Convergent vs Divergent Thinking

Know thyself. I’m a huge fan of understanding your natural, default human personality “settings” so that you can learn to use them effectively and also to learn to work around them when they trip you up. We’ve all heard of introverts and extroverts. Thinkers and feelers. Optimists and pessimists. But one you may not have heard of is convergent and divergent thinkers. Convergent and divergent thinking are thinking styles that describe the way someone comes to conclusions.

Convergent Thinking

Do you take ideas and CONVERGE them into a single answer? Convergent thinking works well when you’re trying to simplify something or when there needs to be a single, definite answer. This thinking style takes a cluster of various pieces of information and brings them together toward a specific solution. This a powerful skill when a group needs to come to a consensus. Even making a simple decision, such as what to cook for dinner, requires convergent thinking.

Divergent Thinking

Or do you DIVERGE and go off in a bunch of directions? Divergent thinking is best when you are brainstorming complex problems or when there is no correct solution. With this style of thinking, you see each problem as a starting point and move away from the problem, often in several directions at once, to find possibilities. Divergent thinking helps others in your group discover new ways to see a problem and see what could be possible. When planning dinner, a divergent thinker might consider having a rotating dinner with friends or having a “build your own art pizza” or even getting everyone into their PJ’s and heading to McDonald’s drive-through.

Out-of-the-box thinking is not quite the same thing, by the way. That’s called lateral thinking, and it involves reframing the problem. Divergent thinkers are often also lateral thinkers. But of course, you can be a convergent lateral thinker, too. For example…we’re out of tomato sauce, let’s have macaroni and cheese made with spaghetti pasta. That’s a convergent, lateral solution.

Which is Better?

So which one is better? Neither, of course! Convergent thinking is great for finding singular solutions and reaching consensus. But it can cause us to come to obvious and simplistic conclusions. Too much reliance on convergent thinking can lead to rigid solutions.

Divergent thinking is beneficial when you need to find novel ways to approach a problem. That’s perfect for artists, of course, because we continually problem-solve in our work, and divergent thinking gives us many more ways to go. But too much divergence means you might have trouble choosing a course of action.

And with groups, of course, it’s best if you have both types of thinking going on. The divergent thinkers open up the possibilities, and the convergent thinkers bring things to a focus. Very useful!

Which are You?

Just as most of us have a dominant hand, we also have a dominant thinking style. Because it comes easier to us, we tend to use it more, which means we become even more likely to think that way.

Unlike handedness or introversion, we can readily switch to a different thinking style. In fact, this is a useful skill! Next time you need to solve a problem, make a point of trying these two styles of thinking, one after another, to see if it helps you. This is very useful in your artwork! With practice, these two thinking styles can work together to help you solve technical problems, get through dry spells, and look at your work a new way. Give it a try!