Divergent thinking

Thursday 8 April 2021

What is divergent thinking ?

J.P. Guilford, in the 1960s, defined divergent thinking as a method or thought process that the brain uses to generate creative ideas by exploring all possible solutions of how to face each circumstance or problem.

This divergent process will work together with convergent thinking, whose function is to follow a certain number of logical steps in order to reach a conclusion.

Do we intervene in a predictable context? or uncertain and changing?

Guilford, in defining and differentiating these two types of thinking, did so with the intention of highlighting the importance of educating students (whether in school, high school or university) in a divergent mental approach, despite the fact that educational institutions gave priority to convergent thinking, where reflection, critical thinking, creativity, originality, etc. are undervalued in favor of linear thinking, which follows a series of almost predetermined rules and is based on structured processes to arrive at a single correct and true solution, without the possibility of establishing different equally valid answer options.

I would like to emphasize that although this convergent strategy is useful and very necessary, real life and the challenges that we face today both in our work and personal lives, make it impossible to obtain "correct" solutions, out of logical formulas and predetermined by theories, manuals, or protocols, that could help us face an increasingly changing, dynamic, highly complex and uncertain life (as it is being demonstrated in the current pandemic), as if to conclude in an extremely simplistic way, that all our problems can have a single right solution.

In a society and education accustomed to the standardization and specific specialization of professional profiles, in 2020, the urgent need and importance for the survival of companies was evidenced to train employees in divergent skills and methods, which provide ingenuity, dynamism , adaptability and authentic human capital to their projects. Thus, someone capable of offering innovation, creativity and originality, can become a great leader for many of these organizational projects.


Are there different correct solutions to a single problem?

The success of divergent thinking focuses on enhancing the capacity for analysis from different points of view of the same problem, redefining and changing the habits of information processing, innovating them, so that the amount of ideas that one is capable of producing while taking into account the problem or the stimuli that arise.

Another important aspect of working with the divergent format is the optimization and increase of creativity as well as:

  • Flexibility, with which we create disparate responses to different proposals using different fields of knowledge.
  • Fluency, which gives us a large number of ideas.
  • Originality, with which we produce unusual and innovative ideas for highly complex problems.
  • Elaboration, with which we develop and improve ideas.


How do we promote it?

In this framework, teachers, tutors, bosses etc., and students too should be open to question everything.

The tutor must propose new methodologies that stimulate creativity and encourage students to come up with perspectives or ideas themselves to achieve the objectives outside of the pre-established models.

By encouraging divergent thinking, what is sought is to eliminate predetermined ideas by schemes or protocols, to then structure them and reach new perspectives to effectively solve problems. Therefore, as far as possible, one should seek to reduce, but not eliminate, the high levels of rationality, submission to old protocols and conformity.

There is a wide variety of techniques to apply divergence: the nominal group, brainstorming, synectics, mind maps ... these are some of the methods used to develop the generation of ideas, options and possibilities to find different solutions to a specific difficulty.

William J. Gordon, defined the concept of "Synectics", as the abilities to find unions and relationships between concepts, objects, ideas or theoretical fields of knowledge, which apparently do not have any union.

On the other hand, we have Bob Eberle, who developed the Scamper technique, very useful to create something innovative and to train our divergent thinking to redefine and build new and creative options to give new solutions to standardized approaches.

N. Lieberman, researcher and psychologist at the University of Colombia, demonstrated in several experiments that divergent thinking fosters positive emotional states such as joy, optimism and inner well-being.

Not only does it bring new perspectives to problems but it also encourages a much healthier lifestyle both on a psychological and emotional level, since in order to promote divergent thinking it is necessary to practice good rest, manage stress and emotions, which limit the appearance of psychopathology as common as depression, anxiety or burnout syndrome.

It is true that our life as adults is understood by most as very stressful, full of pressure, worries and demands from day to day.

This is still a self-imposed sentence to live under a model, with high levels of stress, anxiety ... that is, live an obsolete model, since nowadays we have available to everyone, a large number of psychological and educational options, to transform not only the way we work, but also the way of socializing and living our lives, since at the end of the day, we are the only ones responsible for giving ourselves the necessary explanations of why we take care of or neglect these valuable dimensions.


Gerard Martí Tejada

Psychologist. Coach. Counselor

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