May 2017 Business SCAN
Computers are great at processing, storing and letting you search through huge amounts of information, but not so great (yet, anyway) at empathy, emotion, and being creative without human assistance. Digital tools offer the potential to exploit a range of different media or share information with people who can’t physically join a brainstorming session, but do these advantages out-weigh the potential downsides, including the time needed to learn new tools and their operational requirements.
In today’s world, where digital tools are pervasive and ever changing, this month’s Hot Topic explores the blend between human and computer and the digital tools that will help rather than hinder your creative and innovation processes.
Idea Generation: Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
When it comes to creativity, problem solving and idea generation, two ways of thinking are commonly cited: namely divergent and convergent thinking strategies.
The two modes of thinking are very different but are both very useful for different parts of the creative process. Today, digital tools are available to support both ways of thinking and to put those tools to best use, it is first crucial to understand the mechanisms behind them. Which mode of thinking could new digital tools enhance, or constrain?
The term “divergent thinking” refers to that strategy of solving problems where a single question returns multiple answers, and though the answers vary considerably, all answers are of equal value. In other words, this is the kind of thinking that opens up and increases the amount of possible solutions. Convergent thinking is the opposite of divergent thinking. It generally means the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity. In other words, this is a kind of thinking that narrows down and concentrates on finding out the single best or correct solution to a problem.
Convergent and divergent thinking are both important for creativity
- Typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, where many creative ideas are generated and evaluated.
- Multiple possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time and unexpected connections are drawn.
- Most effective as brainstorming, free writing and creative thinking at the beginning of problem solving. Bubble mapping, creating artwork, maintaining a journal, subject mapping, devoting some time to meditation and thinking, and building lists of questions are all examples of activities that trigger divergent thinking.
- Logic thought flow, pattern recognition, the capacity to solve problems and testing knowledge.
- Ideas and information are organised and structured, focused on coming up with the single, well-established answer to a problem.
- Emphasises speed, accuracy, and logic in decision making processes. Best suited for situations characterised by a readily available answer that just has to be worked out. A vital facet of convergent thinking is that it culminates in one best answer, meaning there is no chance for ambiguity.
Cropley, Arthur (2006). “In Praise of Convergent Thinking”. Creativity Research Journal. 18 (3): 391–404; Lundsteen, Sara. “Critical Thinking in Problem Solving: A Perspective for the Language Arts Teacher”. Retrieved 1 April 2012; Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2008). “Effects of Personality and Threat of Evaluation on Divergent and Convergent Thinking”. Journal of Research in Personality; McCrae, R (1987). “Creativity, divergent thinking and Openness to Experience”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (6): 1258–1265; Burkus, D. (2015) 3 ways leaders accidently undermine their teams’ creativity, HBR, 07 Jul
What actions might you need to take to strengthen either your divergent thinking and/or convergent thinking?
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