Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking

Have you ever wondered why the smartest kids in school aren’t always the most successful in life? One of the reasons is that test in school are convergent test and test in life are typically divergent.

Convergent tests are test that look for a specific answer to a question. Example: What can you do with a brick? A)Build a house B)Cook with it C) Use it as a plate. Most people would say A. We are taught to converge on a single answer to a single question.

Divergent tests are test just ask what is possible. There are multiple answers and the questions are more open ended. Example: What are all the possible uses for a brick? Possible answers: Build a house, use it as a table leg, use it as edging for a garden, make art out of it, etc.

What does any of this have to do with Lean or business? Too many times we look for a single answer when we need to be asking what are the possibilities. Asking divergent questions will lead you down roads you may not have thought of previously. I use this tool when doing design work. I will force the team to make 7 alternative designs. 3-5 designs will have specific requirements that force people to think about solutions outside their comfort zone. The other designs will be free thought and something that might be unrealistic and silly. The point is that you are warming up your thinking muscles and if your workforce is thinking then you have a competitive advantage that you’re competition can’t duplicate.

Do you ask convergent questions or divergent questions? What are some good divergent questions? How do you see using this concept?

p.s. the Lean wiki site http://leanway.wikidot.com is a divergent wiki. We look for different opinion on open ended questions. Please add your thoughts.