Science for Artists

Inspiration and Truth

Convergent and Divergent Thinking

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Drawing by Katarina Countiss

Excerpt from Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Brown, Tim (Book – 2009) page 66-67

To experience design thinking is to engage in a dance among four mental states. Each has its own moods and manners, but when the music suddenly starts it can be difficult to recognize where we are in the process and which is the right foot to put forward. The best guide, in launching a new design project is sometimes just to choose the right partner, clear the dance floor, and trust our intuition.

Woven into the very fabric of our culture is an emphasis on thinking based upon logic and deduction; the psychologist Richard Nisbett, who has studied approaches to problem solving in Western and Eastern cultures, has gone so far as to suggest that there is a “geography of thought.” Whether the problem lies in the domain of physics, economics, or history, Westerners are taught to take a series of inputs, analyze them, and then converge upon a single answer. At times we may find that the best—as opposed to the right—answer will have to do or that we may have to choose among equally compelling alternatives. Just think about the last time you and five friends had to agree upon where to go out for dinner. Group thinking tends to converge toward a single outcome.

Convergent thinking is a practical way of deciding among existing alternatives. What convergent thinking is not so good at, however, is probing the future and creating new possibilities. Think of a funnel, where the flared opening represents a broad set of initial possibilities and the small spout represents the narrowly convergent solution. This is clearly the most efficient way to fill up a test tube or drive toward a set of fine-grained solutions.

If the convergent phase of problem solving is what drives us toward solutions, the objective of divergent thinking is to multiply options to create choices. These might be different insights into consumer behavior, alternative visions of new product offerings, or choices among alternative ways of creating interactive experiences. By testing competing ideas against one another, there is an increased likelihood that the outcome will be bolder, more creatively disruptive, and more compelling. Linus Pauling said it best: “To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas”—and he won two Nobel Prizes.

 

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Author: KC

I am Katarina Countiss, a multimedia designer. I like blogs, games, art and technology. I am curious about how things are made.

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