convergent-thinking

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Convergent thinking case study 

Think Company is a software development and experience design company that was founded in 2007 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The company primarily works with large enterprise clients but also well-funded start-ups and non-profits.

Think Company sees both divergent and convergent thinking as two complementary aspects of its design thinking process.

The company uses the former to brainstorm ideas and determine how it can help a client’s product become more competitive, but it also uses the latter to solve discrete problems efficiently.

According to the company, convergent thinking is ideal, ”when you need an answer, and you believe you have access to the data and information you need to guide a decision or solution. Convergent thinking typically calls for speed, accuracy, and knowledge on a subject, so it’s best used when the team has access to experts and relevant data.

What techniques does Think Company use?

Here are some specific techniques Think Company teams use to practice convergent thinking.

Grouping 

Most processes start by grouping together similar ideas and hypotheses.

To organize and categorize, some teams use mapping tools such as Miro and FigJam while others prefer to use the old-fashioned setup of a whiteboard and post-it notes.

Prioritizing 

Once the first step has been completed, the team must decide which concepts are important and which have the potential to become important later.

In product-design scenarios where features are prioritized for a mobile experience, for example, any desktop capabilities are moved down the importance list.

When Think Company worked with life insurance firm Penn Mutual, it set out to improve the ease of access to vital information for financial professionals.

To uncover the valuable data hidden in the client’s PDFs, the team audited all its documents to identify and then prioritize topics that would feature in a new content library known as Gateway. 

Dot-voting 

This is a technique that enables individuals within a team to participate in the prioritization process irrespective of their preferences or participation style.

Here, the individual is assigned a certain number of dots that can then be used to vote on choices in the list.

Filtering 

Think Company acknowledges that its teams are unable to review copious amounts of data or take action on every possibility.

This convergent thinking technique eliminates ideas or concepts teams cannot pursue because of time, importance, lift, or some other factor. 

How does Think Company make decisions?

Think Company is often asked questions by clients that have a single, clear answer.

The company is confident about this fact because its employees have spent years accumulating knowledge about design and technology.

Over time, they have also recognized patterns or commonalities in specific types of goals, decisions, and problems.

Think Company also uses evidence-based design thinking to build better products that are pragmatic and relevant to the problem at hand.

In many cases, the user and customer feedback it collects points toward clear design solutions with little ambiguity.

These solutions are based on hard data collected from technology discovery, design validation, or usability studies.

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.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

convergent-vs-divergent-thinking
Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

critical-thinking
Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

systems-thinking
Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

vertical-thinking
Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

einstellung-effect
Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

peter-principle
The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

straw-man-fallacy
The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

streisand-effect
The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.

Heuristic

heuristic
As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

recognition-heuristic
The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

representativeness-heuristic
The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

take-the-best-heuristic
The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Biases

biases
The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bundling Bias

bundling-bias
The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

barnum-effect
The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

first-principles-thinking
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.

Ladder Of Inference

ladder-of-inference
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.

Six Thinking Hats Model

six-thinking-hats-model
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

second-order-thinking
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

lateral-thinking
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.

Bounded Rationality

bounded-rationality
Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger-effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

occams-razor
Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

mandela-effect
The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

crowding-out-effect
The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

bandwagon-effect
The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger

Read Next: Bounded RationalityHeuristics

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