Divergence and Convergence
Principles of creativity > Divergence and Convergence
Divergence | Convergence | Keeping them separate | Sequencing them | See also
In creative work, there are two modes of thinking that we use that are very different but are both very useful for different parts of the process.
Divergence is the process of thinking broadly, of expanding one's mind, of going places where one does not normally go. In fact it is very much what most people think about when they consider creativity.
Divergent thinking is very important in creativity as the process whereby ideas are generated. Although everyone can do it, some take to it more easily and find idea creation (sometimes called ideation) both natural and fun.
For others, it is something more of an effort, both to create the ideas and also to get over the internal blocks that prevent them from telling others about their half-formed ideas.
The fear of social punishment and ridicule keeps many from even admitting to themselves that they could be good at divergent thinking.
Divergent ideation creates a constant flow of ideas, no matter how good or bad they are (and without even a thought about this), with the knowledge that they will be sorted out in the subsequent convergent activity.
When you have created a big pile of ideas, the creative activity does not stop there. The next stage, which can be very difficult, seeks to thin down the idea set into a very small set of ideas (maybe one) that will be taken forward for further development.
Judgement and Selection
This approach requires skills of selection, evaluation and judgement to whittle down the list to the most useful ideas. In this process, there can be argument and debate about the true potential of ideas.
Retaining creative seeds
A danger here is that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater, as good ideas are thrown out with the bad. It is important here to keep a balance, and the divergent thinkers have an important task to challenge the ejection of any ideas that may have serious potential.
Keeping them separate
Have you ever been in a thinking session (creative or otherwise) and seen two groups of people crossing swords, where one group are constantly trying to keep the exploration open, whilst the other group is trying to come to a closure point and get a decision made? Maybe you were in one of these two groups.
The dangers of simultaneity
Divergent and convergent activities do not go well together, and keeping them deliberately separate is a very good idea. Thus you can explain the principles to people you will then be able to use the language, saying 'excuse me, I hear convergence' if someone starts criticising ideas in the middle of a divergent session.
Likewise in convergent sessions, further divergence needs to be carefully managed. It is, however, more important to keep convergence out of divergent activities, as people easily take criticism of one of their ideas personally and may just clam up and sit back if they feel this has happened.
How to keep them separate
Separation can be achieve in several ways. You can separate the sessions by having one after the other (this is most common).
You can also separate them further in time (eg. to give space for more ideas to be generated by incubation first).
You can have different groups of people diverging and converging.
You can change location for each - for example having the divergent session in a relaxed lounge and the convergent session in a formal meeting room.
Divergence and convergence are not a one-shot thing in serious creativity and invention practices. They constantly sequence, one after the other and form a matched pair of activities that enable you to both think broadly and also stay focused.
Thus you may diverge and converge in problem identification, idea exploration, product development, market planning, etc.