Published on February 25, 2020
Read time 4 minutes
Convergent Thinking vs. Divergent Thinking: Why only Planning for a Project isn’t always enough?
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Let us paint a word picture for you. You’re managing an incredible project that will provide surefire value to your company. You have all of the requirements and milestones mapped out, and you have set all of the expectations you have from the team leaders and their respective team members. It seems like the perfect project, doesn’t it?
Halfway through the shebang, a team comes up to you with an idea that they think is a better way than yours to help achieve the goals you have set for them. Feeling lightheaded yet? Don’t worry. Any project manager in that position will be feeling the same.
Before the suggestion, you were the one responsible for organizing all of the tasks and their development procedures but this change in direction has changed all that.
And it doesn’t really matter whether the suggestion is good or not, you’ll still be disheartened at the thought of straying away from your flawless plan that you spent weeks and weeks planning.
Sounds familiar? Well, this type of scenario has been faced by a lot of managers out there who have been in the market for a long time.
This is where sometimes the ego of the managers comes forth and makes or breaks the project because being a tried and tested professional, you’ll always greenlight your own ideas rather than any input from the team members.
But this approach can be sometimes quite devastating for the project too. What if the proposed suggestion is considerably more economical or the right way to perform a task that you probably overlooked, but your team caught it?
Planning is always a good thing, but you should always leave some wiggle room for any changes that may present themselves in the development phase.
Because if you’re not leaving any space for new ideas, you are probably robbing your team to be productive and to think outside the box to find more effective solutions to problems.
So what to do if you become the victim of this scenario? Well, you as a project manager should encourage the team to pursue both of the problem-solving processes, which are:
- Divergent Thinking
- Convergent Thinking
What are the differences between Convergent and Divergent Thinking?
“Divergent thinking is the process of coming up with new ideas and possibilities—without judgment, without analysis, without discussion. It is the type of thinking that allows you to free-associate, to ‘go big’ and to discuss possible new ways to solve difficult challenges that have no single/right/known answer,” –Anne Manning (Harvard Instructor and Founding partner of DrumCircle)
What this means is that before you make a concrete decision, you should have every member of the team, spitballing different ideas that are not restricted by any rules or regulations. This will help you gain a lot of different suggestions to perform various tasks related to the projects.
Now that you have a large collection of ideas in your notebook, what a good project manager would do is adapt the convergent way of thinking.
“Convergent thinking is associated with analysis, judgment, and decision-making. It is the process of taking a lot of ideas and sorting them, evaluating them, analyzing the pros and cons, and making decisions,” –Anne Manning
What this definition means is that in the divergent thinking process, you heard a lot of different ideas that were really out of the box or too expensive or requiring too many resources, in other words, unattainable.
Well, the convergent thinkers weed out those ideas and filter out the ones that are actually helpful to your cause. These filtered solutions have the potential to bring a positive change to your project and yield potential value for the company.
Are Convergent thinkers better than Divergent thinkers?
Every project manager or a team member for that matter is capable of pursuing the path of divergent or convergent thinking. However, it’s recommended that when you are approaching projects and their related problems, one should always lean towards one or the other thinking method.
“Some people have a natural preference for divergent thinking. They are the people in organizations who love to come up with new ideas,” says Manning, “They are also the people who are most useful when solving daunting, complex challenges because they are more likely to articulate ideas that are new and useful.”
The real issue is the person making the decisions becoming more and more reliant on just one thinking method. “Too much divergent thinking can lead to endless ideation and no solutions. Too much convergent thinking can lead to no new ideas and ‘analysis paralysis,’” adds Manning.
Can Planning and Creativity co-exist?
Well, if we look at the literal meanings of planning and creativity, they are quite mutually exclusive. But when you gain a proper understanding of both the divergent and convergent ways of thinking, you realize that planning and creativity can complement each other very nicely.
You just have to understand the fact that there are a proper time and place for both of them, and the most innovative and successful project managers are those who understand the workings of both the strategies and how they can effectively leverage them.
If you want to efficiently keep track of all of your projects while having the option of being flexible, agile and supportive of all of the new ideas that come forth during development, then use all of the knowledge that you have gained in this article and you will succeed.
While divergent thinking often trails off to different areas of discussion, we would like to know your views about it. Let us know through the comment section below. Alternatively, you can also write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll make sure to get back to you.
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