Convergent vs Divergent Thinking: How to Think Smarter with Both

Convergent vs Divergent Thinking: How to Think Smarter with Both

Have you ever stared blankly at a work problem, a creative roadblock, or even just a fridge full of mystery ingredients, wishing for a magic thinking trick? The truth is, we all have powerful thinking strategies at our disposal, and understanding them can be your secret weapon.

There are two main ways we approach problems: convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking helps us find the single "best" answer, like solving a math problem. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, encourages us to explore multiple possibilities – perfect for brainstorming new ideas.

But when is it more beneficial to focus on a single solution, and when is brainstorming a multitude of possibilities the key?  The answer, like so many things in life, depends on the situation.

The truth is, the convergent versus divergent thinking debate isn't about choosing sides. It's about recognizing the strengths of each approach and strategically leveraging them based on the situation.  This article will explore the convergent versus divergent thinking debate and equip you with the knowledge to master both.

Defining Convergent And Divergent Thinking

So what exactly are convergent and divergent thinking? We’ll start with the convergent thinking psychology definition and then move on to the divergent thinking definition. 

What Is Convergent Thinking?

Convergent thinking is a thinking style that aims at producing a single result, outcome, or solution. While some may refer to this way of thinking as narrow, it is often considered the best if you’re looking for a single correct answer. 

Convergent thinking is all about narrowing down your options and arriving at a single, optimal solution. It thrives on logic, analysis, and critical evaluation.  When faced with a problem that has a clear-cut answer, like a math equation or a standardized test, convergent thinking becomes your most valuable tool.

What is divergent thinking, and how is it defined?

Divergent thinking is the opposite of convergent thinking. Instead of narrowing ideas, divergent thinking expands them. Each of these multiple ideas could be a possible solution. A divergent thinker focuses on what is possible rather than what is right and uses creativity and imagination rather than logic. 

This makes it the best thinking style for problems that require creative solutions and where problem solvers must think outside the box, such as brainstorming to develop new product ideas.

The Cognitive Playground: Exploring The Processes Behind Each Thinking Style

Convergent and divergent thinking styles play different roles in our everyday environment. Below, we explore the processes behind each thinking style:

Convergent Thinking Processes

The convergent thinking process depends largely on finding the best solution to a single problem. It mostly involves cognitive processes such as logical reasoning, attention, and memory, which guide information retrieval, pattern recognition, and decision-making. 

Basically, the convergent thinking process goes from identifying the issue to narrowing choices and finalizing the solution. 

However, one disadvantage of the convergent thinking process is that it relies heavily on existing knowledge, creating a confirmation bias where in the solution you arrive at is correct to the extent that your present knowledge is true. 

Divergent Thinking Processes

The divergent thinking process is sort of like a creative process. With divergent thinking, you go from one idea to tons of ideas that you believe are potential solutions to the problem you are solving. The process involves breaking away from conventional patterns and nurturing mental flexibility. It also involves association—connecting the known to the unknown, elaboration, and originality. 

Divergent thinking encourages lateral thinking in its processes, allowing you to employ unconventional methods and techniques in generating innovative solutions by pushing boundaries and leveraging creativity.

convergent and divergent thinking

The Power Of Duality: When To Use Each Thinking Style

Both divergent and convergent thinking have their strengths, we’ll explain this in more detail. 

Leveraging Both Types Of Thinking 

Every innovator, top entrepreneur, and intrapreneur must learn how to leverage convergent and divergent thinking styles for the best results. You need to know when to use convergent thinking, where there can only be one correct solution, and when to use divergent thinking, where there’s ample room for creativity and your objective is to get as many viable solutions as possible. 

For instance, when a company wants to introduce a new product to the market but first needs to decide on which product to create and launch, divergent thinking is the thinking style that would produce optimal results. Why? Because the company would like many options to choose from, and any option may just be as good as the next. However, when a company wants to know the best way to launch its product, and there is only one way to launch it, convergent thinking is best because the company needs the single best option. 

But there’s an approach to problem-solving that combines convergent and divergent thinking styles; it’s called “convergent-divergent.” 

As the name suggests, convergent-divergent thinking has two phases: the divergent phase and the convergent phase. It usually starts with the divergent phase, where multiple ideas are generated and explored without judgment or limitation. Afterward, there is a convergent phase, where these ideas are critically evaluated, and the best solutions are selected based on specific criteria and objectives. This thinking style is best used in project management scenarios and balances creativity and feasibility. 

convergent versus divergent thinking

Optimizing Thinking Styles For Different Situations

Knowing how to use convergent and divergent thinking styles is less important than knowing when to use each. Each style only produces optimal results when used in the right scenario. Here are some common scenarios and how each thinking style works: 

Evaluating Startup Opportunities 

Divergent thinking is invaluable for entrepreneurs when considering different startup ideas or markets to enter. This stage is about broadening the horizon and considering all possible avenues, from revolutionary product concepts to untapped markets. 

It encourages entrepreneurs to think outside the box and envision all potential paths, leading to innovative and groundbreaking business ideas. Once a range of possibilities has been identified, convergent thinking can be employed to assess feasibility, market potential, and resource requirements to select the most promising opportunity.

Brainstorming For New Ideas

This is a perfect scenario for divergent thinking. For example, a newly hired virtual assistant at a small startup struggling with product differentiation facilitated a brainstorming session.  The VA created a judgment-free zone, encouraged wild ideas using techniques like mind mapping, and captured everything from eco-friendly packaging to AR marketing.  After organizing the ideas, the VA guided the team through convergent thinking to choose the most feasible and impactful solutions, setting the stage for a potentially market-redefining product.

Decision-Making In Crisis Situations

Here, convergent thinking takes the lead. Quick and decisive action is often necessary in a crisis, leaving no room for exploring several possibilities. Convergent thinking helps quickly distill information and options down to the most viable solution, enabling efficient and effective crisis management.

Developing a Business Strategy

This scenario benefits from a convergent-divergent approach. Divergent thinking can help outline strategic directions based on current market trends, potential opportunities, and creative solutions to existing problems. Subsequently, convergent thinking is crucial to evaluating these strategies, considering practicalities and resources to decide on the most sustainable business strategy.

Product Design and Innovation

Divergent thinking is key in the early stages of product design and innovation. It allows designers and engineers to explore various possibilities, from the aesthetic to the functional. Divergent thinking fosters an environment where no idea is too outlandish, leading to breakthrough innovations. However, convergent thinking becomes essential to refine these ideas into practical, produced products as the design progresses.

divergent vs convergent

Benefits Of Divergent And Convergent Thinking

Divergent and convergent thinking are important in many scenarios, from academia to the corporate world and social life.

Benefits Of Convergent Thinking

  1. Speed in Problem-Solving: Focusing on finding the right answer allows quick decision-making, especially in high-stakes or time-sensitive situations.
  2. Enhanced Decision-Making: Making choices based on logic and evidence leads to more reliable and sustainable outcomes, particularly in fields that demand precision.
  3. Effectiveness in Structured Environments: Convergent thinking is especially useful in structured environments like classrooms or certain professional settings, where specific answers are valued.

In essence, convergent thinking streamlines the thought process, directing focus to the most logical and evidence-based conclusions.

Benefits Of Divergent Thinking

  1. Encouragement of Creativity: Divergent thinking generates many ideas, pushing boundaries and fostering innovation, which is essential in creative fields.
  2. Expansion of Perspectives: It broadens our view, helping us see a range of possibilities and angles to approach a problem, which can be crucial for complex or novel situations.
  3. Utility in Creative Professions: For those in arts, marketing, design, and innovation, divergent thinking isn't just beneficial; it's a fundamental skill for success.

Divergent thinking thrives on the freedom to explore and the capacity to connect disparate ideas, leading to richer, more inventive outcomes.

Bottom Line

The divergent vs convergent thinking debate isn't about choosing one over the other; rather, it highlights the importance of both modes of thinking in different contexts and phases of problem-solving. The ability to adapt and fluidly move between these thinking styles sets apart the truly creative and effective problem solvers. So, the next time you're faced with a problem, consider: Is this a moment for convergence, divergence, or perhaps a bit of both?

Elevate your entrepreneurial game with actionable advice and inspiring interviews from high-level entrepreneurs, business owners, and overall badasses in the game. Get more insight and inspiration on our blog posts, podcast episodes, kickass merch, or invite-only community

Hustle inspires hustle

Frequently Asked Questions

How does divergent thinking differ from convergent thinking?

Divergent thinking is about generating multiple creative solutions to a problem, emphasizing the quantity and variety of ideas. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, focuses on narrowing down those ideas to find the best solution, prioritizing quality and feasibility over quantity.

What are the key characteristics of convergent thinking?

In the context of convergent versus divergent thinking, convergent thinking's key characteristics include logical analysis, critical decision-making, and a focus on finding the most effective and evidence-based solutions.

Can you provide examples of convergent thinking?

Some great examples of convergent thinking include choosing the best answer on a multiple-choice test, troubleshooting a technical issue by systematically eliminating potential causes, and deciding on a strategy based on data analysis in business.

What are the benefits of convergent thinking?

The benefits of convergent thinking include speed and efficiency in problem-solving, making reliable decisions based on logic and evidence, and excelling in environments that demand precise and accurate answers, leading to practical and sustainable outcomes.

How does divergent thinking stimulate creativity?

Divergent thinking can stimulate creativity by expanding the range of possible ideas. By encouraging non-linear thinking and exploration of many solutions, divergent thinking fosters innovation and unique problem-solving, allowing the person’s mind to consider diverse possibilities beyond conventional options.

What are the benefits of convergent thinking?

In problem-solving, divergent thinking helps generate multiple potential solutions, broadening the scope of possibilities. Convergent thinking then refines these ideas, focusing on practicality and feasibility to select the most effective solution. Together, they enable comprehensive and creative problem resolution.

Alex Quin

Entrepreneur. Podcaster. Go-Getter.

Alex Quin is a full-stack marketing expert and global keynote speaker. Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of UADV Marketing - a member of the Forbes Agency Council.

Make boss moves in bold attire

Join Our Premium Business & Marketing Community For Free!
Our insider community gives you access to a wealth of resources designed to elevate your branding, marketing, and content creation efforts. Access free courses, live calls, Q&As, and merch giveaways.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
No credit card Required