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Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

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Convergent and Divergent Thinking


Harvard University

Divergent and convergent thinking is the most fundamental element of creative problem- solving. Most of us who work in complex organizations are very well trained from an analytic perspective. We’re really good at dissecting problems and analyzing them and in making decisions. What we culturally are not as well trained in is coming up with ideas and developing a climate in which it is safe to come up with ideas.


Convergent and Divergent thinking are different parts of the same process of coming up with ideas and thinking about what you want to do with those ideas. 

And the best way to explain divergent and convergent thinking is to have you do an exercise.


So if you could all stand up for me, please, the first thing we do is reach for the sky. So its 3, 3 3, 3, 3 3 3 3, stretch stretch stretch, stretch, and now bend over, and to the best of your ability, touch your toes. 


Are you doing it? And just hang for a minute.

Think a little bit about what you’re feeling in your body as you do this.


All right? And make yourself comfortable in your chairs.


What happened when you were reaching for the Stars? What did that feel like in your body?




"It felt good."

What was good about it?

"It just felt like I was stretching some muscles that I haven't stretched in a while."

Excellent. Anybody else? One more.

"It felt like it was waking me up."

Waking you up.

Divergent thinking, in escence, is coming up with ideas, going out and exploring possibilities. And to come up with new ideas, you generally have to reach out there and you have to go up and you have to be in an expansive place where there is some blue sky.


And what about when you bent over to touch your toes? Heavy? Depressing? More restrictive? Convergent thinking is about taking ideas and thinking about them, reflecting on them, improving them and coming up with decisions. In yoga, the bent over positions are known as the more reflective positions. So convergent thinking is that part of the process when you are more reflective, when you are more analytic.

Can you reach for the sky and touch your toes at the same time? No, its like crazyness, right? It makes no sense. You're one place, and then you're the other and they are quite different. Coming up with new ideas and making decisions about them are very different things. Yet, what happens typically in a meeting? We try to do both at the same time. 

Someone says, "We need some ideas," and someone says, "I have an idea, here it is." And somebody else says, "But we tried that last year, it didnt work. Thats going to take too long and too expensive," and by then no one's ever going to have another idea ever.


Have we all been to that meeting? We're putting our foot on the gas, and the break, gas and the break. We are reaching up and reaching down. It fundamentally shuts down anyone from having an idea 'cause they're already anticipating that someone is going to have a reason not to go for it and it doesnt give anyone the opportunity to really explore.

So one of the essential rules when you're trying to come up with ideas is spend a certain amount of time, whatever it is, coming up with ideas. Not judging them, not holding them back. Then separating that, distinctly and deliberately, from the process of taking that idea and evaluating it and doing something with it.

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