The Synergy of Convergent and Divergent Thinking
The Synergy of Convergent and Divergent Thinking

The Synergy of Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Leadership Development, Hybrid Workforce, Company Culture, Employee Well-being   — 3 MIN


Picture this: the executive in charge of your department calls a meeting to brainstorm ideas to decrease inefficiencies. It’s a quarterly meeting, but nothing ever changes. It’s gotten so bad that team members don’t even suggest ideas anymore because they do not feel heard. Productivity stagnates and everyone is frustrated from the C-suite to individual contributors. Sound familiar?In some organizations, this is what happens when they approach problem-solving. It’s a roadblock to pairing convergent and divergent thinking. Most people are very good at analyzing ideas (convergent thinking) as soon as they're suggested. We’ve been trained to think analytically, but it comes at a price as we make excuses for why an idea won’t work (too expensive, too time-consuming, already tried, etc.). But it’s this convergence that’s getting in the way of idea generation (divergent thinking). Who wants to suggest an idea just for it to get immediately shot down?

All of us can think in both convergent and divergent ways, depending on the situation in which we find ourselves, but we do tend to favor one method more than the other. When problem-solving, try using the Five Whys technique, where you ask "Why?" five times, drilling down deeper and deeper to get to the root cause. This helps get past any assumptions and biases to solve the real problem instead of just masking the symptoms.

The dynamic duo

Like peanut butter and jelly or Batman and Robin, some things just go better together. Convergent and divergent approaches are like that. Organizations need a mix of convergent and divergent thinkers. Too much divergent thinking and there are a ton of ideas, but no implementation. With too much convergent thinking, teams generate no ideas and then no solutions are on the table to consider.

Divergent thinkers disassemble problems, investigate possibilities, and enrich viewpoints. In contrast, convergent thinkers pinpoint resolutions, prioritize optimal alternatives, and strive for unambiguous understanding. The presence of both is advantageous for organizations trying to innovate, because they harmoniously unite, much like complementary elements in a successful synergy.

According to a study done by John Izzo, coauthor of Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, 38% of the 675 North American working professionals surveyed said that leaders dismissing ideas is the second biggest reason why people won’t take initiative. The number one reason? Leaders make decisions without employee input. Here are five tips on how your team can see problem-solving success with divergent and convergent thinkers:

  • Make sure the organizational processes for your team have flexibility—room to evaluate progress and make corrections. If they’re too rigid, you will suppress divergent thinking.
  • Meet team members’ needs so they believe you’re invested in their jobs, personal well-being, and the problem they're trying to solve.
  • Embrace psychological safety so team members feel free to voice opinions and understand that they can influence decisions.
  • Share project statuses and encourage continuous feedback. Feedback at each stage will help remedy errors along the way before the project gets too far along.
  • Encourage risk-taking and embrace the fear of failure.

Communication makes three

In addition to convergent and divergent thinking, there might be one more trait your team needs. According to the authors of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future, teams must have influential communication, which is the ability to express ideas coherently and compellingly. Why is this needed? Once employees have used divergent thinking to come up with solutions and convergent thinking to analyze the solutions, they will probably need to sell or promote their solutions to others. Employees that have influential communication can help others believe, support, and act on a solution.

It's tempting to play it safe anywhere in life, and that can be particularly true at work. But that can also lead to stagnation and get in the way of people reaching their full potential. So while it may seem risky or uncomfortable, divergent thinking is worth embracing. To help you do so, Prevue HR offers some tips for encouraging it in the workplace:

  • Encourage ideas. Employees may be thinking up brilliant new directions to pursue, but you won't know unless they trust those ideas will be heard with an open mind. Managers can help by sharing new ideas themselves. Even ideas that seem ridiculous at first can prompt meaningful growth.
  • Move around and enjoy art. Prevue cites studies that show walking and art both encourage open and divergent thinking. Encourage employees to draw or listen to music to get creative juices flowing. Even simply going for a walk helps get the brain going.
  • Promote a culture of honesty. Employees might see higher-ups making mistakes or a process that isn't working and hesitate to speak up, which limits opportunities to improve and grow. Encouraging honesty is a simple yet effective way to encourage divergent thinking and positive change.

Psychologists have found evidence that there is a link between being mindful and being able to engage in divergent thinking. Researchers tested engineers to see how mindfulness would impact their divergent thinking, and they found that 15 minutes of mindfulness improved the originality of ideas.

More ways to teach
divergent thinking

One of the best ways to prioritize divergent and convergent thinking throughout your organization is to provide ongoing learning to help employees grow. Incorporating Blue Ocean Brain's engaging and actionable microlearning is a dynamic solution for nurturing both divergent and convergent thinking skills to help create an organizational culture of creativity and innovation.

As learners engage with our bite-sized lessons, they dive into topics that encourage exploration, unleash creativity, and broaden their perspectives—the hallmark of divergent thinking. Simultaneously, the precision and clarity that our award-winning microlearning offers assist in honing the focused analysis and solution-oriented mindset emblematic of convergent thinking.

To learn more about how we can deliver just-in-time learning to support your organization’s people and culture goals, click here to schedule a consultation.