Convergent and Divergent thinking is an interesting concept, originally coined by the psychologist Joy Paul Guilford, that allows for a more methodical approach to creative thinking. It breaks down the process into two steps: Divergent thinking, where as many possible solutions and ideas are generated, and Convergent thinking, where ideas and solutions are taken and sorted, analysed and explored. The combination of these two types of thinking should come up with more formalised, thought out ideas quicker than just muddling through it.
When I looked at the questions for reflection this week:
Do you consider yourself a divergent or convergent thinker? Or a mix of both? What mode of thinking is more important in creative practice? Why?
I must admit I was a little confused. This questions seems to pit the two types of thinking against each other when they feel more like two very distinct steps of the one process. It could be that you need two types of people, and in fact a lot of my research points to the article "Creativity, divergent thinking and Openness to Experience" by McCrae which seems to put a great value on Openness and Extraversion as important traits for divergent thinkers, so perhaps often two individuals are needed (at least).
Personally I tend to do both, although I find that convergent thinking is easier with others to help.
- Brainstorming, lots of brainstorming. I try to end up with 3 to 5 directions to go in by the end of this phase. If it's a visual medium I'm looking at (such as logo design) I try to have combinations or ideas on hand, such as the combination of how I want the font to look with the shapes I'm intending to use. During this phase I will often look at what other people have created, as well as investigating the requirements and exactly what these restrictions/prompts mean.
- Writing/sketching time! I try to get these ideas down in a shareable fashion. If it's a logo and it involves some kind of art/illustration that may be out of my ability I will need to communicate that as well. During this time I will often explore similar avenues as well as flesh out the idea (if it's a game I will spend some time thinking about how the concepts I'm thinking of interact for example).
- Sharing. Once I have these ideas in a shareable form I place a great focus on sharing them with other people within the field, and outside of it. I feel that this way you often get ideas or directions that you may have missed, or areas that it falls down on. I feel it's very important to share with people outside of your field, as I have found that they are immune to doing things a certain way because "that's how it's done in the industry".
- Refinement. Now you have your directions and you have shared them you should have more of an idea of what is working and what is not, at this point I tend to throw away 2 or 3 of the original ideas or combine them into the final products. Often I will jump back to step 2 and 3 in order to help this refinement process further.
This is generally how I go about creating ideas myself, and I am interested to see that this technique involves both Divergent and Convergent processes already implemented. As to which is more important, I think both are equally important as without Divergent thinking you have no fresh ideas, just rehashes on existing knowledge and without Convergent thinking you are left with nothing but vague ideas, interesting but not explored.
The way I see it, the Divergent thinking process gives you a great sample size, in the metaphor linked above you might end up with a countertop full of raisins. But left out like that they are quite useless, unorganised and hard to deal with. This is what Divergent thinking gets you by itself. However if you grab a container and a funnel, and use them to move all the raisins to a safe, clean and organised container you now have something more useful. Also the raisins won't go off. I think this metaphor got away from me a little there, but hopefully it gives you a vague idea of the two processes and how they interact.