “wild” divergent thinker.
- Convergent thinking is generally associated with math and science
- Divergent thinking is generally associated with the humanities and fine arts
- It may well be that the great (as opposed to mediocre) mathematicians and scientists are nearly as gifted in divergent thinking as in convergent thinking, and that the great writers and artists are nearly as gifted in convergent thinking as they are in divergent thinking
- Despite possibly being stronger in one than in the other, don’t neglect the type of thinking that is your least favorite or weaker suit — balance helps