Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 26, 2009

decisions, decisions – why does it matter? (part two)

Knowing that I can’t count on children of the internet to read more than 450 words in one sitting I have kindly broken this post into two installments. Here is number 2…


I want to talk now about some of the ways that the convergent/divergent dichotomy perspective is helpful.


This perspective helps with something – I don’t really know whether to call it “choices” or “problems.” “Choice” is a word that convergent thinkers are more comfortable with because it has connotations of a selection between alternatives. On the other hand, divergent thinkers prefer “problems” which imply questions and puzzling over possible solutions.


Let’s try, “results.” The convergent function produces results while the divergent function ensures that the results have value.


Where should I travel on vacation? What summer job should I take? How can I make this company profitable? How can I get my two-year old to stop hitting me? How can this planet support over 6 billion people in a sustainable, aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable way?


These, and any other question which seeks a result, can be addressed successfully if one uses both convergent and divergent thinking effectively.


In the extreme, a convergent thinker is simply picking between existing answers to a given need. He will pick one and it will be the best one. Unfortunately, he is limited to those answers already available. Those that he has already seen in action, that have already been used in the given context. Since a divergent thinker focuses on the question (or need) she will produce endlessly more solutions for as long as she is given the time. Odds are that these new solutions will give the convergent decision maker better material and result in a better final decision.


The divergent thinker is involved in something that can be called design. Design is the process of combining and integrating familiar things to present something unfamiliar. It allows people to picture and imagine things in a way they never have before. Since people will only do things which they can already picture (with very few exceptions) it is vital that the design function plays a role in our lives. Otherwise, we will remain within established patterns without growth.


Hopefully, it is clear that both these processes happen within every person. I’m just suggesting that awareness of both can help us make sure that we are not neglecting one or the other.


Now let’s consider this dichotomy as it shows up between people rather than within a person.


Perhaps you have be told that you need to know your strengths and weaknesses? This way you won’t waste time and energy doing things that you can’t do as efficiently or effectively as someone else. I subscribe to this advice and suggest that knowing whether you are convergent or divergent by nature is one of the easiest ways to see and benefit from “strength-sharing” with other people.


If you know yourself to be more divergent, it behooves you to identify the convergent people in your office. You know you need help coming to conclusions and moving forward. These people, by nature, will always have quick, self-assured answers. Armed with your knowledge of the convergent-divergent dichotomy you can protect your creative, idea generating process from being steamrolled by the convergents in your midst. And you can also go to these people when its time to make a decision and move on.





  1. THANK YOU! Now I know what to call myself!!
    Great advice on strength-sharing.

  2. Addendum: One of our long-time readers directed me to a great talk by Dan Pink about the science of motivation. (

    He deals with this issue of creative broad thinking versus focussed decision producing thinking.

    He points out some interesting things about how the two are motivated and optimized in different ways. Carrot and stick motivation does speed up convergent type decisions but can actually slow divergent projects.

    Instead, Pink offers intrinsic motivators as the key to optimising divergent projects. He suggests that autonomy, mastery and purpose help people achieve more creatively.

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