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.

AspectConvergent ThinkingDivergent Thinking
DefinitionFocuses on finding a single, correct solution or answer to a problem.Encourages the generation of multiple, creative ideas and possibilities.
PurposeOften used to solve well-defined problems with clear criteria.Useful for exploring, brainstorming, and idea generation, especially for ambiguous or open-ended problems.
ApproachNarrow and structured, aiming to narrow down options.Broad and exploratory, aiming to expand possibilities.
LogicLogical and systematic, follows a linear path.Intuitive and non-linear, often involves unconventional thinking.
GoalTo identify the best solution or outcome.To generate a variety of potential solutions or ideas.
ExampleSolving a math problem with a single correct answer.Brainstorming ideas for a new product or marketing campaign.
Key SkillAnalytical thinking and critical evaluation.Creativity, idea generation, and thinking outside the box.
Decision MakingLeads to a decision or selection from available options.Doesn’t necessarily result in a decision; it explores possibilities.
Problem TypeSuitable for well-structured, clear problems.Effective for ill-structured, complex, or creative challenges.
Common UseIn engineering, mathematics, quality control.In design thinking, innovation, creative arts, and ideation sessions.

Convergent Thinking

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. 

Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring multiple possible solutions to a problem. Divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. These ideas are generated and explored in a relatively short space of time. 

Key Similarities between Convergent Thinking and Divergent Thinking:

  • Problem-Solving Approaches: Both convergent thinking and divergent thinking are approaches to problem-solving, aiming to find solutions to challenges or questions.
  • Idea Generation: Both methods involve generating ideas or solutions to a problem, albeit through different processes.
  • Cognitive Processes: Both convergent thinking and divergent thinking are cognitive processes that engage the mind in seeking answers or creative insights.

Key Differences between Convergent Thinking and Divergent Thinking:

  • Solution Approach: Convergent thinking aims to find the single best solution to a problem among various possibilities, applying established rules and logical reasoning. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, seeks to explore multiple innovative ideas or solutions without focusing on a single answer.
  • Structure vs. Unstructured: Convergent thinking is a structured and systematic approach to problem-solving, following logical steps and predefined rules. Divergent thinking is an unstructured method that encourages free-flowing, spontaneous idea generation without rigid guidelines.
  • Time Frame: Convergent thinking may take more time as it involves evaluating and selecting the best solution among alternatives. Divergent thinking is often time-limited to encourage rapid idea generation.
  • Applicability: Convergent thinking may be suitable for well-established organizations and situations where a specific, optimal solution is needed. Divergent thinking is more suited for startups, innovative companies, and situations that require creativity and exploration of various possibilities.
  • Creativity vs. Logic: Convergent thinking relies on established rules and logical reasoning to arrive at a solution. Divergent thinking emphasizes creativity and the generation of new, unconventional ideas.
  • Single Solution vs. Multiple Solutions: Convergent thinking aims to converge on a single, best solution. Divergent thinking seeks to diverge and explore multiple potential solutions.
  • Narrow vs. Broad Focus: Convergent thinking narrows down possibilities to find the most suitable option. Divergent thinking expands the range of possibilities to explore various potential solutions.

Examples of Convergent Thinking:

  • Mathematics Problems: A mathematics problem like 2+22+2 has one correct answer: 44. This is a straightforward application of convergent thinking.
  • Multiple Choice Questions: In a test, you’re given a question and four possible answers. Only one of these answers is correct.
  • Puzzle Solving: A jigsaw puzzle has a specific solution, and every piece has a designated place.
  • Diagnosing a Medical Condition: Based on a set of symptoms, a doctor narrows down to one specific ailment.
  • Technical Troubleshooting: When a device isn’t working, there’s typically a specific cause or malfunction that needs fixing.

Examples of Divergent Thinking:

  • Brainstorming Sessions: In a meeting, team members might be asked to come up with as many marketing strategies as possible.
  • Creative Writing: An author might think of multiple endings for a story.
  • Designing a Product: A designer could imagine various looks and functionalities for a new gadget.
  • Art Projects: An artist is given a theme and creates multiple sketches or ideas around it.
  • Problem Solving: A community leader might seek multiple solutions for a community issue, like reducing littering, involving campaigns, educational programs, or community events.

Key Takeaways:

  • Convergent thinking focuses on finding the single best solution to a problem using established rules and logical reasoning.
  • Divergent thinking encourages the generation of multiple innovative ideas or solutions without rigid constraints.
  • Convergent thinking is systematic and structured, while divergent thinking is unstructured and free-flowing.
  • Convergent thinking may be more applicable in established organizations seeking specific solutions, while divergent thinking is well-suited for startups and situations requiring creativity and exploration of possibilities.

Key Highlights:

  • Convergent Thinking: This is a problem-solving approach that focuses on finding a single, best solution. It applies established rules and logical reasoning.
  • Divergent Thinking: This approach encourages the generation of multiple, innovative ideas. It’s an unstructured method, promoting a wide range of possible solutions.
  • Similarities: Both are problem-solving approaches used to generate ideas and involve cognitive processes.
  • Differences:
    • Solution Approach: Convergent seeks one best solution, while divergent explores multiple ideas.
    • Structure: Convergent thinking is structured, while divergent is unstructured.
    • Time Frame: Convergent might be more time-consuming, whereas divergent encourages rapid idea generation.
    • Applicability: Convergent is suitable for established organizations, while divergent fits startups and innovative companies.
    • Focus: Convergent narrows down possibilities, while divergent broadens the range of potential solutions.
  • Essence: Convergent thinking is about narrowing down to the best answer, while divergent thinking encourages broad, creative exploration.
ScenarioConvergent ThinkingDivergent Thinking
Problem SolvingFocuses on finding a single, correct solution to a problem or question.Embraces open-ended exploration and generating multiple possible solutions to a problem.
CreativityTends to be more structured and goal-oriented, aiming for a definitive outcome.Encourages creativity and free-thinking, often resulting in a wide range of ideas and possibilities.
Testing HypothesesTypically used to test hypotheses and validate existing knowledge or theories.Often employed when brainstorming, ideation, or exploring new concepts without a predetermined answer.
Decision MakingAims to reach a specific decision or conclusion based on available information.Engages in exploring diverse alternatives before deciding on a course of action.
Academic AssessmentsCommonly used in standardized tests and academic assessments where there’s a single correct answer.More suitable for tasks that involve critical thinking, creativity, and considering multiple perspectives.
BrainstormingLess likely to be used in brainstorming sessions, where generating a variety of ideas is the primary goal.Integral to brainstorming processes, encouraging participants to think broadly and generate numerous ideas.
Problem ComplexityMore suitable for straightforward or well-defined problems with a clear solution.Better suited for complex, ambiguous, or ill-defined problems that lack a single correct answer.
ConformityTends to lead to conformity, as it converges toward established norms or answers.Often results in diverse viewpoints and encourages individuality, as it explores various possibilities.
Artistic ExpressionLess commonly associated with artistic endeavors that require creativity and unconventional thinking.Commonly used in artistic fields where innovation and unconventional ideas are celebrated.
InnovationMay hinder innovation in situations where a more exploratory approach is needed.Facilitates innovation by allowing for the exploration of novel ideas and concepts.
Product DevelopmentEffective for refining product designs and engineering to meet specific criteria and standards.Valuable in the initial stages of product development, where a wide range of concepts and features are explored.
Group DiscussionsOften guides group discussions toward consensus and agreement on a particular solution.Encourages group discussions that foster diverse ideas and perspectives, even if they don’t immediately converge on one solution.
Business StrategiesHelps in choosing a focused strategy with a clear path to implementation.Useful for exploring multiple strategic options, considering various market scenarios, and adapting to change.
Scientific ResearchApplied when conducting experiments and collecting data to verify hypotheses.Beneficial in the generation of research hypotheses, exploring new theories, and considering multiple research avenues.
Marketing CampaignsEffective for fine-tuning marketing messages and campaigns to target specific audiences.Valuable for brainstorming marketing ideas, creating unique campaigns, and thinking outside the box to engage customers.
Investment DecisionsFocuses on analyzing financial data to make calculated investment decisions.Encourages exploring various investment opportunities and diversifying portfolios to manage risk.
Quality ControlCritical for ensuring products meet predefined quality standards and specifications.Valuable in identifying potential quality issues and brainstorming ways to enhance product quality.
Team Problem SolvingOften leads teams toward a specific solution to address a problem collectively.Promotes collaborative thinking within teams, where diverse ideas and perspectives are encouraged before reaching consensus.
Conflict ResolutionUseful for resolving conflicts through specific methods and negotiation strategies.Effective when exploring multiple solutions to conflicts, considering each party’s needs and interests.
Education and LearningCommonly used in traditional education systems, where there’s often a single correct answer.Supports modern educational approaches that encourage critical thinking, creativity, and exploration.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

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


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.

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 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 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

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

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.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

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, 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

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

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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.

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

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 – 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

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.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

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.

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

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

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.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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