Convergent thinking is the opposite. Where divergent thinking is often immensely intuitive and spontaneous, convergent thinking seeks to follow set rules of logic and commonality. A convergent thinking process is one that leads you to the most ideal and practical path of action.
Let’s say you had a particular problem at hand. For example, you wish to make and eat a peanut butter sandwich but you do not have any peanut butter in the home.
The answer, based on convergent thinking strategy would be. “Well the store has peanut butter, if I go there I can buy it and then make a sandwich.”
A divergent thought path would be something like, “Squirrels love peanuts so I’ll order a ‘squirrels training handbook’ from Amazon, train the squirrels to gather and relinquish their peanuts to me. I’ll press the nuts and have it all spread on toast before noon.”
While one thinking path might seem a lot more fun (especially if you enjoy envisioning a horde of squirrels), both are necessary and important in the implementation of great creative thinking.
Conceptually great creatives will often utilize both skills, initially starting with divergent thinking and later editing and practicalizing along convergent lines. In our day to day work meetings when we assign and build new projects we should look to enable divergent thinking in our brainstorming meeting and continue to optimize the work process through convergence. It helps to look within our work meetings and to think about what the barriers are to great ideas.
Bottom-up processes vs Top-down processes
Where do great idea’s come from? There’s no simple answer unfortunately, but to better understand it’s important to know how psychologists view the way brain processes information.
One school of thought is the top-down, bottom-up processing model.
Your brain encodes two types of information. Basic information, conveyed to your brain through your body from your senses. “Pan on stove is hot, finger burnt, hot pan is hot” (Bottom-up, as no higher cognitive thought was involved).
Then there are those pieces of information that are encoded in our brains from a top down level. This is where critical, analytical and emotive thought play a role in the process. “Girl breaks heart, Boy is now sad. Girls make hearts sad”.
Often it is emotion that sits in the middle of the process and facilitates the strength of the encoding. From an evolutionary perspective this is a critical part of our survival. We won’t get into that here but let’s just say it’s important to deeply remember the things that can harm us.
What we want to focus on is a basic understanding of how information begins to reside in our minds so we can conceptualize what we create and how it came to be an idea in the first place.
The goal of this gross oversimplification is to help lead to an understanding of where divergent thoughts come from. The truth is, it’s a lot and almost impossible to do justice to in own article but the hidden gem I can give you, is introspection.
The truth is, the majority of creative ideas are not truly spontaneous or original. What is original is the way an idea or object becomes recreated. If you reflect and deeply analyze any truly creative idea you’ve had, you’ll find bits and pieces of the idea are actually built from the culmination of your experiences. This is also known as the priming effect. Often our creative ideas are readily primed from our experiences. This is how the mind conceptualizes solutions for us.
Some of us are naturally more inclined to be aware of the priming effect that generates our ideas, others will have to be more introspective on their idea process.
When you have a new idea, try to ask yourself these questions.
1) Where have I seen parts of this before?
2) What aspect of this idea relates back to my life or my childhood?
3) Did I watch or experience anything in the last 24 hours that is similar to this?
Now you’re probably thinking, “hey, some of my idea’s are out of this world, they’re not rooted in some weird undercurrent of my mind” Here I would challenge you to look deeply at your own creative process. Are your idea’s truly unique, or are they segments and pieces of a vast variety of your experiences carefully stitched together. Even Leonardo Da Vinci and Buckminster Fuller we’re recreating what already was in a new and beautiful way, there’s nothing wrong with that.
The more you ask yourself reflective questions about your idea process the more you will discover the origin of your thoughts. Once you gain a deeper understanding of this, you can then take your creative thinking process to the next level by breaking down the mental barriers.
When you’re planning your next big creative project try to ask yourself the above questions. Sometimes being able to assign the right labels to the common threads with an idea will help you to flush and and create a much more in-depth and full concept.
6 Crazy Hats of the Creative Process
Lateral Thinking is a term coined by the great Edward De Bono. It’s a deliberate form of thought process that opposes traditional logic in order to generate new and innovative ideas towards a solution. The goal of lateral thinking is idea generation. Finding streams of thought and commonality to a problem or potential solution to spur more and more ideas. It seeks to break mental barriers that obstruct ideas to help you synthesize more. One great technique of lateral thinking is Edward De Bono’s 6 thinking hats.