Creative problem solving: leveraging convergent thinking
Blog: Monday Project Management Blog
More and more, creative problem solving is becoming the critical ingredient to project and product success. But while many teams could do with an extra dose of creativity, left to their own devices, creative pursuits can lead to missed deadlines and inflated budgets. But when ideation is systemized and paired with a way of looking at its results linearly and logically, the results lead to higher chances of product success. Convergent thinking is the rational brother of creativity.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the concept of convergent thinking and look at some examples to understand how it works. We’ll also touch on divergent thinking — the creative half of convergent thinking. Finally, we’ll see a few ways you can use monday.com to implement convergent thinking methods that help your team make better decisions faster.
But first, let’s start with a simple definition.
What is convergent thinking?
In short, convergent thinking is a technique used to consider many possibilities and weigh them against known factors to come up with the best possible solution to a problem. Usually this implies speed as well as reason. The general idea is to look for a solution, use reasoning and rational thinking to compare it to the information and data you know, and make decisions quickly. You might say convergent thinking is critical thinking performed quickly.
When applied to complex problem solving, convergent thinking is what helps teams choose the best solution from many possibilities.
But as is often the case in creative problem solving, the answers aren’t always obvious. Arriving at solutions to these kinds of problems often requires free-flowing, spontaneous creativity. This is where divergent thinking comes in.
Convergent thinking vs. divergent thinking
As mentioned, convergent thinking is the rational half of divergent thinking.
Divergent thinking is about generating as many ideas as possible without judgment. It’s free-flowing, spontaneous idea generation where there are no wrong answers. It encourages teams to look at problems from different angles and generate ideas in a nonjudgmental way. When looked at individually, an idea that seems bad on the surface could lead to novel and surprising solutions.
But thinking convergently without some kind of constraint doesn’t in itself lead to project success. And in fact, constraint is a necessary component of creative innovation. Convergent thinking is the constraint and the process used to analyze ideas generated from divergent thinking. It’s the technique of organizing ideas, analyzing them against what you know about the problem, and selecting the ones most likely to work.
These processes — divergent and convergent thinking — taken together, are often referred to as lateral thinking. Put simply, lateral thinking is moving from a divergent mode of thought to generate ideas and a convergent mode of thought to zero in on the best solution. And it’s a potent combination in project management.
Using convergent thinking in project management
Generally speaking, just about every stakeholder on a project uses convergent thinking. When a project manager looks at the entire project and determines the best team for a specific element, they’re thinking convergently. When an individual team member starts their day by looking at their assigned tasks and prioritizes what to work on, they’re thinking convergently. Linear thinking, deduction, and reasoning — these are the components of convergent thinking.
How do project managers benefit from convergent thinking?
While project managers could certainly benefit from the creative ideation and innovation that arises from divergent thinking, knowing when and how to choose the best solution is crucial to project success.
As a project manager, you’re often juggling multiple problems from a wider perspective of the project. Convergent thinking is how you arrive at solutions by:
- Analyzing causes of a problem: There may be multiple problems causing deliverables to slip. Thinking convergently can help project managers analyze and zero in on the one with the biggest impact.
- Determining the best solution: In the above situation, coming up with the right solution to the problems with the biggest impact on scheduling requires honing in on the right solution to address the problem.
- Prioritizing the next problem: With the major problem with deliverables solved but others remaining, project managers need to prioritize the next problem. But perhaps the next biggest problem falls within another scope, in which case, you may need to think convergently to prioritize where you focus your efforts.
There are countless processes throughout project management where convergent thinking is natural and necessary. To understand the idea from a broader perspective, let’s look at a few examples outside of project management.
Examples of convergent thinking
On an individual level, people with goals and strategies for meeting those goals employ convergent thinking in their daily lives, both personally and professionally. If you’re trying to be more healthy, you use convergent thinking to decide what to eat for breakfast. Say you had an intense workout yesterday, but you also indulged in some pizza and drinks with friends after work. Thinking convergently, you decide a protein shake is the best way to start your day.
Leaders in projects and business are often excellent convergent thinkers. Every day, executives, managers, and project leaders are faced with important decisions that have far-reaching impacts, and they have to arrive at solutions quickly. They consider all known information about the problem, organize it, analyze it, and come up with what they believe is the best possible solution.
Naturally, if you work on or manage projects, there’s a bevy of information to organize, categorize, and analyze, which is why any successful project depends on great tools.
Convergent thinking solutions on monday.com
As a WorkOS, monday.com is built from the ground up for agile, collaborative teams that leverage divergent and convergent thinking processes. At monday.com’s core, task boards provide a great way to organize, analyze, and prioritize information, including tasks, timelines, schedules, and their associated documents.
One of our newest collaboration tools, workdocs, is the perfect place to begin the convergent thinking process following a brainstorming session. With workdocs, teams can create actionable documents in real-time by writing their thoughts, adding comments, creating tasks, and embedding dashboards, images, and videos. Workdocs are the perfect starting point to organize, analyze, and create an action plan from your team’s creative solutions.
When you need to speed up your decision-making, monday.com’s automation help teams prioritize faster, move projects along more efficiently, and keep track of where everyone spends their time. Put simply, teams can reduce the cognitive overhead of convergent thinking by passing tasks to the next team member automatically, notifying the people in the right departments, and keeping everyone in the loop as the project moves along.
And since monday.com is made based on underlying data — not specific workflows — your team can customize every automation and every detail in a way that helps your team think more effectively and more efficiently.
Frequently asked questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions along with their answers to help you clarify the idea of convergent thinking.
What is convergent vs divergent thinking?
Convergent thinking is about looking at all possible solutions and organizing them, analyzing them, and selecting the best possible solution based on the knowledge, information, and data that are currently available. It’s linear, logical, and quick. When a project manager looks at a range of possibilities, sorts them based on merit, and chooses the one that’s most effective based on their expertise and information available to them, they’re thinking convergently.
Divergent thinking is a creative process that encourages free-flowing thoughts, associations, and thinking outside the box. It’s looking at problems from different perspectives while ignoring the usual possibilities. When a designer empathizes with their user and imagines a product from a different perspective, they’re thinking divergently.
What is convergent and divergent thinking with an example?
Brainstorming and the following activities are great examples of divergent and convergent thinking. Brainstorming is team-based divergent thinking in action. It’s how teams come up with many possible solutions to a problem. In the subsequent activity following the brainstorming, where team members and project managers sit down and analyze the ideas generated, evaluate their efficacy, and select the one most likely to solve the problem, they’re using convergent thinking.
Identify innovations with convergent thinking
The idea of convergent thinking in business has always been prevalent. Most businesses prefer to reduce risks whenever possible, and convergent thinking is crucial to identifying the solution with the least amount of risk.
But while the idea isn’t new, seeing convergent thinking as the necessary other half of divergent thinking is the lens through which businesses innovate. By systemizing the acts of creativity and reason, business leaders and project managers ensure a higher chance of success for their projects, not to mention more agility and flexibility.
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