What is Divergent Reasoning

A mode of thinking that seeks to expand the set of possible and relevant answers or solutions to a problem. Its counterpart is convergent reasoning, where the goal is to reduce the space of solutions by applying evaluation and selection criteria to a pool of alternatives.


The term “divergent thinking” refers to that strategy of solving problems characterized by the proposal of a multiplicity of possible solutions in an attempt to determine the one that works. It usually happens in a free-flowing, spontaneous manner, where multiple creative ideas are engendered and evaluated. A manifold number of potential solutions are studied in a brief span of time, and unconventional connections may be drawn. Once the stage of divergent thinking is complete, information and ideas are structured and organized using convergent thinking. Brainstorming and free writing are two processes that involve divergent thinking.

Divergent Thinking

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Divergence is typically signified by the capacity to produce many, or a greater number of complicated or complex ideas from a single idea or simple triggers or ideas. It calls for making unexpected combinations, changing information into unanticipated forms, identifying connections among remote associates, and the like. In divergent thinking, a single question returns multiple answers, and though the answers vary considerably depending on the person, all answers are of equal value. Perhaps they did not exist ever before and so are novel, surprising or unusual. At times, this is true purely for the specific setting or in the experience of the person responsible for the variability in question. However, it may also be the case in an absolute sense.

Described below are eight elements of divergent thinking:

  • Complexity – The capacity to conceptualize difficult, multifaceted, many layered or intricate products or ideas;
  • Curiosity – The personality characteristic of displaying probing behaviors, searching, asking questions, learning to get more knowledge/information about something, and of being able to go deeper into ideas;
  • Elaboration – The skill of adding to, building off of or embellishing a product or an idea;
  • Flexibility – The capability of creating varied perceptions or categories wherefrom come a range of different ideas pertaining to the same thing or problem;
  • Fluency – The skill of engendering many ideas so as to have an increase in the number of potential solutions or associated products;
  • Imagination – The capability of dreaming up, inventing, or to think, to see, to conceptualize novel products or ideas, to be original;
  • Originality – The skill of coming up with fresh, unusual, unique, extremely different or completely new products or ideas;
  • Risktaking – The readiness to be courageous, daring, adventuresome – take risks or experiment with new things so as to stand apart.

Divergent thinking has been detected in people with personality characteristics such as these – curiosity, nonconformity, persistence and readiness to take risks.

Bubble mapping, creating artwork, maintaining a journal, subject mapping, devoting some time to meditation and thinking, and building lists of questions are all examples of activities that trigger divergent thinking.

What follows is an extreme example of divergent thinking. Twitter developed an online service that did not have any obvious practical application. The social media platform then initiated it to find out how people used the application so that based on the findings, the application could be refined. Though launching something and finding out what the market for it is only after the launch doesn’t have to be a bullet-proof strategy (most cases it’s not), this seemed to be the case for Twitter.

Divergent thinking, also referred to as lateral thinking, is the process of creating multiple, unique ideas or solutions related to a problem that you are trying to solve. Divergent thinking is similar to brainstorming in that it involves coming up with many different ideas to solve a single problem. Many tests that are used to measure creativity, such as the alternative uses test and incomplete figure test, have been found to measure divergent thinking.

How does divergent thinking differ from convergent thinking? The process of divergent thinking is spontaneous and free-flowing, unlike convergent thinking, which is more systematic. The process of convergent thinking involves applying logical steps in order to come up with the single best solution to a problem. Unlike convergent thinking, there is no single best correct answer in divergent thinking.

When you use divergent thinking, you are looking for options instead of just choosing among the ones that are already available. Divergent thinking works best for open-ended problems and involves creativity. Convergent thinking is not dependent upon creativity. Convergent thinking is useful in situations when there is a single best correct answer and the answer can be discovered through analyzing available stored information. Multiple-choice questions on school exams are examples of convergent thinking.


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