Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking

In brief, problem-solving means coming up with a number of ideas for solving a problem or coming to a resolution, and then selecting one of them and moving forward. While problem-solving looks pretty simple on paper, in practice we know that it isn’t.

In theory, we see a problem, generate a wide range of brilliant solutions, and then select the best possible one for the circumstances. Often, though, we are considering complex problems and circumstances. A facilitator can help the group to get beyond their normal experience with problem-solving and to get more creative.

It can be hard for problem solvers to move from thinking about their own needs and desires to understanding other people’s perspectives. Many challenging behaviors can surface in a problem-solving session. Members may get frustrated, uncomfortable, or feel threatened. If the session is not well designed, people will be territorial, defensive, or push for closure before all issues have been discussed. People who are comfortable working in a group may try to influence the outcome by out-talking quieter members of the group.

At times, individual members of the group need to express their own points of view. At other times, they may want to narrow their differences and work toward closure. These two sets of processes are referred to as divergent thinking and convergent thinking.


Divergent Thinking Convergent Thinking
  • Generating alternatives
  • Open discussion
  • Gathering diverse points of view
  • Exploring the logic of a problem
  • Evaluating alternatives
  • Summarizing key points
  • Organizing ideas into categories
  • Arriving at a general conclusion