Innovation. How best to develop, sustain and refine it? Let the battle commence between divergent and convergent thinking. Or perhaps not? Here we make the case for both types of thinking, side by side and suggest techniques for how best to unlock them.
Commonly associated with creativity and the non conformist personality type. This is disruptive innovation, freestyle thinking without borders. Unconventional in its approach it produces multiple, sometimes complex connections and solutions to problems from one single idea.
Techniques to stimulate divergent thinking:
Brainstorming: Unstructured generation of ideas in a short space of time without judgement.
Mind or subject mapping: Placing the ideas produced in brainstorming into a visual map or pictogram that depicts the relationship between different ideas. Sometimes used in the form of a tree with branches.
Journalling: Using a journal to write down thoughts as they occur spontaneously. Capturing these to use as a stimulus for ideas at a later date.
Free writing: Taking a topic and writing continuously over a short period of time
Meditation: Is used to develop both awareness and focus, fostering non-judgement of ideas.
Painting/Drawing: Using art work to produce a free flowing series of ideas and images.
Divergent thinking has 8 components.
Elaboration: Layering on top of an idea, adding to it.
Flexibility: categorising different ideas from one issue or problem. Creating different ways of looking at the same thing.
Curiosity: A category of the Big Five personality traits (OCEAN, Costa & McCrae) openness to ideas, learning, digging deeper and asking questions.
Complexity: The ability to synthesise high level multifactorial ideas or solutions.
Imagination: The capacity to conceptualise new ideas, to think originally outside of conventional parameters.
Risk Taking: The willingness to experiment, be bold with new ideas. To be unafraid to step outside of the expected and break conventional boundaries.
Fluency: To incubate ideas exponentially, increasing solutions to problems.
Originality: The production of unique, individual, distinctive, uncommon, brand new ideas.
Once the divergent virtual reality stage is over, convergent thinking is needed to pull those unique ideas together into something that works in the real world. Convergent thinking, identified by Joy Paul Guildford in 1957, is the ability to define a single solution to a problem or issue. This is great for analysing and dissecting. Think of this as finding the way forward using logic and from tried and tested techniques. Divergent thinking then is about the ideas phase, creating solutions that are fresh and unique. Convergent thinking is the second half of the process, ideas forged into an optimum solution.
How to develop it?
A regular mindfulness practice will help you in both stages of divergent and convergent thinking. The practice will silence your inner critic, allow you to incubate divergent ideas and spot those eureka moments when they do happen instead of missing them completely. And in the final verification stage of creative thinking, it will shift activity in the right pre-frontal cortex to the left side, improving decision making and clarity of thought.
Striking a balance
In truth we need both modes of thinking. They are different components of the same process. Rather than switching between modes in an unplanned way, which can stifle innovation, we suggest a more coherent approach. When generating new ideas an effective approach involves cultivating and developing divergent stages followed by a convergent phase. A creative perestroika. See our Boosting creativity with mindfulness blog for how to unlock your inner innovator.
If you’d like to know more about the impact of mindfulness on creativity and innovation we offer consultancy, training, bitesize, half day or one day training courses along with conference sessions on how to build effective organisations. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. We’d love to talk with you.