Differences between Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Divergent and convergent thinking are essential thinking styles that aid decision-making through objective assessment of situations that reduce costly errors. Both are different approaches but enable you to use resources wisely through connecting ideas and spotting errors and inconsistencies. Learning the differences between these two thinking styles can help you identify yours, combine it with the second, and increase the accuracy of your choices. In this article, we review why you may learn the difference between divergent and convergent thinking, define both terms, give their types, differentiate them, and explain lateral thinking.

Why learn the differences between divergent vs. convergent thinking?

You may learn about divergent vs. convergent thinking because of their relationship with personality tests, especially the Myers-Briggs'. A personality test or personality indicator typically involves a series of questions about your reactions under different circumstances, your background, and how you interact with your environment.

In the Myers-Briggs indicator, an algorithm assesses you, then assigns you one of 16 personality types based on different factors. These factors include your tendency for extroversion or introversion, judging or perceiving, sensing or intuition, and thinking or feeling. This test categorizes people into two groups, the divergent and convergent thinkers, based on their approach to problem-solving. Each style is different, and you naturally have an affinity to one, but you can develop yourself to think both ways.

What is divergent thinking?

Divergent thinking is a process where you generate ideas and develop multiple solutions to a problem. It involves being creative and exploring new possibilities to address the daily challenges you face. Divergent individuals expand their thinking to the extent that they have an endless number of solutions to a single problem. They're also innovative and can see products in materials in new and different ways.

Types of divergent thinking

These cases highlight situations involving divergent thinking:

  • Gathering of team members by a lead for a brainstorming session on how to improve products and processes, during which they consider all ideas without judgement

  • Looking at a picture of a smiling person and knowing they could either be happy or sad and that a smile alone isn't enough to conclude that they're happy

  • Promoting effective communication among team members using collaboration tools to support the exchange of ideas

  • Using subject mapping to organize a group of ideas to understand their relationships

  • Using bubble mapping, which is a simpler version of subject mapping to represent ideas and solutions with bubbles around a central topic

  • Creating various copies to accompany the launch of a particular product or service

  • Presenting a child with a stack of blocks to see the number of shapes and objects they can create from it

  • Understanding that it's possible to be both sick and healthy, such as an individual who's physically fit but mentally stressed

  • Discovering a malfunctioning machine and evaluating potential solutions such as calling a technician, watching online videos, or sending a company-wide e-mail to confirm the prevalence of the situation

What is convergent thinking?

Convergent thinking, the inverse of divergent thinking, is a process that involves analyzing a problem and finding a concrete solution to it. It depends more on logic than creativity and focuses on finding the most effective answer to a problem rather than many. Convergent individuals are typically comfortable with the status quo, so the solutions they propose to problems may come from previously tried techniques and already stored information.

Types of convergent thinking

These cases highlight situations involving convergent thinking:

  • Taking a multiple-choice examination requires choosing a single and accurate answer and is a type of convergent thinking

  • Concluding that it's not possible to be both sick and healthy because the two terms are opposing, and you may only experience one at a given time

  • Choosing a design for a brand after considering costs, budget, appeal, and memorability, and not necessarily after comparing it with other designs

  • Choosing the best location for a business trip after considering factors such as cost, convenience, accommodation, and transport

  • Deciding the best franchising partner after considering location, potential customers, profit, and brand awareness

  • Calling a technician immediately to report a faulty machine so they may come and fix it

Related: What Is a Convergent Thinker? (With Definition and Tips)

What are the differences between divergent and convergent thinking?

Below are the differences that exist between divergent and convergent thinking:

Flexibility vs. speed

Divergent thinking favours flexibility in its approach. You dedicate sufficient time to finding various ideas to help address one issue while considering the chances of each to succeed. Convergent thinking typically involves responding quickly to situations, so there's less room for flexibility and more emphasis on speed.

Spontaneity vs. efficiency

With divergent thinking, processes are often spontaneous and may not follow a definite pattern. Convergent thinking has a strong emphasis on efficiency. You analyze a situation and immediately propose a solution that's accurate and productive, especially if the technique is an established one.

Free-flow vs. logic

Besides being spontaneous, divergent thinking also follows a free-flowing manner. You study the situation so that all naturally applicable solutions arise without you forcing or manipulating anything. Convergent thinking depends more on logic than free flow. A convergent thinker analyzes interrelationships or sequences of facts or events and decides the usefulness of a solution based on its success with past similar events.

Quantity vs. quality

One core difference between both thinking types is the number of solutions they offer. A divergent thinker favours quantity by producing as many answers to a problem as possible. A convergent thinker may present only a solution, but that solution is often qualitative and can sufficiently solve the problem.

Deductive vs. inductive reasoning

Deductive and inductive reasoning are concepts common in logic and science that describe how various individuals form conclusions from an event or situation. Deductive reasoning involves reaching specific conclusions from general observations, while inductive reasoning entails making general conclusions or broad generalizations from specific situations. Divergent thinking typically follows inductive reasoning, and convergent thinking follows deductive reasoning.

Related: Key Differences: Analytical Thinking vs. Critical Thinking

Extroverted vs. introverted personality

Divergent thinkers tend to be extroverts. They're creative, engage socially with others, and are more open to new experiences. Convergent thinkers are often more introverted than extroverted. They're logical, follow facts, and are more satisfied with their thoughts than other people's opinions.

Related: Different Types of Thinking (With How to Find Yours)

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is a problem-solving approach that combines both convergent and divergent approaches. It utilizes the creative aspect of divergent thinking and the logical aspect of convergent thinking to create solutions that are better than both individually. Below are examples of situations involving lateral thinking:

  • Gathering a team for a brainstorming session and thinking of all possible solutions to a problem, then using logic to reduce the available options and select the most effective

  • Analyzing customer's behaviours to different marketing strategies and choosing one that best fits their taste and interest

  • Listing all possible career paths that you may follow due to your educational background and experience, then selecting the one that best fits your skills and career goals

Related: What Is a Creative Problem Solver? (And What Do They Do)

Tips for becoming a better thinker

Below are best practices to help you become a better thinker and improve the quality of your decisions:

Read

Reading is an effective way to develop your thinking ability. It provides fresh insights that add to your stock knowledge, which you can retrieve whenever you have an important decision to make. Reading also provides ideas that you can share verbally during brainstorming sessions or if you're meeting with your colleagues.

Related: 7 Steps to Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills

Ask questions

Whether you're a divergent or convergent thinker, questioning your ideas can often be a good way to check their authenticity and practicality. Typical questions you may ask yourself include:

  • What problem am I trying to solve?

  • What's the outcome I'm trying to achieve?

  • What are the consequences of my decision?

  • How do I establish what I don't understand right now?

  • How much risk can I bear?

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise can lead to a healthier body. It helps ensure that blood circulates well in your body and brings oxygen to your brain. That enables your brain to stay sharp and alert, resulting in better cognitive functions and improved decision-making.

Avoid overthinking

While thinking of solutions to problems is an excellent way to address personal and workplace issues, it's advisable to avoid overthinking. By moderating how long you spend thinking, you can improve your state of mind and ensure you stay happy at all times. One helpful way to avoid overthinking is to divert your attention to more productive activities when you feel worried.

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