The Role Divergent Thinking Plays In Innovation
When it comes to innovation, divergent thinking plays a pivotal role.
Grounded in the generation of a wide range of ideas and solutions to a problem, divergent thinking is the opposite of the approach most of us are encouraged to adopt from our early school days - convergent thinking - which is all about the ability to find the single best solution to a challenge.
Divergent thinking is essential when considering foresight focus and a proactive attitude towards innovation because it allows us to explore multiple possibilities and come up with creative opportunities.
According to J.P. Guilford, who first introduced the concept, divergent thinking essentially looks to produce fresh, original ideas and varied ways to address issues. There’s an inherent element of independence, curiosity and risk-taking when it comes to divergent thinking and, at its best, the approach is not constrained by concerns such as “but is it feasible?”
Most organisations rely heavily on convergent thinking because they engage in the same types of activities and deliver the same types of products and services daily. That said, convergent thinking can easily lead to complacency and groupthink and end up in businesses not being able to grab hold of opportunities for efficiency or growth effectively. Moreover, it can impact on an organisation’s survival prospects when extreme sociological, technological, economic or political circumstances require a significant pivot.
Divergent thinking is about the ideas phase, creating pathways that are unique. It is the first step in the innovation funnel, where you generate a large number of ideas from a single starting point. Convergent thinking is the second step, where you evaluate and refine the ideas to identify what might be a viable route to go down.
To foster divergent thinking, organisations need to create an environment that encourages creativity and risk-taking. They ought to provide employees with the tools and resources they can use to generate ideas and explore new possibilities and, in terms of the bigger picture, leaders should explore ways of instilling an organisational openness to new pathways alongside a willingness to take risks.