Divergent thinking – more than a mere tool – is a technique very commonly used on creative activities because it allows us to expand our brains a little bit, by looking for new opportunities and ways of getting things done.
So, from the problem – or whatever triggers your creativity – to the solution, instead of taking obvious steps and walking on a straight line, you force yourself to see different aspects of the situation, using unusual points of view, no matter how abstract of absurd they seem at the first place. This can be done by allowing everyone to think more freely while working on the task, gathering ideas that have the slightest relation to the problem itself rather than looking straight for a practical solution. Though it might sound like a waste of time, many corporations have found appealing answers to their problems by using such method.
Most people tend to confuse divergent thinking – a technique, a way of using your brain – with brainstorming – which is more like a tool that uses this technique. There are many tools one can use – alone or within a group – in order to stimulate the divergent thinking. Brainstorming – generating a series of random associations, guided by no rules whatsoever – is, maybe, the most famous of them, but not the only one. Free writing can also be used – asking someone to just write anything that comes to mind about the subject, but in a more structured approach, almost like a stream of consciousness. Mind mapping is another highly effective tool that, though is quite similar to brainstorming, it divides the ideas in sets of relations regarding the main subject.
Another misconception around the divergent thinking is that the creative process should be all about it. Though gathering the most of thought and ideas can be an essential piece of the creative process, being able to analyze and evaluate ideas, narrowing them down with convergent thinking techniques is also necessary to the whole activity. Most of the ideas generated by divergent thinking tools might not be suitable, available, economical, or practical in any way.
But what is impressive about this technique is that, even if the ideas it creates are not usable in any kind, they tend to be pieces of a proper solution. By combining random ideas, which couldn’t be seen together without the process of divergent thinking, one can reach the most original, cheap, magical answer to his problem. We all know that original, creative ideas comes from combining existing concepts in a new way. With divergent thinking, we produce the pool of ideas. Arranging them in an innovative way is the next step that, even though it requires some analytical thinking, also needs creativity to achieve the best result!
So how can you improve your divergent thinking skills?
Well, it can be easier and more fun than you might think. Every time I want to practice divergent thinking, I look at my life as a movie script. As if I were a character playing a role. Then I try to analyze the scene I’m into through many different points of views – through the eyes of many different spectators. Like when I’m stuck in a boring meeting, I imagine what kind of people would find that setting amusing, funny, sad, useless. What would people expect to see in a scene like that, and what could be completely unusual and shake the status quo. Then I find myself laughing alone in a stupid meeting, thinking about a bunch of women dressed as Carmen Miranda bursting inside the room with shotguns and stealing all the company’s trash bins.
I find this an useful exercise because it helps me to visualize patterns of transformation and adaptation. How can this scene become absurd? How can it become even more boring? What would be a good speech to perform right here and now to quit this company leaving a terrible mark? It practices my imagination when I’m creating new possibilities to a day-by-day scene, it develops my curiosity, for I keep thinking about everyone’s reactions towards this new event within the scene, like if I were confronting those people with questions, along with the complexity of my ideas, because I need to look at myself form other people’s eyes, look at a scene I’m taking part as if I were an outsider; it also sharps up my thoughts giving them more flexibility, for I keep thinking about many different situations that can arise in a given scene, and ability of elaborating and evolving a given idea, for any of these possibilities I think about I tend to go deeper and deeper within it.
It might be a rather silly looking exercise for your divergent thinking skills but, by using it, one can practice his imagination, the number of ideas presented in order to change any status quo, the originality of these ideas and how risky they would be in real life, a curious approach towards automatic, taken for granted situations, which develops a sense of creative awareness, and the ability of making these ideas more complex and elaborate.
But, as always, I suggest: create your own divergent thinking exercises. Ask yourself questions that challenge your imagination, the obviousness of the world, the usual, the trivial. Once your brain gets accustomed with this new pattern of thinking, working with creativity - developing fresh, new ideas – will be much easier for you.