Each one of us has a common goal: We want to achieve exceptional results for ourselves and our organizations. Did you know your ability to deliver exceptional results can be influenced significantly by your thinking style?
Convergent thinking and Divergent thinking are two distinct styles of thinking. Convergent thinking refers to the style where the focus is on coming up with a single well-defined answer to a problem e.g Standardized tests for college entrance or any survey that includes multiple choice questions is designed to guide you to make an “intelligent” choice from a given set of options. Divergent thinking on the other hand involves a spontaneous free flow of thought leading to generation of many “ideas” or possible solutions. Divergent thinking is often followed by convergent thinking to determine the “best” possible answer to a given problem.
Is one of type of thinking superior to the other? Not really. Each type of thinking is essential to the success of an organization. However, the application of convergent thinking may vary from scenarios where divergent thinking. For example, if you are a programmer and are tasked with fixing a bug in the code, you may likely leverage convergent thinking to define possible root causes for the problem and then rule each one out through trial and error until you find “THE” bug. On the other hand leveraging divergent thinking may be very useful for an organization that needs to drive innovation and combat disruption. Divergent thinking will involve a very of techniques such as mindmapping, brainstorming, design-thinking etc to come up with a list of “Ideas” that can help drive innovation. Convergent thinkers may often rely on “out-of-the -box” divergent thinkers to define the landscape of potential solutions and leverage their outputs to define a “best-fit” concrete solution.
When you are looking to drive exceptional business results what thinking style will be more effective?
I believe exceptional business results lend themselves better to divergent thinking. For e.g. Convergent thinking has limited use in an environment where you are looking to disrupt a market or find creative solutions to grow your conversion rates on your e-commerce platform. Divergent thinking can lead to “exponential growth” where as you may see positive linear growth from pure convergent thinking. As a digital transformation leader at Digitivy, I work with several organizations that are looking to improve customer experience and grow their revenues. As we collaborate with clients in our “design-thinking” sessions we generate several ideas of which many lead to business decisions that change the trajectory of the business in unimaginable ways.
Imagination and creativity are fundamental to divergent thinking and leaders must create an environment that encourages this. Employees must be provided incentives to unleash their creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking and leaders must learn to be supportive to accept “failure”. In the modern digital age, it is imperative that everyone adopts a mindset of “continuous re-invention”. This applies to both organizations and individuals. The “Status Quo” is a sure bet on “Failure” and will lead to the death of your organization as witnessed recently in the string of bankruptcies announced by legendary organizations such as Toys R Us.
The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo; the job is to invent the status quo- Seth Godin (Poke the box)
“Continuous Re-Invention” requires divergent thinking. And divergent thinking requires ideas. Divergent thinking does not necessarily require specific natural talents and this skill can be acquired through training. Digital Leaders tasked with digital transformation tend to be caught up with organizational issues and priorities and find it very challenging to let their brains “drift” into imagining possibilities that may solve their business problems. Internal users also tend to find it challenging to easily adapt to “divergent thinking” due to the bias and group think developed by being part of the organization. This is where leveraging external design-thinking and innovation consultants can add tremendous value. Consultants can also facilitate divergent thinking by looking at your problems with the lens of an individual exposed to multiple industries. Leaders must create a collaborative environment where employees and consultants can brainstorm and let the divergent thinking juices flow freely. Convergent thinking can be subsequently applied in the form of design -prototypes to identify the best-fit solution.
Another technique to encourage divergent thinking is to leverage external “Think Tanks” and participate in conferences attended/led by “Divergent Thinkers”. Think Tanks are known to facilitate divergent thinking by opening up minds to possibilities that were otherwise unimaginable.