Stay consistently on your A game by displaying outstanding divergent thinking qualities

Harnessing spontaneity in the workplace can lead to all sorts of amazing results when you embrace a culture where divergent thinking is second nature.

What exactly is divergent thinking?

With the word “divergent” defined as “tending to be different or develop in different directions,” it makes sense that divergent thinking means coming up with multiple, varying, and different solutions to one particular problem.

Improving your problem solving skills is always going to keep you one step ahead of the game in the workplace, so it's worth honing this conceptual skill by looking at all the possible options, including unconventional and creative solutions. It really is “thinking outside the box,” a phrase that has become a little trite but actually sums up rather succinctly what divergent thinking is about. Also referred to as “lateral thinking,” it's coming up with ideas and then figuring out what you want to do with those ideas.

Say you're in a meeting and you suggest a solution to an ongoing problem within your company. Your manager comes back with, “We've tried that before and it didn't work,” or “It's too expensive,” or “We don't have the resources to make that happen.” It can make you feel despondent and stressed and, if it carries on, you're less and less likely to offer up new possibilities over time.

One of the essential rules to divergent thinking is spending a certain amount of time actually coming up with the ideas without judgement or being shut down straight away. This then has to be separated from evaluating the idea and moving forward with it in a lateral and linear fashion.

Divergent thinking and convergent thinking are opposite sides of the same coin. Convergent thinking is arriving at the single, often quickest, answer to a problem. However, this restricts the creative mindset, which divergent thinking embraces.

Implementing divergent thinking

This is when combining divergent thinking with convergent thinking comes into its own. Creative problem solving starts with divergent thinking through the collection of free-flowing ideas. Convergent thinking organises and structures these ideas, while leaving behind those with no future or traction.

Both parts of the process are required. The divergent stage forces the exploration of all of the possible options, and the convergent stage ensures you've picked the most relevant solution depending on the context.

How to stimulate divergent thinking capabilities

Make those eureka moments more common and easier to fulfil, so that alternative solutions can be explored rather than rehashing the same old ones which might not be relevant any more.

Encouraging activities that promote divergent thinking range from brainstorming, reflection, and questioning to meditation and creative outputs, so you can foster more unique perspectives when it comes to problem resolution, inductive reasoning, and overcoming adversity across different areas.

The benefits of divergent thinking

Divergent thinking does take time, but it's worth it. Slowing down to look at the alternatives to certain issues means that you can go outside your comfort zone and consider calculated risks that will benefit the team as well as your customers or end users.

It's beneficial to improving communication, idea generation, teamwork, language use and performance, and promoting self awareness.

Divergent thinking can help with:

  • The identification of new opportunities

  • Finding creative ways in which to solve problems

  • Assessing ideas from different perspectives

  • Understanding and learning from colleagues and other professionals in your field

  • Increasing team morale as creativity is exercised, which encourages more collaboration due to the comparison of ideas and working towards a single goal

Train your brain

It doesn't matter how deep into your career you are, you can still practice and improve your divergent thinking by:

  • Being fluent - producing a large volume of ideas, without the fear of being laughed at

  • Remaining flexible - creating a wide range of ideas that are based on different spheres of knowledge

  • Staying original - coming up with innovative ideas

  • Developing - improving on your ideas so they become more sophisticated

  • Brainstorming - group sessions can inspire and evolve to create fresh, new solutions

  • Managing your time - forgetting about deadlines for a while in order to allow your brain to free flow

  • Utilising other resources - work management software, for example, can stimulate divergent thinking as it organises projects and tasks to provide clarity for the team so that they can then achieve objectives quicker

The takeaway

It's time to take stock and focus on your strengths. Divergent thinking can help in so many ways, as long as your colleagues embrace it as well. Think about the tips in this article and carry these through to your work life. It might take time to change your mindset, but it'll be worth it in the end.

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