Divergent and convergent thinking are two complementary methods of exploring ideas, working toward goals, and confronting challenges. In the design world, where we constantly make use ofdesign thinkingIn our work, both approaches are required and result in unique solutions to challenges that require exploration and creativity.
Divergent and convergent thinkingboth are ways of thinking that are so deeply integratedWhat we do, we often don't stop thinking about the theories behind it. We often don't agree with common concepts in our industry, such as "think outside the box," but we still try to understand what that phrase meant before it became a cliché. It's good to go back to basics every now and then.
What is divergent thinking?
Divergent thinking takes a challenge and tries to identify all of the possible drivers of that challenge and then list all of the ways in which those drivers can be addressed.
Divergent thinking often takes place in open, fluid, and spontaneous environments where a variety of creative ideas can be shared and considered. This usually means that anyone involved in this type of thinking is looking for unexpected combinations and connections between distant associations. Divergent thinking stimulates creativity especially because of its spontaneous and non-linear nature.
When preparing a divergent thinking exercise, participants need to know that all ideas are valid. It's also important to ensure that all participants can contribute equally, not just the loudest. I usually recommend using methods like the first steps ofnominal group techniqueto ensure all voices are heard.
In practice, divergent thinking is often associated with brainstorming or freelance writing, but it's more than that. To avoid packing too many tools in your Swiss Army knife, you need to do a little analysis, but you shouldn't get yourself into too many either get rid of restrictions.
Examples of divergent thinking
Designers practice divergent thinking in many ways. We use divergent thinking in the early stages of ideation for a project or task, when we have a challenge to solve and need to come up with creative solutions or iterate. We will also use divergent thinking to think at a high level about how we can help make a client's website, app or digital tool more competitive or innovative in the market. Divergent thinking can also be used after synthesizing research data during the discovery or validation phase of your work.
A great example of divergent thinking in action is the early days of Twitter. Twitter follows a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach with its app. They created an online service with no practical application or clear market, released it to see how people would use it, and then refined it. That's not to say that launching something and then figuring out what the market is for is a foolproof strategy. It worked on Twitter. In most cases this is not the case. You just don't hear about failures.
At Think Company we use divergent thinking in all of our design work. In the early stages of a project, the team uses different techniques to explore concepts with stakeholders and potential audiences. In the middle of a project, our software engineers can use the same techniques to tackle technological challenges with designers. When projects are complete, retrospectives always start with open-ended exploration sessions about what worked, what could be improved, and what worked so well that we need to implement it in future projects.
What is convergent thinking?
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is known as the practice of selecting the optimal solution from a finite set of ideas collected from different sources in order to solve a discrete challenge quickly and efficiently.
Convergent thinking is best practiced when you need an answer and believe you have access to the data and information you need to make a decision or solution. Converged thinking often requires speed, accuracy and knowledge of a topic, so it is best employed when the team has access to relevant experts and data. The team will review this information and bring it together to make an informed decision.
Examples of convergent thinking
There are many examples of convergent thinking that demonstrate the need for this technique, even in our own industry. Customers often ask us questions with clear answers, and we know this because our team has accumulated years of design and technology knowledge of specific types of problems, goals, and decisions. As an evidence-based company, collecting user and customer feedback often helps us come up with very clear design solutions.
Also, remember this scene in Apollo 13 where the astronauts are trying to generate enough power to bring the capsule back to Earth. The boss orders his crew to make the pod simulator "cold and dark" and "create the exact same conditions they have," right down to the gauges on all the instrument panels. One of their engineers says, "I need a flashlight," and the answer is, "That's not what they have up there." Don't give me anything you don't have on board. The challenge is discreet and the solutions are limited to the constraints of a harsh reality.
At Think Company, convergent design exercises typically take place after evidence has been collected on the subject at hand. After technology discovery, design validation or usability studies, our experts can process the collected data along with concepts developed during different exercises to choose the most effective way forward.
Is divergent thinking better than convergent thinking?
The quick answer is that neither divergent nor convergent thinking is better than the other. Both ways of thinking are important and necessary for creative work and for work that requires constructing solutions to complex problems.
The challenge related to design thinking is to correctly formulate problems when you want to achieve a specific result. Design it one way, and you can make the group spend two months brainstorming when four weeks ago all you needed was a hammer. Put it another way, you could end up with a team chasing every problem with the same old hammer while your competition invented the screwdriver.
Divergent versus convergent thinking
Here is an example of the same problem formulated for divergent and convergent thinking:
I live four miles from work. My car has 30 mpg. I would like to use less fuel on my journey for cost and environmental reasons. Money is not an object.What options do I have to reduce fuel consumption?
I live four miles from work. My car has 30 mpg. I would like to use less fuel on my journey for cost and environmental reasons. Money is not an object.Find the top three replacement vehicles for my car.
The problem is the same, but the questions are a little different. The convergent example asks for a vehicle, while the divergent example does not exclude options such as commuting, telecommuting, walking, carpooling, or public transit.
Both examples provide valuable results. The convergent example can be driven by other questions. Maybe my current car is damaged and I only have a weekend to fix it. Investigating the deviating example may take longer, but you may discover an option that is completely different from what the user asked you for. As designers, we need to apply both mindsets to better serve our customers.
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Accept divergent and convergent thinking
Because we have a clear idea of how each mindset works, it is part of our job to find out which one best suits our clients and project goals at the different stages of our work. We learn to embrace these thinking styles in a number of ways, including:
- Collaborative thinking sessions with clients that focus on design thinking, idea generation and brainstorming.
- Technology discovery work to identify internal experts and gain insights into platforms and processes.
- Regular sprint reviews and other project rituals to review, summarize and elaborate research results.
- Ongoing internal collaboration with different departments to involve subject matter experts
- Design of validation and usability studies to collect evidence for convergent exercises
- Retrospectives focused on continuous improvement and knowledge sharing
- Idea challenges for teams to keep creative work fun and innovative
Finally, the most important element in adopting convergent and divergent thinking techniques is to support leaders in convergent and divergent thinking exercises. Stakeholder agreement is easier to achieve when you are clear about the purpose and objectives of an exercise. Telling an organization leader that tomorrow's exercise is about brainstorming and that their participation and support are essential to a successful session can make or break the exercise.
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Filed as: UX/UI
What is divergent and convergent thinking in design thinking? ›
Divergent thinking is rooted in creativity; it is spontaneous and non-linear—looking at all sorts of possible solutions. Whereas convergent thinking is rooted in structure; it is all about efficiency and is linear—looking for the best possible solution.Why both convergent and divergent thinking are required to find the best solution for a problem? ›
Solving most problems requires a combination of convergent and divergent thinking. A divergent brainstorming session can help you produce many possible answers, whereas convergent thinking allows you to organize and evaluate them against known criteria to determine the best solution.What is the difference between divergent thinkers and convergent thinkers choose the best answer )? ›
Convergent thinking is the process of finding concrete and familiar solutions to problems. Divergent thinking is the creative process of generating original ideas and new possibilities.What is divergent and convergent thinking in business? ›
Convergent thinking considers only one solution to a problem. It erases every possible alternative and focuses on a single route. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, studies multiple ways of addressing an issue along with an objective to produce different innovation concepts.What is convergent and divergent with examples? ›
Converging means something is approaching something. Diverging means it is going away. So if a group of people are converging on a party they are coming (not necessarily from the same place) and all going to the party.What is a real life example of divergent thinking? ›
Some other examples of divergent thinking include: Wondering how many ways you can use a fork. Showing a person a photo and asking them to create a caption for the photo. Giving a child a stack of blocks and asking them to see how many shapes they can create with those blocks.What is divergent thinking in design thinking? ›
Divergent thinking is an ideation mode which designers use to widen their design space as they begin to search for potential solutions. They generate as many new ideas as they can using various methods (e.g., oxymorons) to explore possibilities, and then use convergent thinking to analyze these to isolate useful ideas.What is convergent thinking in design thinking? ›
Convergent thinking is an ideation mode which designers use to analyze, filter, evaluate, clarify and modify ideas they have generated in divergent thinking. They use analytical, vertical and linear thinking to find novel and useful ideas, understand the design space possibilities and get closer to potential solutions.What is divergent thinking thinking? ›
Divergent thinking is cognition that leads in various directions. Some of these are conventional, and some original. Because some of the resulting ideas are original, divergent thinking represents the potential for creative thinking and problem solving.What is divergent thinking with example? ›
Thinking divergently, or divergent thinking is an unstructured, free-form way of problem solving in which participants produce many innovative ideas or solutions to a pressing problem. Divergent thinkers are often independent, curious and risk-takers. Divergent thinkers can: Quickly and spontaneously produce many ideas.