Implementing Divergent Thinking into Everyday Life
In a world where one dimensionality continues to thrive, it is important to value and admire those that are able to expand, think outside of the norm, and live a multidimensional lifestyle. Although in recent years certain sectors of society, specifically that pertaining to entrepreneurship and business, have been appreciating the relevance and uniqueness of new ideas and unknown roads, the implementation of this activity in everyday life is still not commonplace. As defined by Psychology Dictionary, “thinking that formulates new solutions to problems” is known as divergent thinking.
In many ways, divergent thinking is synonymous with creative thinking, which is “a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective suggesting unusual or unconventional solutions” (Business Dictionary). A creative thinker may produce these streams of thought by structured (such as, lateral thinking) or unstructured (such as, brainstorming) processes.
The term ‘divergent thinking’ was first used in 1956 by psychologist, J.P. Guilford, who studied intellect and creativity (Study). His research then led him to defining divergent thinking and its contrasting term, convergent thinking. In contrast to divergent thinking, convergent thinking is “the process of figuring out a concrete solution to any problem” (Psychestudy). Convergent thinking focuses on isolating a problem down to one single solution that may derive from existing knowledge. This form of thinking if oftentimes straightforward, linear, and rational. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is all about having an open mind and “questioning/doubting the adequacy of existing knowledge” (Psychology Discussion). A divergent thinker relies more on abstractness, channels of remote association, and the connection between ideas.
Guilford created the Alternative Uses Task, also referred to as Guilford's Test of Divergent Thinking, to test this new concept. In this test, a subject is presented with a normal, everyday object, such as, a paperclip, spoon, or coffee mug. The subject is then provided a time limit and asked to brainstorm as many uses for that object as possible. Guilford was convinced that the process of brainstorming uses for everyday items was an effective way to test someone's creativity. Thus, in order to do so, the results were based on four areas: fluency (how many uses the subject thought of), flexibility (how many different categories/areas were covered), originality (the unusual nature of certain answers), and elaboration (how detailed/developed the answer was). For more information regarding the Alternative Uses Task, click here.
The following are a few ways to prompt divergent thinking and implement it into your daily life:
Brainstorming: This is the most open ended way of generating new ideas. This involves many different forms of imaginative thinking from writing down random thoughts on paper to drawing for inspiration to researching topics of interest. My favorite form of brainstorming is simple: get a blank sheet of paper, write down any random thought based off of a generic topic/stimulus, and circle/highlight the new ideas that pertain most to the need at hand. Overtime, you will no longer need to brainstorm on paper and will develop this skill instinctively.
Body movement: Anne Manning, Professor of Creative Thinking, Innovation, and Consumer Insight at Harvard University, says that “divergent and convergent thinking are the most fundamental elements of creative problem solving”. One of the best ways to understand and prompt divergent thinking is through body flow and movement. In this video, Professor Manning has her students stand up, reach their arms up to the sky, and stretch/elongate the body. Afterwards, she has her students bend forward and reach to the ground. After completing this exercise, her students described a much more “expansive, awakening” feeling when reaching up to the sky, as opposed to feeling more “heavy and restricted” when reaching to the ground. Reaching up and stretching to the sky provokes fluid, wide ranging feelings which neurologically aligns with divergent thinking.
Trying new activities: Divergence stems from being a risk taker, being open to the unknown, and testing possibilities. You don’t necessarily need to commit to a new activity, you simply have to give it a try. Of course, if you enjoy this new activity, then go ahead and advance your skills but simply by opening yourself up to trying already aids a lot in your overall mentality and personality. Some activities to try: painting, taking a dance class, joining a book club, taking a class or participating in a seminar, volunteering, cooking new recipes, or exploring a new location.
Listening to music: Music is a historic source for inspiration, emotional connection, and memory making. Utilize this tool to explore different genres and artists, while also allowing for new ideas to generate naturally.
Learning a new language: There are many benefits to bilingualism and multilingualism, and one of these benefits are in connection with divergent thinking. Learning and using a new language causes you to understand a new world of words, phrases, and cultural norms. If you are able to take it one step further and surround yourself with those that speak the language, then you truly are allowing for yourself to be surrounded by a new environment. Similar to trying a new activity, you don’t have to pressure yourself to become advanced or fluent as this definitely takes time and exposure. However, you can encourage yourself to put a little bit of effort into understanding the basics, listening to music and watching movies in that language, following interesting Instagram accounts of native speakers, etcetera.
Surrounding yourself with a different group of people: As mentioned in the previous bullet point, you can do this in a direct fashion by moving to a new location. But you can also do this at a smaller scale, such as, dating outside of your race/nationality/religion, participating in an activity that is far from your norm, dining at local restaurants in different neighborhoods. By doing this, you inevitably open your mind to understanding the lives of people different from you and may grow appreciation and inspiration from this.
Daydreaming: This is a form of active imagination which is intended to be fun and enjoyable. There are many different forms of daydreaming, but one of the most effective is that of realistic daydreaming, where one imagines the possibilities of situations/circumstances that are actually possible to occur within one’s lifespan.
Move from short term to long term thinking: Without overly planning, allow yourself to imagine the multitude of positive possibilities that could occur in the far future. Do not let this exercise scare or intimidate you. Remember that life is always going to be a mystery but that it is okay to hope and strive for certain desires/interests. Long term thinking allows you to expand the mind into the possible future and sustainably work through the present.
Always remember: Take it easy and appreciate everything that comes your way. Believe that life is limitless and allow yourself to explore new avenues.
Divergent thinking can initiate on an individual level but should also be utilized within institutional systems, such as, in school and workplace environments.
I hope you found this helpful, and until next time! Love always and forever,