When we use divergent thinking we can imagine any possibility, head off in any direction and deliberately diverge from the conventional. Criticism and judgment are temporarily suspended while we explore possibilities. When we use convergent thinking we are trying to narrow down options to one or more preferred choices. We use analysis, criticism, logic, argument and reasoning to arrive at a selection. – Paul Sloane
Which state do you find yourself at work? Do you feel like your discussions are sometimes dominated by one type of thinking?
Both types of thinking are necessary and useful for managing our work especially when we deal with complex problems and try to come up with solutions. In my experience, it really helps to use divergent and convergent thinking sequentially instead of simultaneously. If you don’t, the conversation can become heated and destructive, with different people moving in different directions, closing down options whilst others are busy creating new ones. The end result is often frustration and no decision at all.
The challenge is some people are naturally inclined to think in a divergent mode whereas others will be more comfortable with converging quickly. People who are naturally convergent thinkers may perceive divergent thinkers as flip-floppers because they can come up with a lot of different options and ideas in an effortless way. On the other hand, divergent thinkers might perceive convergent thinkers as tactical because it seems that their sense of urgency is preventing them from taking a step back and considering different options.
When facilitating workshops or meetings it can help to make explicit these different modes, different mind states. This sets expectations about which state everyone is currently operating in and improves the effectiveness of the conversation by encouraging the group to think in parallel mode. There is also a psychological aspect to this: making the thinking state explicit removes discomfort since everyone now knows which state is coming next.