May 17, 2022
More than 60 years ago, Psychologist J. P. Guilford created the terms convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent refers to your ability to bring things together into a narrow focus or well-defined answer to a problem. This is great when you’re working on logical projects where there is one best answer. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is all about possibilities. It’s about generating as many possible options with the goal of still arriving at the best answer. By broadening your definition of what’s possible and considering many options, divergent thinking is the key to creative thinking and innovation.
Why creativity matters
A 2018 McKinsey Global Institute study found that by 2030, the demand for creativity and other higher cognitive skills in the American workforce will rise by a whopping 19%. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report predicts creativity, innovation, and ideation will be key skills for the workforce of the future. In the world of AI, machine learning and big tech, creativity will sit shoulder-to-shoulder with analytical thinking and problem-solving. And while creativity’s clearly in demand, is it possible to quantify it?
But, even with all the focus and elevated importance of creativity, can divergent thinking be measured?
The creative thinking test
Dr. Jay Olson, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology at McGill University in Canada believes it can. In fact, he created a the Divergent Association Task, which is a quick four-minute assessment that measures your divergent thinking. With this he’s able to measure your ability to think of unrelated ideas, which is what divergent thinking is all about.
It’s not one of those decks of wacky looking shapes that you need quick mental reflexes to identify. It simply asks you to think of 10 words that are as different from each other as possible. People who are more creative tend to generate words that have a greater distance between them.
Too often we view creativity as the end product. As a song, book, play, or piece of art. But the best way to foster greater creativity is to understand, enjoy, and celebrate the process. When you become more aware of the world around you, you notice more things. The more things you notice, the more divergent you teach yourself to think. That’s the effortless way to build your creative thinking chops without having to overhaul your entire approach to work and life.