divergent-thinking

What Is Divergent Thinking? Divergent Thinking In A Nutshell

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. 

Understanding divergent thinking

Experienced divergent thinkers tend to be curious, independent, and spontaneous. They can readily generate creative ideas and have the ability to develop and improve them where necessary.

In business, divergent thinking can result in endless ideation and very few solutions if not used correctly. In brainstorming and indeed most other ideation strategies, divergent thinking should be paired with convergent thinking. This enables the organization to explore all possible options and then choose the one worth pursuing. 

Ultimately, divergent thinking encourages decision-makers to break from the status quo by considering multiple perspectives. For best results, the approach must be incorporated into project design with respect to time allocation, discussion formats, and specific interventions.

The four lenses of divergent thinking

To help teams think outside the box using divergent thinking, the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) developed a four-lens framework.

1 – Two-directional approach 

This approach, which comprises core-forward and future-back thinking, helps break the incremental mindset prevalent in many companies today. Core-forward thinking incorporates operational efficiency, short-term KPI achievement, and maintaining market share. 

But this strategy in isolation is limiting and must be combined with the future-back approach. That is, where is the company headed in the long term? Does the company have ambitions that aren’t related to financials? How will the business be fundamentally different in five years?

2 – Purpose

Purpose is the reason a company exists, shaping what it does and why it does it. When the purpose of an organization is aligned with its actions, growth and profitability result. 

Purpose and divergent thinking are closely related. Decision-makers who buy into a purpose are motivated to alter the behavior and consider novel ideas despite the risks of acting on them.

3 – Outside-in

The outside-in lens asks one fundamental question: “What will the ecosystem of the future look like in which companies must play and win?”

Too many companies look at trends to define their business models, defining the world and their industry based on what has occurred in the past. Divergent thinking helps organizations consider the future impact or benefit that current trends may have. 

4 – Disruption

Disruptive innovation from new players is a constant threat to incumbent market leaders, yet many of these firms through a combination of complacency and arrogance have no strategy to deal with it. 

Indeed, innovation in market leaders tends to be based on large budgets, large teams, and long timeframes. It is not based on divergent thinking, which new and innovative companies employ to disrupt the market seemingly overnight.

Techniques that stimulate divergent thinking

Here are some of the techniques known to stimulate divergent thinking:

  1. Brainstorming – synonymous with divergent thinking since it involves generating many ideas in an unstructured manner and in the shortest time possible. Central to most brainstorming techniques is the ability for one idea to stimulate other idea with no idea discarded during the initial ideation stage. The SCAMPER model and Business Model Canvas are two brainstorming techniques that favor divergent thinking.
  2. Journaling – this is a brilliant way to record spontaneous ideas that occur during the day. Many individuals have brilliant flashes of insight while taking a shower or washing the dishes, but they are usually forgotten before they can be written down. Journals help capture these seemingly random pieces of information where they can be synthesized later. 
  3. Freewriting – where an individual focuses on one topic and writes continuously on it for a predetermined period of time. The central premise of freewriting is to write whatever comes to mind without stopping to make edits or revisions. Similar to journaling, the somewhat random thought process is first recorded and then reorganized later.
  4. Mind or subject mapping – this process involves mapping brainstormed ideas visually to show the relationship between them. The practitioner starts with a central theme and then links it with various topics and sub-topics using lines and circles. The result is a map of each theme which can be used to creatively develop them further.

Key takeaways:

  • Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring multiple possible solutions to a problem. Ultimately, it encourages decision-makers to break from the status quo by considering multiple perspectives.
  • The four lenses of divergent thinking in business are a two-directional approach, organizational purpose, forward-thinking, and disruption.
  • Divergent thinking can be stimulated by various techniques, including the SCAMPER and Business Model Canvas brainstorming approaches. For individuals, journaling and freewriting are effective.
scamper-method
Eighteen years later, it was adapted by psychologist Bob Eberle in his book SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development. The SCAMPER method was first described by advertising executive Alex Osborne in 1953. The SCAMPER method is a form of creative thinking or problem solving based on evaluating ideas or groups of ideas.

Main Guides:

Connected brainstorming frameworks

fishbone-diagram
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
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
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.
futures-wheel
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.
lotus-diagram
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
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
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
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.
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 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.
moonshot-thinking
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.
design-thinking
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.
catwoe-analysis
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.

Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"