Divergent thinking: a new approach to solving old problems. What is this paradigm of mental activity and is it possible to develop the necessary skills?

Creative thinking plays a big role in the development of individuals and society. People who have the ability to find innovative solutions achieve greater success in life. Their secret lies in the ability to think multidimensionally. This type of thinking in psychology is called divergent. What is divergent thinking and can it be developed?


The ability to approach tasks and issues in a non-standard way is based on a group of features that make up the structure of the named method of activity. They can be defined as follows.


Certain objects that are used for further mental manipulation of them to achieve certain goals. These are not always things in the material sense of the word. It may well be that we are talking about extremely large structures that cannot be “identified in nature.” Road, house, planet. Also concepts at the intersection of the material and the abstract: society, etc. Or even ideal, intangible entities. The latter is especially typical for philosophical and scientific knowledge: life, death, love, freedom, the universe, matter, and other categories that do not have material expression.


Actually, methodology. A list of methods that are used to operate on objects. Their systematization, analysis, applied use. The methodology is most clearly visible when assessing material, transformative human activity. For example, in the work of an inventor, mechanical engineer, etc.

If the convergent approach presupposes a certain academicism and even stereotypes, action according to a specific algorithm, divergent thinking requires a creative rethinking of given standards. New principles of object manipulation. To exaggerate: a cook with a convergent approach strictly follows the technological map and recipe and does not deviate one iota from them. With non-linear - tries to modify the recipe in order to achieve greater effect, improve taste, reduce cost without compromising quality, speed up the cooking process. In a word - optimize work and achieve better results.


The ideas are based on a specific concept based on approximate ways of influencing objects, their combinations, relationships. This is an integral component.

If compared with the structure of the convergent paradigm, everything is simpler; a person using this method has more freedom to express himself and search for non-trivial ways of acting. The linear style has a more rigid structure and has frames:

  • objects;
  • methods;
  • ideas;
  • strictly defined algorithms, templates (they can be combined, but you cannot deviate from them);
  • signs of objects;
  • determination of their functions.

The definition of a divergent type of thinking initially presupposes not a logical, and certainly not a purely mechanical, but a creative approach. Since the structure gives more freedom, it is much more difficult for a person to take advantage of such wide opportunities in the initial stages. Divergent thinking needs to be learned. This is a practical group of skills. However, oddly enough, this method is much more effective if you need to solve problems that do not require a single approach.

According to theoretical and practical research, the greatest efficiency is achieved when it is possible to switch between different paradigms or use them in parallel.

History of the concept

The term “Divergent Thinking” was first coined by Joy Gilford, an American psychologist who researched the human mind and intelligence. Guilford tried to build a model of intelligence that was multidimensional and included 3 dimensions (content, operations, results of thinking), which in turn were divided into variables. Convergent and divergent thinking were, according to his model, variables of operations, that is, one of the dimensions of intelligence.

By proposing two new types of thinking, Guilford moved away from the classical division into inductive (solving problems by deriving a general rule based on particular observations) and deductive (logical) thinking.

The development of Guilford's theory was continued by other psychologists: Taylor, Torrance, Grubber. They more clearly formed the very concept of divergence, established criteria for its identification, and established that this type of thinking allows a person to create non-standard ideas, hypotheses, classify and group the information received.

Main features of divergent thinking

The main properties of this methodology are based on the qualities of intellectual activity inherent in creative people with developed creativity. Among the characteristics:

  • Ability for independent development and learning

Important property. Every time a person solves a problem, his brain accumulates experience. In the future, it is used as a starting point or material for solving other problems. With the accumulation of a certain critical mass of experience in combination with developed cognitive abilities, intuition is formed. A subconscious speculative phenomenon in which a person already has a rough idea of ​​where to go to resolve the issue.

  • High speed

Process fluency is a necessary property. Characterized by the appearance of a large number of thoughts. Many of them don't make any sense. However, the presence of an abundant flow of information outside creates the conditions for solving the problem. Because material appears for further use.

  • The ability to set goals, systematize thoughts, choose the most correct

A large number of thoughts for an unprepared person is a significant difficulty. Because it is necessary to “fish out” from a huge swarm of raw material ideas and techniques that will be effective in solving a specific issue. This comes with experience and requires constant practice.

  • Originality

It is necessary that the solutions be non-trivial. As a rule, people with divergent developed thinking are able to look at things that are already familiar to everyone in an unusual way, find new areas of application for them, etc. This is an important property. Templates and paths used many times do not belong to divergent thinking and are a product of academic “zombification.” Although this is not always a bad thing.

  • Flexibility and variety

The ability to quickly switch from thought to thought, use ideas from different fields of knowledge, find implicit connections between objects and phenomena.

Paradoxically, divergent thinking is the most developed in children. Especially for preschoolers. This is the result of a rich imagination, openness, and willingness to learn. Gradually, society and its institutions, in particular the school and higher education institution, oppress this creative principle, and a person begins to think trivially. It is necessary to form skills anew and “wake up” those that have long died down and are in the depths of the subconscious.

Fundamental differences from the linear or convergent method

There are several fundamental differences between divergent thinking:

  • Nonlinearity

When working with a group of objects and methods, such an individual achieves a group of results, each of which satisfies the set goal, the effectiveness criteria that were developed before the start of the activity. The convergent approach presupposes a clear algorithm for achieving a specific goal. And nothing else. The methods of such a paradigm are especially noticeable in technical activity with a creative component, programming, etc. A program can be created in different ways, but a good specialist strives to work through several options and choose the optimal one in terms of the consumption of machine resources and the final result.

  • Lack of a clear set of actions

The algorithm can be taken as a basis, or a person works out his own way to achieve the goal. Both options have a right to exist. It all depends on the specific tasks and the desired result. At the same time, there is a reliance on knowledge, and not bare experiments. Programmers use methods of mathematics and graph theory as a foundation, but do not use templates; they develop algorithms independently, for specific technical needs. Or a cook. They know the technology of processing products and take into account their compatibility. Then they work according to their own judgment to achieve taste and other necessary properties.

  • Versatility

Tension of the forces of the whole brain (both the right and left hemispheres work).

  • Originality

Creative component.

The features of the paradigm are determined by greater freedom, breadth of perception, and sensitivity of the subject. The necessary qualities will have to be developed.

Planning for creativity is possible!

You may think that planning and creativity are two mutually exclusive concepts. But, having assessed all the pros and cons of divergent and convergent thinking, you will understand that they get along well together.

You can always find a time and place for both approaches, and the most effective project managers understand when and how to use them. Follow our guidelines and you'll be able to successfully complete projects while being flexible and embracing change and new ideas.

Want to experience a project management and collaboration solution that supports both divergent and convergent thinking? Sign up for a 14-day free trial of Wrike!

Is it possible to develop divergent thinking, and if so, how to do it?

People are initially born with a divergent type of thinking. Imagination, originality and other qualities are inherent in nature. Academic dry approaches, cliches and templates are laid down later. This method is oppressive, but for everyone to a different extent. Therefore, the efforts required for the new approach are not the same. Various techniques are used to develop divergent thinking. The following two are most effective:

  1. Search for non-standard connections. Two objects are taken as material. Similar or, even better, dissimilar in principle. A shoe and a ship, a man and a pencil, others. Including the most absurd options. Next you need to find similarities between the selected items.
  2. Development of non-standard methods of using familiar objects. You need to take the item. A paperclip, a spoon, a pen. In a minute, you should come up with as many methods as possible for using the selected item. This helps develop the creative component.

There are other methods. For example, searching for associations. The algorithm is approximately the same. Choosing a specific subject to think about. Search for associations. What is the object associated with and why. The more connections are built in, the better.

You need to allocate about 30-50 minutes a day for this simple activity. You can do more if possible.

Psychology offers additional ways to quickly develop the necessary skills. In particular, it is necessary to apply new techniques to practical problems as much as possible. Try to solve them in several ways. At the initial stage, this will not be so easy. As you gain experience, divergent thinking will become prevalent and habitual.

The development of the necessary methodological base is possible in childhood. But it is most effective to conduct classes in early adolescence. This will allow you to preserve creativity and not lose the originality of mental activity.

When you are ready for longer sessions, you can use a whole range of exercises:

  • Words

You need to make a list of words that end with a certain letter in one minute. You can alternate by going through the entire alphabet. Similar analysis is effective in foreign languages. This uses additional brain resources. As you progress, you can make the task more difficult. So that words end with two specific letters, have endings, etc.

  • Method modification

Represents a semantic analysis of a word. You need to make as many as possible out of one. Time is again limited.

  • Goal setting

A specific situation is taken as a basis. Household or professional. Optional. Next, you need to name as many methods for resolving it as possible. Within 1-2 minutes. A time interval is necessary to intensify intellectual activity.

Non-specific tests, for intelligence level and others, help a lot. They are aimed at developing the logical component of mental abilities. However, they can also be used for the systematic formation of divergent thinking. But only in the complex.

The question of how to develop divergent thinking can also be answered with a recommendation to engage in creativity. Visual or other types of music. It is important to devote a certain amount of time to classes every day, without taking long breaks of several days or longer.

You can work on development together with a psychologist. Optional.

Let's go back to school

Another place where convergent thinking is developed is school. All problems, be they mathematical, physical or even biological, presuppose the correct answer (often you can find it at the end of the textbook). What then is being assessed? The assessment is how stereotyped you come to this answer and how quickly you are given a solution according to the scheme given by the teacher. After all, there have often been cases when a teacher refused to give an A to a student who solved a problem using a different formula and the answer came out correct, but the teacher did not teach this. On the one hand, convergent thinking teaches us order, rules, linearity, but, on the other hand, it is a theory that turns out to be completely useless in practice.

Methods for testing the quality of brain activity and the degree of development of divergent thinking

You can check the degree of development of the necessary skills in the same ways. There are no specialized tests. The issue is being resolved by psychology experts. If we talk about self-testing, you need to find the starting point. That is, do the exercises for a while. Then, after a week or more, repeat the research and compare the results in numerical and temporal terms with what was before. Provided that you practice systematically, even for short periods, positive results will not take long to arrive.

Thus, it is recommended to self-diagnose once every two weeks or month. At your own request and discretion.

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