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
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 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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