What Is Convergent Thinking? Convergent Thinking In A Nutshell

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. The term convergent thinking was first described by American psychologist Joy Paul Guilford in 1950. The process of convergent thinking involves finding the single best solution to a problem or question amongst many possibilities. 

Understanding convergent thinking

Multiple-choice tests, logic puzzles, text comprehension questions, or simply working out how to use the television remote are all examples of situations where convergent thinking is used. In each situation, the subject is usually required to resolve, explain, identify, or define. 

Convergent thinking differs from divergent thinking, a more creative process where the individual searches for multiple viable solutions to a single problem. Though they appear to be separate processes, convergent thinking and divergent thinking occupy opposite ends of the same spectrum. This means some problems may favor either approach or a mixture of both.

Four principles of convergent thinking in brainstorming

In a Walden University MBA course on innovation, students learn about convergent thinking and how it can be used to foster creativity during the brainstorming process.

While convergent thinking is not typically associated with creativity, this strategy can be used in business contexts when a single solution is favored. With that said, it is useful to keep these four principles in mind:

  1. Use affirmative judgment – the cornerstone of convergent thinking is the ability to evaluate potential solutions by examining their positive aspects and then building on each to make them stronger. The tendency, when confronted with something new, is to focus on the bad aspects first. However, the most productive way to brainstorm is to change perceptions and consider the positive aspects of a solution before its limitations.
  2. Keep novelty alive – the careful and selective nature of creative thinking can impede creativity. Despite intentions to the contrary, decision-makers routinely default to staying within their comfort zones and making choices that are far from innovative. Again, it is important to focus on the positive aspects of an idea before considering how to minimize risk. Teams should resist the temptation to discard unique, unusual, or high-risk ideas without exploring them further.
  3. Be persistent – the process of convergent thinking requires time and effort. The team will be required to select the most viable option from a long list of ideas and then refine it, which can be labor-intensive. Persistence is key in ensuring the selection process is rigorous and fair.
  4. Check your objectives – the goals and objectives of the team and organization should always guide the selection process touched on in point three. Periodically running through the objectives helps the team avoid losing focus.

Key takeaways:

  • Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. The process involves finding the single best solution to a problem or question amongst many possibilities.
  • Convergent thinking differs from divergent thinking, which encourages the practitioner to develop multiple ideas or solutions to a single problem. Both strategies occupy opposite ends of a spectrum, with certain situations favoring a predominant approach or a mixture of the two.
  • Convergent thinking and the creative process of brainstorming may not appear a good fit at first glance. However, convergent thinking can yield creative ideas if the team uses affirmative judgment and maintains a sense of novelty. For best results, the team should also be rigorous, persistent, and ensure their solutions align with organizational goals and objectives.

Main Guides:

Connected brainstorming frameworks

The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.
Round-robin brainstorming is a collective and iterative approach to brainstorming. Brainstorming is an effective way of generating fresh ideas for an organization. Round-robin brainstorming is a balanced approach, employing an iterative, circular process that builds on the previous contribution of each participant.
Starbursting is a structured brainstorming technique with a focus on question generation. Starbursting is a structured form of brainstorming allowing product teams to cover all bases during the ideation process. It utilizes a series of questions to systematically work through various aspects of product development, forcing teams to evaluate ideas based on viability.
The futures wheel was invented in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn while he was studying at the Antioch Graduate School of Education.  The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event.
A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.
Reverse brainstorming takes advantage of the natural human tendency to more easily see problems than solutions. What’s more, many individuals when placed in a traditional brainstorming environment will find it difficult to become creative on command. Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail. 
Rolestorming as a term was first mentioned by personal development guru Rick Griggs in the 1980s.  Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Connected thinking tools

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.
The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.
Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.
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