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.

Attitude for creative thinking

An effective way to generate creative ideas is to do divergent thinking before we do convergent thinking. Divergent and convergent thinking are two opposite ways of thinking. In divergent thinking, we explore every possibility and push our brains to generate as many ideas as possible. It is a horizontal exploration technique where we list out every possibility that comes to our mind. In this process, our mind makes an extended effort to bring new ideas. For example, if you are looking for a title of your book, making an extensive list of about 100-200 titles would be an exercise of a divergent thinking. Then when we start narrowing down the list by self evaluation and seeking feedback from others, we are doing convergent thinking. Many times, we make the mistake of mixing divergent and convergent thinking at the same time. Have you ever thought about an idea and eliminated it right when you came up with it? Or have you ever been in a meeting and someone came up with a novel idea and you start evaluating or critiquing the idea right at the moment? These are examples of mixing divergent and convergent thinking. It stalls the flow of ideas, and dampens our creative mind. Instead, we should free flow our mind to come up with several ideas without any judgment. In other words, we should let our mind diverge first and then converge.

We should make an extended effort exploring numerous possibilities before narrowing down the list to select the most creative ones. Most likely, the ideas that you came up with initially are not so creative because our mind is thinking through the normal path. It is only when you push the boundary, our mind takes a different path and endows us with creative ideas.


Related reading, Principles of Divergent Thinking