Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking is what most of us did in grade school. Our teachers taught us a series of facts from a textbook and then we had to practically regurgitate those facts onto quizzes, tests, and exams. There was no room to think outside the box here. We simply took the ideas we were given from the teacher and had to come up with one single answer per question. This is an example of convergent thinking.

When we use convergent thinking, we want to come up with one solid solution that is best. We consider all the thoughts and ideas of multiple people to help us find that one solution we’re looking for. This could be a solution to a clearly written question or problem, such as on a test in school.

Convergent thinking is another way to describe logical thinking. It lets you utilize all the strategies, skills, ideas, and techniques that you’ve learned throughout your life and from other people in order to find that one good solution. You don’t get caught up in theoretical or divergent thinking where there are multiple solutions to a problem. Convergent thinking allows you to think faster because you’re implementing pure logic, accuracy, and facts into identifying a single solution.

Have you ever taken an IQ test? Those tests are specifically designed to measure how good you are at convergent thinking. It tests your problem-solving ability by making you recognize patterns and the logic of a particular problem or situation. If you’re a great convergent thinker, then you’ll likely do well on an IQ test. Any multiple-choice test is a test of your convergent thinking.

Let’s look at an example of a problem which requires convergent thinking.

Question: Who is the 44th President of the United States?

Choices:

A) Barack Obama

B) Donald Trump

C) Jimmy Carter

D) George W. Bush

Clearly, there can only be one answer to this question. You could research facts and data from other people and sources to come up with the one true answer to this question. That answer, of course, would be Barack Obama. There is no way it could be any other answer.

We’re all convergent thinkers to some extent. Just look at your academic history and IQ test scores to determine how good you are at it.

Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is more of a creative way to think. People who are not academically gifted might be classified as divergent thinkers. These are people who like to think outside the box and reach for multiple solutions to solve a problem or situation. A lot of their creative ideas come from their free-thinking and non-linear mindset. They might think about dozens of solutions to something within a brief time period.

There is really no limit to what a divergent thinker will consider in their thought process.  They’re not so concerned about logic and facts as much as a convergent thinker. A divergent thinker is more spontaneous and prefers creative ideas rather than boring logic. Based on these creative ideas, the divergent thinker will come up with several potential solutions.

From there, these various solutions are analyzed within a short timeframe. The divergent thinker will brainstorm a variety of different possible connections to these solutions, regardless of how bizarre these connections may be.

You’ll often see a divergent thinker doing a lot of free writing where the jot down notes and ideas which randomly pop into their mind. They could take one idea and turn it into multiple ideas based on all these different connections. Every solution or answer is equally as important. There is never just one answer held up on a pedestal like convergent thinkers would do. 

Divergent thinkers are persistent risk-takers. They’re ready to face danger and experiment with different ideas to come up with new solutions. They’re not looking to come up with the same ideas as everybody else. Instead, they’re searching for original ideas that are fresh, unique, and maybe even a little bit unusual. Their imagination may take hold where they see something in a situation that no one else can see.

No two divergent thinkers will ever come up with the exact same number of ideas and solutions. They will always be different to at least some extent because their imagination and creativity are different.

Let’s look at an example of a question which can be answered with divergent thinking.

How would the world be different today if the British won the Revolutionary War against the U.S. colonies?

This is a question which could have any number of answers. No one will answer this question in the same exact way. It requires divergent thinking that will result in several answers.

Lateral Thinking (Both)

Lateral thinking is a combination of divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Basically, lateral thinkers want to come up with new ideas by applying logical reasoning and creativity to an existing problem. They’ll consider the old ideas and logic of a given situation before using their creative mindset to expand on those ideas.

Their goal is to change the common approach or attitude toward something. In other words, they want to find a new way to do something which most people do the same way. You could call a lateral thinker as someone who is liberal-minded and likes to innovate old ideas into newer, fresher ideas. This is what makes it “lateral” thinking because they look at something from both sides; old and new.

A lot of people confuse lateral thinking and convergent thinking because they’re similar in some ways. Both types of thinking require you to consider old ideas and the logical ways of doing things. However, convergent thinking does not let you think beyond logical reasoning and old ideas. You must use factual data and evidence to answer every question.

When it comes to lateral thinking, you’re not stuck in the bubble of logical reasoning. You can use logical reasoning to get you thinking about a problem, but then you can come up with new solutions by thinking outside the box. Lateral thinkers like to do a lot of brainstorming and come up with alternative ideas to what is considered normal. They’ll suspend their judgment and use analogies to generate new ideas.

The perfect example of lateral thinkers is engineers. Even though they’ve studied formulas and scientific processes for doing things, they’re forced to use their creative mindset in order to create new things that the world has never seen before. Computer programmers do this all the time when they’re writing software. They use their knowledge of coding and merge that with their creative mindset to develop something new.

Not everyone is going to think one way or the other. There are different situations that require you to think logically, creatively or both. You just have to recognize those situations when they’re presented to you.