Divergent and Convergent Thinking


What does it take to be a creative problem solver? We all know that there are some enormously complex problems in the world that we must address. Will today’s students be prepared to tackle the big problems of the future with the creative solutions we’ll need? Can we help them to become creative thinkers? We certainly think so!

There are two distinct thinking modes that help us to problem solve successfully and creatively. We can use them in classrooms every day, but we often don’t! These two thinking modes are a dynamic duo - we need them both, and they each have their own time to shine. They go like this:

Divergent thinking comes first. This is when you open up possibilities. You come up with as many ideas as you can, you spitball, you throw out wild options! Diverging is open, free, explorative.

Then comes convergent thinking. This is when you evaluate your options, strengthen ideas, and narrow down to the best solution. Converging is careful, discerning, and selective.

To use this dynamic duo of thinking in the classroom, we need to give students the opportunity to address open-ended challenges, not just questions that have one right answer. Furthermore, we need to show them how to use divergent and convergent thinking to get creative!

The important thing to remember is that divergent and convergent thinking have to be separate.

The important thing to remember is that divergent and convergent thinking have to be separate. You can’t judge your ideas before you let yourself freely explore as many ideas as you can, because creative ideas often seem unusual at first and might get dismissed. When diverging, there’s no such thing as a bad idea.

Here are the rules for divergent thinking:

  1. Wait to judge ideas.

  2. Aim for lots of ideas.

  3. Go for wild ideas.

  4. Build on other ideas.

Once you have an abundance of ideas to work with, then you can start to think about which might be workable solutions.

Here are the rules for converging:

  1. Come at ideas positively.

  2. Take time to consider.

  3. Remember your original purpose.

  4. Improve ideas.

  5. Keep unique options alive.

In classrooms, we’re often not accustomed to allocating time for divergent thinking, but if we encourage it, and combine it with convergent thinking, the result can be amazing, creative work. What’s more, students can start to realize their power in solving problems with creativity.

Can you think of a way to utilize divergent and convergent thinking in your classroom? How about thinking of a lot of ways, and then narrowing it down? We’d love to hear your ideas!


Sara Smith is an educator, learner, and creativity consultant for FableVision Learning. She holds a Master of Science in creativity from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY College at Buffalo. Sara is compelled by learning and its intersection with creativity, and her vision is to develop and support creative communities that help people to grow and to nurture their passions and strengths.

Rules for divergent and convergent thinking are adapted from Miller, B., Vehar, J. R., Firestien, R. L., Thurber, S., & Nielsen, D. (2011). Creativity Unbound: An Introduction to Creative Process. (5th ed.). Williamsville, NY: Innovation Resources.

Kathryn GouletComment