Invent Anything with John Cronin Transcript: Episode 3 Types of Creativity: Divergent and Convergent

TUES., MAR 2, 2021 – In the third installment, John discusses two major types of creativity: divergent and convergent. Divergent creativity is the process of creating a variety of many new ideas. Convergent creativity is the process of narrowing down the list to a few valuable ideas. Additional topics discussed in this episode:

  • Alex Osborn and brainstorming
  • Tony Buzan and mind maps
  • Guidelines for Divergent and Convert creativity
  • Management styles that may kill creativity
  • Creativity tools for individuals, groups, and ‘secret facilitators’
  • Differences in creativity for introverts and extroverts
  • and much more…

Some of this material, including the divergent/convergent guidelines, was inspired by the work of others, see links below: 

Learnexia – Principals of Divergent Thinking

Creative Education Foundation – What is Creative Problem Solving


Welcome to Invent Anything by John Cronin. This is episode three. Today I am going to be talking about the types of creativity – divergent and convergent thinking. As we get started here, we will recognize that these are very different types of thinking. We will actually talk about divergent thinking and introduce five tools. And then we will talk about convergent thinking and talk about five tools. And then we will wrap up.

While we are getting started here, it might be good to point out who you might be in the audience and what you could take away from this. If you are listening to this because you want to learn facilitation techniques, this is exactly one of the right episodes to listen to. But on the other hand, if you are individuals and you are trying to improve your own personal creativity, these tools certainly work, and they can be done silently by you or with a couple people at the workplace. They are also very useful for things like creating reports to show how you created a lot of options and then how you systematically selected those options.

But these are also very interesting for improving your skill with people. I call this, “The Secret Facilitator.” Using these tools and techniques in conversation seamlessly where people do not know that you are actually facilitating. And we will talk a lot about that because it will improve your skill with people. And talking about skill with people, on Amazon there is a great book for $3.95 called, “Skill with People,” by Les Giblin. I must have read it 20, 30 times in my life. As I started figuring out a way to have further skill with people, I recognized that this creative thinking process and some of these tools and techniques can basically really work well with the amplification of your skills with people.

Well, where did this whole idea of divergent and convergent thinking come from? It actually came from a gentleman by the name of Alex Osborn, who in 1953 wrote a book called, “Applied Imagination.” Basically, he is considered the father of brainstorming. He was the first person, I believe, to use that term. He is also author of other creativity tools – tools you might have heard, like SCAMPER, etc. Alex Osborn was challenged. He was a consultant in this time period. And he was challenged by a CEO to work with a marketing group to help them come up with better ideas. The CEO said that there were two groups in his company. One was the creative group, and one was the non-creative group. So, Alex Osborn asked if he could work with both groups, and he was given the approval to do that.

Over time with the creative group, he noticed – as he was developing concepts – that this creative group had a specific method of how they were doing it. They were, essentially, setting apart half of the time of the meeting to create lots of options. While they were doing that, they did not consider focusing them down or converging them. And then the last part of the meeting was used to converge ideas. And so, it turns out, there was a divergence first and then convergence second. The non-creative group seemed to have no process at all. They tend to just have a “clay pigeon” approach to generating options. Someone would come up with an idea and another person would shoot it down or criticize it or try to select it right away.

So, what Alex Osborn did, is he started to create a framework called, “Divergence,” and another, “Convergence.” And he recognized that the creative group really had a set of guidelines that helped them diverge and a set of guidelines that helped them converge. The “Paul Harvey, rest of the story,” was Alex Osborn started to apply this process to the non-creative group. And over time you could not tell the difference in the output and quantity or quality. So, this really worked and got Alex Osborn to delve into the creativity field. And he really had found that in the environment and the methods that you use in that environment will produce large improvements to the creative output. And the study suggests that divergent thinking will help to stretch thinking, with a convergent thinking will help to choose options.

But, however, the convergent thinking is focused around making sure you are choosing novelty as well as just choosing options because if you are doing creative thinking, choosing more creative ideas will then produce more creative outputs. So, we will talk about the guidelines. But as a little trick, you can go to Google Images and just type in, “divergent thinking,” or “convergent thinking,” and you will see all sorts of images that you could print out and maybe stick on your wall or use for your meetings.

Well, let us go. Let us talk about divergent thinking. What this is, is a way to come up with many concepts. And in creative behavior, what you find, is when you ask people for options or ideas, it seems to go up right away. And if you are plotting Y axis being the number of ideas and X axis being time, what happens is the number of ideas go up and up and up, and then slowly slow down and then go down and down and down per unit time and then stop. Almost as if there are no ideas left. What we found is, if we introduce a new tool or technique, we can then go back up in round two. Up and up and up and down and down and down again. And we could do this, really, forever.

But, importantly, around the third or the fourth round is where the novel ideas come out. You see in the first generation of options or ideas you are really flushing your head out of all the ideas you have had. More normal, “business as usual” ideas. But as you start to stretch your thinking through more divergence, you end up with higher quality outputs. And why not diverge? Right? Your brain is wired to do it. So, what Alex Osborn found in divergent – and these are the guidelines – is that it is important to defer judgement to freewheel. To seek to combine. Strive for quantity. And just imagine if you are that secret facilitator for a moment – in conversation – where you could literally ask the person you are talking to. You could say, “Why couldn’t we just defer judgement for a moment and let us talk about the idea.”

You see, that is a way to get people to provide even more input – more ideas. You could test your own fluency of ideas. We will not do it here today, but you could literally start a counter and give yourself, say, 60 seconds, and ask yourself, “How many options or ideas can you come up with by thinking about a screw or a washer or a bolt?” Just pick one of them. What you will find is – in the 60 seconds – the average person might come up with seven or eight options or ideas. More fluent people will come up with 10, 12. Very high fluent people will come up with 15 to 20. I, myself, over a number of times, have gotten it up to 40 or 50 ideas or options of a washer or a screw or a nut. You should try it because a fluency is one of the behaviors that we are trying to improve when we start talking about divergence.

So, there are five tools. And we will separate them into two groups. The first are three tools that are best used with groups or individuals. The last two tools we will interact with are also used with groups or individuals, but they are also extremely useful for that secret facilitator. So, the first tool might seem extremely simple. It is called “The Blank List.” And the Blank List would say that you have a list – predefined – with 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 100 items. And what you do is you diverge options, but you force yourself to fill in the blanks. So, in advance, you can say to yourself, “I am going to create 20 options here. 20 ideas to solve this problem or around this topic.” And by forcing yourself to get to a number of ideas, you will find that you diverge much better.

And if you do this to yourself over and over again, what you will find is that you will improve your fluency because every time you are using this tool, you are doing it and testing yourself – just sort of stretch yourself. You can do this, really, any place. And I used to on my ride between work and home. And I talked about my mentor, Bruce Bertelsen, in episode one where he was training me to invent. One of the areas I thought that I needed to improve myself was fluency. So, I literally would take a problem – as a Post-It Note – stick it on my dashboard of my car and then have a tape recorder and literally tape record in how many ideas I had. And I used to – from that first 20-minute drive – have four or five ideas. But as I got better and better and better at it, I could get 20, 30, 40, even 50 ideas on my ride home. So, you can train yourself to be more fluent. And the exercises are very simple.

The next tool – the second tool for divergence – is, “Diverging Out Loud.” This is best with groups and individuals, basically, to find a topic. And basically, what happens is you will ask each person to generate options. You can do it round-robin, or you can just do it and have it – just being done random. And this continues until the group runs out. Seems simple enough, right? Well, you want to make sure you monitor the guidelines again though. Free of judgement. Freewheel. Seek to combine. Strive for quantity. Because if you find people are actually providing judgement, that is an idea or option killer. So, you have to make sure that people stay with the guidelines. And experiment, even, if you want to watch what happens. You could actually, at some point, try to add judgement and watch what happens because the ideas will slow down.

I had a client once who was a manager of the team, and I noticed that he was criticizing and judging. So, I explained the guidelines to him. He had one-on-one between breaks. And he did marvelous after the break, although, at the end he basically pulled people aside and said, “Those were great ideas, but you bombed personally.” He would tell the employees that he did not care much for the way they were thinking. And I just thought that was so contrary to what we were doing. So, it is important that management understands that this is a really useful tool – called divergence – but to monitor the guidelines is pretty critical.

The next divergent tool – called “Divergent Silently” – is a tool. It is also very good for groups or individuals. This is great for introverts. I think we covered in episode two that extroverts and introverts are different in terms of the style of creativity. For instance, introverts tend to generate fewer but higher quality ideas, whereas extroverts tend to create lots of ideas. And most of them are off the wall or would not work, or, really, not to the point.

So, divergent silently is very important. Again, you define the topic. You restate the guideline. Each person writes down their ideas. And then once you are done you watch the crowd and then you round-robin everybody, saying their ideas out. This is a great secret facilitator trick by the way. Asking groups to share out loud is one thing, but if you are basically a person in the session – where you are the one jumping out with the ideas – if, maybe, the next session you do not do that. You simply sit there silently. Let everybody else come up with ideas. You write down your ideas. And at the end people look at you and you might explain a couple of ideas you had, and, say, you will just send by email the rest of the ideas because you did not want to waste your time. But the trick could be that some of your best ideas were not shared.

So, people start recognizing that you have lots of ideas, but when you are interacting with people, you do not have to push them directly yourself. It is a great trick. So, this facilitation technique of divergent silently, is, I think, always done best if you have already diverged out loud. If you ever diverge out loud, you should always diverge silently and vice versa because if you just diverge out loud – and that is all you do – you will be dealing only with the extroverts. Now the fourth tool – the fourth divergent tool – is, “Preselected Categories.” And this is not only good with groups and individuals, but also great with the secret facilitator. Here what we do, is we come up with a main topic, but what we do is create categories and we ask the people to come up with options inside those categories.

So, it is a little bit more complex. It is still divergent, either out loud or silently, but you are asking to do it within subtopics. You repeat this until all the categories are filled. And then the facilitator goes quickly through each category again, just to make sure there is any clean up of any ideas that were missed. Let us provide this as just an example. Suppose that I wanted to sit down in my kitchen and come up with ideas that I am going to do for cleaning the kitchen. Pretty simple, right? How many ideas do I have that I think, maybe, I can do on the weekend? Well, I might be doing that by scanning the room and thinking about what I would have to do.

Let us do it a different way. Before we generate and diverge options for cleaning the kitchen, why don’t we first generate a list of all the things in the kitchen? I have the stove, the refrigerator. I have the coffee maker. I have the sink. I have the chairs. I have the counter. I have the knife cutting board. I have the stove. I have all those things. But now with those categories, if I say, “What would be some ideas in cleaning the refrigerator? Or ideas in cleaning the coffee maker?” You will find that you end up with a tremendously large amount of ideas. The power of the human brain to focus successfully at different levels has always intrigued me. And this is a wonderful way of getting going.

The next divergent tool is called, “Mind Mapping,” by Tony Buzan. This is also very good for groups and for individuals and the secret facilitator. Note here that you can easily get on Amazon and find books about Tony Buzan. And note here that this technique is something that he even taught kids in grade school. But what you do, is you start off by generating a topic and putting a circle around it. Let us just say that, “want to lose weight.” And you put in the topic, “I want to lose weight.” And then you draw an arrow from that to another circle that you fill in, which is just a concept related to it, like “no snacks.” Or you go back to that center circle and come up with another one like, “I am going to count my chewing.”

And then what happens is – if you are going to have no snacks – maybe from that circle it leads to another circle, which is, “Do not eat before bed.” And so, what happens here is you are generating a map of thoughts all connected with the root being how to be on a diet. It is a wonderful example of how to diverge because it gives you a graphical connection to it as well.

I once had dinner with Tony Buzan in the Royal Automobile Club in the UK. Fascinating guy. And I hope you always remember to give him credit with this mind mapping technique. But we talked for about two or three hours on the difference between mind mapping and preselected categories. There is strength in both of them. One is creating the categories as you go, which is mind mapping. The other is getting the categories first and getting options from it. Let us bring up the next topic. Convergent thinking. Convergence is something which I know you can do because you do it all the time. But using the guidelines is going to be super tough here because the guidelines for convergence are something that we generally do not follow at all. I think we are much better at convergence than we are divergent. And that is because the brain is wired to be the judge versus wired to be outwardly creative in terms of options. Why not converge with creativity in mind? Why not get rid of the bias of judgement? Suspend that. And why don’t we converge with creativity?

So, if I talk about convergence, what Alex Osborn found and defined was four options. Four guidelines. Stay on course is the first thing. Make sure that what you are converging on is what you had as the starting point that you wanted to do. Be deliberate. That you are making sure that you are actually selecting options for the criteria of success. But consider novelty when you are converging is what Alex Osborn found. It is great to converge and go back to the ideas that you have done. It is even better to converge and come up with ideas that maybe are more novel. That means that the output would be novel, which then means you would have creative output.

And then, of course, using affirmative judgement, is to look at ideas and be very affirming of them in terms of saying how good they are or how they could help versus criticizing. Warning here that the methods require that you could do a better job as a mental checklist if you had a poster on the wall of the convergent guidelines. Consider doing these in the order that I just mentioned. Staying on course, being deliberate, consider novelty, and use affirmative judgement. And also, keep the eye of novelty in this because this is where creative output comes from. We did talk about novelty. It is in episode two of adapter versus innovator. And this is a great way if you are an adapter to help choose innovative ideas. Or if you are an innovator to help choose adaptive ideas.

There are five convergent tools we are going to talk about. Once again, separated into two groups. For groups or individuals, we will talk about the tools of categorization, multi-voting, and evaluation matrix. And for groups or individuals or that secret facilitator, the tools of advantages, limitation, or uniqueness – we call ALU or the “Lion’s Den.” Now when we go through these five convergent tools, it turns out they are best done in order. Whereas categorization deals with helping you define lots of options more quickly, multi-voting gets you through many options more quickly. You then can pare it down to a set of options with criteria. That would be the evaluation matrix. And as you are getting down to one or two or three or four ideas that you want to select from, using ALU or the lion’s den is a great way of doing that.

So, let us talk about convergence. The first tool is called, “Categorization.” Again, done best with groups or individuals. What happens here is that you ask a person to look at the options. Maybe they are Post-It Notes on the board. And what they do is they take that option, and they create a category name for it. And they put that category name down and they put this option underneath. And then look at the next option or idea, and ask, “Does it fit in that category or not?” If it does not, they create a new category name, and so on and so forth. And what happens is, as you are converging all these ideas – before you do anything – you are at least getting them into categories. This is very, very powerful.

Note that if you use preselected categories in divergence – that is, remember the kitchen, where you are preselecting categories to diverge in. Well, if you have done that, this is automatic in this convergent tool. You have already cut the categories. A couple notes here that teams versus individuals can do the categorization. It could vary in ability what the names of the categories are, but do not worry about that. It will not change the outcome much. Maybe sometimes one option belongs in two categories, and that is fine. Make a copy of it and put them in both. And sometime at the end of it, it is very surprising. You say, “You know what? We did all this divergence, but we missed a category. So, why don’t you create that category and go back and diverge for it.”

The second tool, “Multi-Voting” – and this is doing it as a group in public – is also good with groups or individuals. What happens here is you just take the total ideas – on the whiteboard if you will, or the total Post-It Notes – and really give each person a set of dots to check. Maybe there is 100 options out there. And you give them a set of dots. Usually, it is the number of dots is equal to the number of options, divided by the number of people, divided by two. So, that is a rule of thumb. So, if you had 100 options and you had 10 people, 100 divided by 10 is 10. And then divide it by two, you give everybody five options. And what happens here is, by doing this, you end up recognizing you can even define the criteria in advance or not. You could ask management not to vote, which would be the last. And it is okay to debate and have conversations because this is out loud of course.

The next tool is the second part of this. This is multi-voting anonymously. It is the same process, but this time people do not go up and vote where you can see. You are asking them to vote on the number of ideas, 1 through 100, and they pass in their slip and then someone tallies them up. Once again – same thing about criteria – may not be best to see it in advance or it could be. That will help the conversation be more restrictive. And conversation is not allowed here. It does not matter now if the introvert goes first or not because they will just be part of the crowd.

The next convergent tool, again, done well with groups or individuals, is called, “The Evaluation Matrix.” This is now getting a little bit down to maybe 10 or 20 options, where you write the options down as if they are rows in a spreadsheet and put the criteria of evaluation as if they are columns. Imagine if you wanted to decide on a car that you want to buy. You could have sports car or sedan, wagon, van, or luxury. And imagine you are considering criteria like cost or comfort or trade-in value or looks or how comfortable the ride is. And by looking at that matrix you could fill in each cross section with the plus which must mean it really satisfies the criteria. Or a zero which satisfies the criteria. Or a minus which means it does not satisfy the criteria.

When you do this, it is amazing how quickly things can get sorted to come down to the top two or three of the best options to select from. This is much more systematic, of course. There is software out there that allows you to do this. And this is key in doing this with groups because you can debate what goes into those. And it shows you as a much more systematic convergent thinker. Let us go to the fourth convergent tool. ALU. Advantages, limitations, and uniqueness. And here, what we are going to do, is take a piece of paper, if you will, or a whiteboard, and separate into three groups. Advantages, limitations, and uniqueness. And basically, ask for whatever the option that you are considering and go through it and think about specifically what the advantages are, what the limitations are, and the uniqueness.

Let me give you an example. Why don’t we talk about an idea that someone came up with, which is, “Why don’t we have ATM machines give the money out without having a card, just a code.” Well, I would get money out of my bank with my ATM, but I have my card and my code. I feel much more secure about that. But what would be the advantage of that? Of having an ATM with machines that will give you money without a card. The advantages could be, “Well, I do not have to remember my card anymore. Access to money is certainly easier. And I will never get stuck putting that card in and out.”

Well, what is limitations? Well, limitations are, “How do I protect theft? What if someone just comes up and types in my code? How am I going to remember my code?” That’s a limitation. “And how am I going to keep my account straight because I have multiple bank account cards?” What’s the uniqueness here? The uniqueness could be that memory is going to be very important. Maybe I am going to have to create some mnemonic tools to memorize my codes. Uniqueness is, it gets rid of all the card readers in all the machines. Now whether this idea actually becomes something that we do or not is going to be another thing.

But I think you can see the advantages, limitation, and uniqueness of an idea, how we can think about it in terms of very different aspects of it. Notice that uniqueness is considered, once again, meaning creativity and novelty is considered. This is also great for executives – when they are coming down to decisions – to really think about these three. This was a favorite tool of Benjamin Franklin.

The next tool that we want to talk about is number five. A convergent tool called, “The Lion’s Den.” You know, lions are very tough. And they like to attack lambs. And lambs are very meek. So, let us just say that we work with a small team. And with that small team, we develop the option. We throw it out there and we ask half of the people to essentially become lions. Meaning attack the idear. And we ask the other group to become lambs, which means to defend the idear. And you allow that conversation to occur. Then about halfway through, what you do is you flip the groups. You ask the lions to become the lamb, and so on and so forth.

And now what happens is the people get to see the plus and minus of the discussion from both sides of view. But they actually get the ultimate point of view. The discussion, obviously, here, is wide open. Switching roles is very important. And this can be done with different size groups. Note that this is our favorite technique that you might use for debating. And people – that basically will debate – will learn this technique.

So, once again, as I look at these options, this idea of categorization and multi-voting is good for when you have lots of options. Evaluation matrix is best when you get a set of smaller options. And then using things like ALU or lion’s den is best when you have just a handful of options. Another thing here about convergence – convergence of ideas is just the beginning. Because we’ll learn about in episode four – the next episode – that we can take these converged ideas and move them to a process called, “Continuous Improvement Thinking,” which enables them.

So, convergences does not get groups to converge on the best ideas, generally, in terms of the ones that they are going to turn into inventions. But convergence does get groups to converge in the best ideas to actually consider to move forward. And it is really the beginning of moving many ideas to making them work. And convergence, here, is not about enabling ideas. It is really about selecting the best ideas or options to move forward.

So, in wrapping up, we have talked in episode two about the fundamentals of creativity. In this episode we have talked about types of creativities here, called divergent and convergent thinking. In our next episode we are going to talk about a very powerful technique called, “Associative Thinking.” And then after that, taking the ideas that you have picked – from the associative thinking – for continuous improvement thinking. And after episode four you will have the basics about how to be a creativity facilitator consultant if you want. And this is the foundation for moving forward and all the tools and techniques we are going to use for invention and innovation and intellectual property.

But out of all this, associative thinking is really the most powerful foundation in creative thinking. I almost always – if only given time to talk about anything – I would just talk about associative thinking. So, I think episode four will be really fun in order to get you to understand associative thinking. This continuous thinking is really a system that we derived in order to move ideas to the beginning of enabled inventions. So, yes, I can start off with these new ideas and converge on the ones that I want, but once I converge on the ideas that I want, I can then move to continuous improvement thinking. And then from that, select those to take to enable my inventions at the end before I take them to innovation and the products and services. So, look forward to seeing you next time. And thanks again.