Fernando Fischmann

30 Ways to Inspire Divergent Thinking

19 December, 2014 / Articles

When we stop talking about creativity and innovation in abstract terms and start thinking about how they originate, we get divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is more than thinking outside the box; it’s thinking without the box, and imposing structure later.

The goal of divergent thinking is to generate many different ideas about a topic in a short period of time. It involves breaking a topic down into its various component parts in order to gain insight about the various aspects of the topic. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that the ideas are generated in a random, unorganized fashion. Unexpected connections are often drawn

This type of thinking is found among people with personality traits such as nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence. Divergent thinking is not the same as brainstorming. Brainstorming is a technique that encourages divergent thinking, but it’s only one of many, as you will read in a moment.

The Research

The benefits of divergent thinking are huge, especially in a day and age where employers value skills over knowledge. Decades of research have shown that students who are exposed to divergent thinking methods early in their education become more creative, both immediately and later on in life.

Studies conducted by a Cornell University research team in 2012 found that divergent thinking improves language proficiency and performance. That same year, psychologists from the Netherlands revealed that divergent thinking leads to positive mood swings while convergent thinking leads to negative mood swings. Patrick Ledwidge from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says that graduate students, in particular, could benefit from a heightened does of divergent thinking, as graduate research frequently involves testing boundaries and putting forth original theories.

An article published this year presents the first measure of divergent thinking that can be used with children as young as 2 years, and shows that some children are better at divergent thinking than others and that children’s divergent thinking increases with age. Scientists have also found a positive correlation between divergent thinking and entrepreneurial potential.

One pivitol study, conducted by researchers at the University of Auckland, found that young children who understood the concept of false beliefs (the fact that people’s attitudes don’t always reflect reality) performed significantly better on divergent thinking tasks than children who did not. Again, it’s the ability to identify multiple possibilities that forms a basis for creativity.

And although some of us may associate creativity with things like art and emotion, the research shows that divergent thinking actually stems from logical, unbiased thinking. A study published this year found a negative correlation between emotion comprehension and divergent thinking, suggesting that we think most divergently when our perspective isn’t colored by emotion.

When it comes to leading a successful career, divergent thinking can be a huge help. Openness to experience is a personality trait that relates to divergent thinking and is therefore related to creative performance in organizations. Research shows us that openness to experience, coupled with an attitude toward divergent thinking, are positively associated with employees’ creative performance.

At Kalyani University in India, researchers found a number of interesting facts associated with divergent thinking, including that learners with more complex analytic cognitive structure show greater ability of divergent thinking, that an individual’s perception of him or herself affects his or her divergent thinking, that scholastic achievement and divergent thinking are related, that individuals with a high self-concept were found better in all aspects of divergent thinking, and that rural learners performed better than urban learners with regard to divergent thinking.

There’s still a lot to be discovered about divergent thinking, but we know that it produces highly intelligent, creative individuals. Teach your students to think divergently and you’ll never worry that you haven’t made a difference. Here’s how to get started:






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