Principles of convergent thinking

Convergent thinking is a method to balance out divergent thinking where we explore ideas by deferring premature judgment. Convergent thinking, as a next step to the divergent thinking process, brings back the judgement in an effective way so we can retain and develop the best ideas generated as a result of divergent thinking.

The most common mistake in a creative thinking process is that we only select ideas that seem feasible and simple, and reject ideas that are novel and seem challenging to implement in the beginning. The following four principles will help us examine the ideas and select the ones that are novel and most adaptable:

Affirmative Judgement Keep Novelty Alive
In this principle, we take an open-minded approach in evaluating ideas. We look at the positives of any given idea before critiquing its negatives.

The idea behind this principle is to not ignore an idea because of its novelty. This is because, if we reject novel ideas, then there is no point in the practice of divergent thinking. We should train ourselves in being more accepting towards novel ideas, so we can be more curious about them and analyze further about their adaptability. Sometimes, even unexpected experiences in our lives can be creative breakthroughs if we stay open-minded to novelties. This is how serendipitous incidents such as of Alexander Fleming led to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, and of Percy Spencer led to the invention of microwave in 1945.
Check Your Objectives Stay Focused
Checking our objectives in evaluating ideas help us to stay in touch with the reality of why these ideas were generated in the first place. For example, if we are evaluating a list of jokes, the reality of jokes is that it makes people laugh. An idea of a joke can only be worth looking at if it meets the objective of making people laugh. Constantly checking for objectives in the convergent thinking process helps us to eliminate ideas that do no meet the goals of the process. This principle encourages us to select best ideas, refine and re-develop until they become works of creative genius. Edison once said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration". This principle focuses on "99% perspiration" where we work hard - spend substantial time in self-evaluating and refining the best ideas. William Wordsworth's magnum opus "The Prelude", a creative genius, is a perfect example of "99% perspiration" which took 40 years of revising and rewriting the poem until it was published. The notion that creativity needs that "aha" moment is a mistake. In fact, most creative works are a product of immense hard-work that follows several cycles of refinements.

Tools to evaluate list of divergent ideas

  • Hits and clustering:In this tool, we narrow down the list of divergent ideas by choosing the top 10% of the best ideas. In a group exercise, we ask each member of the group to select the top 10% of the best ideas and count the number of hits each idea receives. Then, we group the selected ideas into common themes known as clustering which enables us to analyze any commonalities in the ideas generated.
  • Blue sky voting:In this method, we tag each idea with either green or blue dots - green representing go ahead (simple and easy to implement)idea, and blue representing highly novel idea (idea that is not easy to implement, but if one could would be a great)

Principles of divergent thinking

As mentioned in the article, "Is a child more creative than an adult?", we know that there are four metrics by which our level of creativity can be evaluated - attitude, knowledge, evaluation and imagination. We also discussed that the right attitude to creative thinking is to do divergent thinking. Alex Osborne (1888 - 1966), the author of "How to Think Up" in which he presented the technique of brainstorming, gave four principles or procedures for divergent thinking:
  • Defer judgment
  • Go for quantity
  • Make connections
  • Seek novelty
Among the above principles, the first principle - "defer judgment" is the key principle on which the other three principles are based. Deferring judgment is the idea of not mixing divergent and convergent thinking at the same time (read article "Attitude for creative thinking" for more). The second principle - "Go for quantity" is based on the notion that the best way to generate good idea is to have lots of ideas. In this, we urge our brain to go beyond the normal path and extend its horizon of thinking. The third principle - "make connection" encourages us  to cross fertilize superficially unrelated ideas from multi-disciplinary areas in a way that it would make sense to us in what we are trying to do. The fourth principle - seek novelty inspires us to think new regardless of whether we are thinking outside or inside the box, try new experiences, meet new people and travel new places. Seeking novelty gives us an opportunity to think differently that is both practical, novel and useful to our society.