Divergent thinking is an approach to a situation or concept which focuses on exploring as many aspects of the concept as possible. Starting with a single idea, the divergent thinker allows his or her mind to wander off in many different directions, gathering numerous thoughts and ideas which relate to the concept. This approach can be used as a method of creative brainstorming in a wide variety of settings, ranging from the research and development department of a major company to the classroom.
With divergent thinking, people start out thinking about a single concept, and develop many solutions and approaches to the concept. This contrasts with convergent thinking, in which many ideas are brought together to a single focus, often by following a series of logical steps to arrive at this focus. Divergent thinking is often associated with creative pursuits and the humanities, which tend to encourage a more free-form method of thinking, but in fact, it can be beneficial in the sciences as well, with the ability to think in a far-reaching and erratic way being a useful skill when it comes to solving some scientific puzzles.
It is difficult to test for divergent thinking on examinations which are designed to test intelligence and mental ability. This type of thinking cannot be pinned down or categorized, because it relies heavily on the ability to generate random, disorganized thoughts in a free-flowing way, and there is no way to test for this with a conventional examination. As a result, people who are skilled at thinking divergently may not perform terribly well on intelligence tests, when they are in fact quite intelligent.
Divergent thinking exercises can help develop the mind and foster creativity. For example, students might be given a list of items and asked to think of as many possible uses as they can for each. Or, students may be presented with a problem and asked to brainstorm a number of different solutions. This type of thinking can also be used as the basis for the development of products in addition to intellectual ideas.
For people who are used to convergent thinking, it can be difficult to explore divergent thinking. Aids such as free association exercises, free writing diaries, and so forth can help people grow accustomed to thinking in this way while allowing them to develop their thoughts. There are also numerous exercises available on the Internet, including exercises designed for classrooms and groups.