Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is related to creativity and involves a broad search for solutions to problems that have no single correct answers. In the process of divergent thinking, the individual must find several combinations of elements that might provide possible answers. Fluid thinking and originality are the key characteristics needed to embark on a divergent search for alternative solutions, as opposed to following a strict regimen of applying criteria and using steps for finding the one true answer to a problem, which is known as "convergent thinking."

Divergent thinking as a concept was developed by J.P. Guilford, a psychologist, in the 1950s. Guilford saw divergent thinking as a major factor in manifesting creativity. The pioneering psychologist identified four main attributes to divergent thinking: fluency, the ability to produce many ideas or solutions to problems in a short period of time; flexibility, the capacity to evaluate many approaches to a single problem at the same time; originality, a tendency to produce ideas that deviate from those of the majority of other people; and elaboration, the capacity to use thought processes to identify the steps to an idea as well as carry them out.

Edward De Bono described divergent thinking as containing elements of both vertical and lateral thinking. De Bono described vertical thinking as digging the same hole deeper, while lateral thinking is about finding a different place to dig the hole. If the hole is in the wrong place, no amount of logical thinking will restore it to its rightful place. This means that while a creative thinker must consider the duality necessitated by the thought process, his model will not work unless he is digging in the correct spot. This is why some people speak of divergent thinking as broadening the thought process, rather than rejecting out of hand the idea that problem-solving might necessitate certain restraints.

In 1962, Mary Henle outlined her idea of the conditions necessary to the process of creative thinking. According to Henle, there are five conditions for divergent thinking: receptivity, immersion, seeing questions, utilization of errors and detached devotion.

Receptivity is about becoming detached from whatever one is thinking/doing in order to pay attention to ideas that occur. Immersion is about staying within the field of knowledge related to the subject and using all knowledge toward solving the problem. Seeing the question that no one else sees shows the ability to process information in a broader context than the one in which it has been presented. Utilization of errors helps to direct the creative thought processes by eliminating certain paths so that energies can be directed elsewhere and concentrated. Detached motivation is intense motivation to solve the problem while remaining detached enough to see the problem in a fresh light.

Other experts speak of six-stage or nine-stage processes used by divergent thinkers as part of the creative problem-solving process. The six-stage process includes finding the objectives, facts, problems, ideas, solutions and acceptance. This type of problem-solving is about seeking data and narrowing them down. Divergent thinking is used to generate a list of issues, while convergent thinking is used to pinpoint the issues that are likely to yield answers.

The six stages in a nutshell are:

1. Objective-finding: defining the problem area

2. Fact-finding: gathering information

3. Problem-finding: defining the problem with accuracy

4. Idea-finding: generating solutions

5. Solution-finding: evaluating all possible solutions and choosing the likeliest

6. Acceptance-finding: implementing the chosen solutions the correct way

The nine-stage process for creative problem-solving is an extension of the six-stage process. The outline of the nine-stage process is as follows:

1. Constant analysis of the environment in order to spot potential problems

2. Objective-finding: defining the problem area

3. Fact-finding: gathering information

4. Problem-finding; defining the problem with accuracy

5. Pinpointing any assumptions

6. Idea-finding: generating solutions

7. Solution-finding: evaluating all possible solutions and choosing the likeliest

8. Acceptance-finding: implementing the chosen solutions the correct way

9. Controlling to ascertain that all objectives have been achieved after implementation

It may not be possible or necessary to use all steps of these processes in order to arrive at good solutions. Often, for instance, instead of having to look for an issue or problem, one is laid in people's laps. At other times, the best solution to a problem stares one in the face, and there is no need to consider any other idea.

Divergent Thinking: Selected full-text books and articles

Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy: Toward Empirically Supported Practice By Sandra W. Russ Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian's tip: "Creativity, Play, and Cognitive Processes" begins on p. 9
Creativity in the Classroom: Schools of Curious Delight By Alane Jordan Starko Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: "Divergent Thinking Strategies" begins on p. 189
Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration By Paul B. Paulus; Bernard A. Nijstad Oxford University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: "Idea Generation through Divergent Thinking" begins on p. 34
Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity By Dean Keith Simonton Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: "Divergent Thinking" begins on p. 85
Different Minds: Gifted Children with AD/HD, Asperger Syndrome, and Other Learning Deficits By Deirdre V. Loveckey Jessica Kingsley, 2004
Librarian's tip: "Divergent Thinking Ability" begins on p. 224
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