Convergent vs Divergent Thinking (Definitions + Examples)

Picture this. You’re at work and your team has a big problem to solve. Everyone sits down together in a room and starts to brainstorm. One person comes up with a solution, but it’s immediately shot down by another coworker. The next person comes up with a solution, and that’s immediately shot down, too. It doesn’t take long for the whole team to feel very frustrated and exhausted. You’ll never come up with a solution if everything is immediately torn apart! 

How can you make this situation more productive? The first step is to learn about different types of thinking. By understanding the difference between convergent and divergent thinking, you can more effectively plan out your brainstorming session and come to the best solution without frustration. 

Definition of Convergent and Divergent Thinking 

Convergent and divergent thinking are relatively new terms in the world of psychology. They were first introduced to the world in 1956 by an American psychologist named J.P. Guilford. These two cognitive approaches, when used appropriately, can be used to solve just about any problem that you face.

convergent vs divergent thinking

Divergent Thinking

Let’s start by talking about divergent thinking. When you think about “brainstorming,” you are thinking about divergent thinking. This type of thinking requires you to expand your mind and find innovative solutions. The possibilities are endless. Divergent thinking allows you to see products in materials in new and different ways. 

Mind maps are the best way to put the results of divergent thinking on paper. Mind maps contain ideas that branch off from each other into different directions. There doesn’t have to be a lot of logic used when you are in “divergent thinking” mode. Remember, you are expanding what is possible, not limiting it. 

Convergent Thinking

Now, let’s go back to the first example. There was divergent thinking happening – each person was coming up with an “out of the box” idea. But they were quickly getting shot down. The person that was critiquing their argument was in “convergent thinking” mode.

Convergent thinking isn’t bad or unproductive. It’s necessary! This process is more analytical and “realistic.” It uses logic to narrow down ideas. This part of the thinking process requires looking for fallacies and potential problems. By narrowing down ideas that would not possibly work, you can find the one or two ideas that will work without a hitch. 

Example of Convergent and Divergent Thinking 

methods of convergent and divergent thinking

Let’s say you’re planning an event, and trying to figure out where to have the event. By putting on your “divergent thinking cap,” you start to brainstorm. How fun would it be to have the event at Disney World? Or at the new hotel that is opening down the street? What about a big outdoor party with tents? All of these venues could attract potential guests and make the event really stand out! 

Wow, these are a lot of great ideas! 

But let’s approach this same problem with our “convergent thinking cap.” Disney World? Way out of budget, and most of the guests won’t want to travel that far. The new hotel down the street? That’s closer to the budget and guests can easily travel there. A big outdoor party? This is an option too, but only if the cost for lights, heating, and the tents actually did fit in the budget. Would you need a permit to hold the party outside? Would you have to worry about noise complaints? 

As you can see, both of these processes are necessary to come to a solution. You can’t just set your heart on Disney World without considering practical factors, like budget or location. But when you do come up with an “out of the box” solution that does fit into your constraints, you’ve got a great solution on your hands. 

How to Effectively Use Convergent and Divergent Thinking 

brainstorming on a whiteboard

Convergent and divergent thinking require two different parts of the brain. While convergent thinking relies more on logic, divergent thinking relies more on creativity. Switching back and forth between the two may not seem like multitasking, but it is a form of multitasking. And multitasking is not as effective as you may think. 

In the meeting mentioned at the beginning of this video, your team was constantly switching back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking. Their brain had to switch back and forth, too. No wonder the group became worn out so fast! 

Harvard instructors like Anne Manning suggest another approach to convergent and divergent thinking. Rather than doing them in the same meeting, try “batching” your divergent and convergent thinking tasks. Take an hour of the meeting for your team simply to brainstorm ideas. No critiques, no logic, no convergent thinking. Just keep expanding the ideas of where you should hold the event, for a solid block of time. 

Give your team a break. This break could be an overnight break – many people have their best creative ideas when they are sleeping, showering, or thinking about other things. Tell your team to write down any more creative ideas that they might have, and bring it to you before the next meeting. 

Then, hold a meeting that is focused solely on convergent thinking. Think about budget. Location. The amount of people that you expect to attend the event. You’ll be able to cross some ideas off of your list pretty quickly. That’s okay. Crossing off items on your list quickly means that you’re coming to a solution quickly. 

And voila! You’ve found your solution. Now it’s time to focus on other elements of the event. Using inspiration from your previous brainstorms, you can truly make your event the greatest it can be, or solve any problem efficiently. You may decide to make the event Disney-themed, for example, to have a fun event without shelling out the costs of actually going to Florida. 

The next time you’re faced with a problem, try this batching technique. You might find yourself coming up with a great solution without frustrations!

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Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.