Creative Behaviors Blog Series – Post Three
Supporting Your Creative Student: Encourage Divergent Thinking
“The best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas.”
– Linus Pauling, Cal Tech Professor of Chemistry
Creative people tend to be very good at using divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with many different ideas. This thinking style includes the ability to generate unrelated ideas or to “think outside of the box.” In contrast, convergent thinking is the ability to identify the single, best answer to a problem. Research psychologists have shown that while children seem to be natural divergent thinkers, they tend to lose their divergent thinking skills as they get older.
In order to be creative, it’s important to develop both divergent and convergent thinking skills. Divergent thinking helps you come up with lots of different ideas, while convergent thinking can help you separate the good ideas from the bad. Mainstream schools tend to provide a lot of practice in convergent thinking: spelling tests, math problems and multiple-choice tests all provide practice in identifying a single, best answer; however, it may be more difficult for students to practice their divergent thinking skills as they advance in school.
Students can practice divergent thinking through activities like brainstorming, mind mapping, and even improvisational acting exercises. Adults can help foster divergent thinking by asking open-ended questions and by encouraging students to think of alternative solutions to a problem.
Linus Pauling won the Nobel Prize, not once, but twice…in completely separate fields. It may serve us well to seriously consider his advice about divergent thinking.
Claudia Bear is a Da Vinci parent, with daughters attending Da Vinci Design and the Innovation Academy. She has a background in both science and the visual arts. In addition to practicing optometry, Claudia is a department manager with Kaiser Permanente, where she manages projects, develops leadership training for managers, and serves on the medical center’s Innovation Design Team.