Divergent vs Convergent Thinking: What's the Difference?

Updated on: 12 October 2023 | 8 min read
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Divergent and convergent thinking are key components of problem-solving and decision-making, often used across different fields. They represent two different ways of approaching challenges: one focuses on generating many ideas, while the other narrows them down to find the best solution.

In this article, we’ll break down divergent vs convergent thinking styles, explore their practical applications, and show how they can help make better decisions and solve complex problems effectively.

Divergence vs Convergence: Definitions

Divergence and convergence are two opposing cognitive processes that play distinct roles in problem-solving and decision-making.

Divergence

Divergent thinking is a creative process that helps generate a wide range of ideas or possibilities. It involves thinking broadly, exploring different angles, and coming up with multiple solutions to a problem. The main goal of divergent thinking is to promote creativity by allowing a free flow of thoughts without judgment or evaluation. In short, it’s about “thinking outside the box” and considering unconventional options.

Convergence

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is a focused and analytical process aimed at selecting the best solution or idea from a set of options. It involves carefully evaluating, comparing, and narrowing down choices to identify the most effective and practical solution to a problem. Convergent thinking is about making decisions and finding the most suitable answer based on specific criteria, often guided by logic, data, and established principles.

This comparison chart gives a quick overview of the differences between divergent and convergent thinking.

Aspect Divergent Thinking Convergent Thinking
Goal Generate many ideas or possibilities. Select the best idea or solution.
Approach Free-flowing and creative brainstorming. Analytical and decision-making.
Emphasis Exploration of new and different possibilities. Evaluation and logical selection.
Process Quantity-focused, exploring various perspectives. Quality-focused, seeking the optimal choice.
Function Idea generation and creativity. Decision-making and solution selection.
Flexibility Open-ended and exploratory. Structured and analytical.
Outcome Numerous ideas without immediate judgment. A specific, chosen solution.

How to Apply Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Remember that divergent and convergent thinking aren’t separate stages, but often work together iteratively. You may need to switch between these thinking styles multiple times to fine-tune and improve your ideas. Additionally, involving a mix of people with different skills and thinking styles and expertise can also help increase the quality of both your divergent and convergent thinking processes.

Applying Divergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking Steps

  1. Define the problem: Start by clearly outlining the problem or challenge you’re facing. Understand its scope and boundaries.

  2. Brainstorm freely: Hold a brainstorming session where you and your team generate as many ideas as possible. During this phase:

    • Do not criticize or judge ideas.
    • Welcome unconventional and even seemingly impractical ideas.
    • Build upon the ideas of others to spark creativity.
  3. Mind mapping: Use mind maps or visual diagrams to explore connections between ideas and concepts. This can help you see the bigger picture and identify potential solutions.

Mind Map Template
  1. Role play and scenario building: Imagine yourself in different scenarios related to the problem. Role-playing and scenario building can help you consider various perspectives and possibilities.
Rolestorming Template
  1. Analogies and metaphors: Draw analogies or use metaphors to relate the problem to unrelated concepts. This can help generate fresh insights and creative solutions.

  2. Idea capture: Document all generated ideas systematically, either on paper or digitally. Organize them for easy reference during the convergent thinking phase. Use the following brainstorming board to quickly record and organize ideas.

Brainstorming Template

Applying Convergent Thinking

Convergent Thinking Steps

  1. Evaluate ideas: Review the list of generated ideas from the divergent thinking phase. Consider factors like feasibility, practicality, and alignment with your goals and constraints.

  2. Set criteria: Define specific criteria or parameters for evaluating ideas. This could include cost-effectiveness, time constraints, and the potential for implementation.

  3. Rank and prioritize: Rank the ideas based on their alignment with the established criteria. Prioritize the top ideas that best meet your objectives.

Priotitisation Matrix
  1. Select the best option: Choose the single best solution or idea from the prioritized list. This decision should be well-reasoned and backed by data and analysis.

  2. Plan implementation: Develop a detailed action plan for implementing the chosen solution. Outline the steps, resources, and timeline required for execution.

Action Plan Template
  1. Test and iterate: Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. If necessary, be open to making adjustments and iterations based on feedback and results.

  2. Reflect and learn: After implementing the solution, reflect on the process. What worked well? What could be improved? Use these insights for future problem-solving.

The Pros and Cons of Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent Thinking Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Quick and decisive choices May lead to settling for a solution prematurely
Logical and systematic evaluation Tends to favor practical over innovative solutions
Effective for well-defined issues May not explore all possible viewpoints
Concentrated effort on one solution

Divergent Thinking Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Fosters creativity and innovation Can be time-consuming
Encourages an open-minded approach Excessive information can be overwhelming
Considers multiple angles May lack clear focus and direction
Promotes experimentation May not work well for structured issues

Tips to Get the Most out of Divergent & Convergent Thinking

To maximize the effectiveness of divergent and convergent thinking, consider the following tips:

  • Clear problem definition: Start with a well-defined problem or challenge. Having a clear understanding of what you’re trying to solve or achieve is essential for effective thinking.

  • Time management: Set time limits for each phase of thinking. Divergent thinking sessions should encourage rapid idea generation, while convergent thinking should focus on efficient decision-making.

  • Diverse teams: Encourage diversity within your team. A variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives can lead to more comprehensive and innovative solutions.

  • Document everything: Keep detailed records of all ideas and decisions made during the process. This documentation can serve as a valuable reference and help maintain continuity.

  • Flexibility: Be willing to adapt and adjust your thinking approach as needed. Sometimes, the process may require going back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking to refine ideas and decisions.

  • Visual collaboration: Use visual aids, such as whiteboards, mind maps, and diagrams, to carry out idea generation and decision-making. Visual tools can boost communication and understanding within the team. With a visual collaboration platform like Creately, you can effortlessly conduct brainstorming sessions using readily-made templates for mind maps, concept maps, idea boards and more. You can also use its infinite canvas and integrated notes capabilities to capture and organize information in one place.

  • Iterative approach: Know that problem-solving often involves iterating between divergent and convergent thinking. It’s a dynamic process, and fine tuning ideas is needed for success.

When to Use Divergent vs Convergent Thinking

Knowing when to use divergent thinking vs convergent thinking is key to effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Divergent Thinking

When to Use Divergent Thinking

Convergent Thinking

When to Use Divergent Thinking

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking in Project Management

In real projects, you often switch between these two thinking styles. Divergent thinking starts things off with idea generation and exploration during planning. As the project moves forward, convergent thinking takes over to make precise decisions and execute efficiently. A good balance between these thinking styles helps project managers guide their projects effectively while allowing room for innovation when needed.

Project managers use convergent thinking to analyze data, evaluate options, and select the most suitable solutions for the project. It’s particularly helpful when you have clearly defined problems or need to allocate resources efficiently. Convergent thinking makes sure that your project stays on course and meets its objectives with precision.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is the thinking style you turn to when you’re dealing with complex, open-ended challenges or seeking fresh, imaginative ideas. Project managers use divergent thinking for brainstorming and idea generation without constraints. This approach is useful in exploring various possibilities, finding unique solutions, and injecting creativity into the project.

Why You Need Both Types of Thinking

It’s important to have both divergent and convergent thinking because they play different but complementary roles in problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity. Divergent thinking, for example, helps generate a wide array of ideas and solutions as it helps break away from conventional thinking allowing you to think outside of the box.

On the other hand, convergent thinking comes into play when you need to evaluate, select, and refine ideas or solutions. It helps you make informed decisions based on defined criteria, making sure that the most promising options are chosen for further development.

Having both thinking styles in your toolkit helps comprehensive problem-solving. Divergent thinking deepens your understanding of complex problems by taking into account multiple perspectives and angles, and convergent thinking helps you narrow down options to actionable choices.

In essence, divergent and convergent thinking represent two complementary approaches to problem-solving, with divergent thinking fostering creativity and idea generation, and convergent thinking facilitating decision-making and solution selection. Both thinking styles have their unique strengths and are valuable in various contexts.

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Author

Amanda Athuraliya

Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.

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