Divergent and Convergent are two ways of thinking and solving problems that people use every single day. Learning how to use and balance both ways of thinking can allow for true creativity.
Most people lean towards one main thinking style. Convergent thinkers see a problem and gather information they can apply to that problem. They “converge” all of their resources onto solving the problem at hand. This is the usual way of mathematicians and scientists.
Divergent thinkers are the “outside the box” thinkers who see a problem and work outwards towards new creative solutions. They use the problem as a stimulus for new solutions and insights instead of converging on the problem itself. This is the usual thinking style for entrepreneurs, inventors and “artistic” people.
Each thinking style has a critical role to play in the creative process, and teaching kids how to use both sets them up for a lifetime of success.
Usually the first step in the creative process is Divergent. When you begin to brainstorm you don’t limit yourself but get out as many ideas – no matter how quirky or improbable they are. Once you have all of your ideas, going through them using a Convergent process allows you to narrow down and identify your best chances for success.
This is where there is a disconnect for people or groups who use only one thinking method. If you only think Divergent it is hard to get anything accomplished because there are too many great ideas and it is easy to lose focus of your original goal.
If you only think Convergent you will usually arrive at the answer the fastest but you might be missing more creative and potentially better answers.
Here are some activities and games you can do with your kids to train up your Convergent and Divergent Thinking muscles:
What’s in a word – a quick game to play while you are waiting is to pick out a long word and see how many different smaller words you can find in it. This is a great exercise in seeing how something like a word can be split up and rearranged into many different things.
In Another’s Shoes – Anytime you can see a different perspective or view a situation from somebody else’s shoes, it forces you to think Divergently. Open yourself up to different points of view by talking to new people and really listening. Role playing is a great way to enter another’s shoes – by pretending to BE someone else you must THINK like someone else.
Gain a new perspective – Get into the habit of looking beyond the first answer that comes to mind. A great Turkish Photographer put it this way for me: “When you are taking a picture, find your perspective and stop. Don’t take that picture. That is the one every amateur tourist takes. Find a new perspective and stop, don’t take that picture either. That is the picture most photographers take and they think it is good enough. Keep going and when you are on your fourth or fifth perspective, that is the award-winning, once-in-a-lifetime shot.”
This is a great activity to do with kids. Take the camera out and take the same picture from different perspectives, see which ones at the end are the best.
This can also be applied to any problem in life. Don’t be happy with the first solution that presents itself, train yourself and your kids to keep looking to see what other options there are.
This is a…. – A great game to play while you are on the move, take any object you see or have with you and try to come up with as many different uses for it you can. Take turns and see who can come up with the most ideas. You may want to write your good ideas down because you never know where they might lead. George Washington Carver came up with over 300 uses for the peanut, an excellent example of Divergent thinking!
Fact Detective – Whenever you listen to a news story together (or even read a story book), help your kids practice their Convergent thinking by answering the 5 W and 1 H questions. Identifying who, what, when, where, why and how are a good exercise that gets kids into the habit of picking out the relevant details and converging them into an understanding. This is especially useful when trying to problem solve.
Organizing those facts – Too much information can be overwhelming, especially to those idea generating Divergent thinkers. Help them develop an organizational system so that once they have their ideas they can be converged into a useful idea. Lists, flashcards, mind maps, or filing systems, all are great tools for idea organization.
Have regular family brain storming sessions that employ both Divergent and Convergent thinking strategies. Whenever you are faced with a problem, such as where to go on your next vacation or how you can save electricity, brainstorm as many different solutions as you can (Divergent) and then examine each one as a possible solution (Convergent). This is a great way to build strong family communication and allow kids to feel like they really have some input into family decisions.
Are you a Divergent or Convergent thinker? How do you strike a balance in your family? Please leave your thoughts below.