Most of us have felt sick at one point or another but didn’t exactly know why. Maybe there were multiple symptoms, but none pointed toward one clear reason. In this case, someone would likely seek a doctor, who would conduct an examination to find the root cause. This is an example of convergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is a form of critical thinking that doctors and other professionals employ to find solutions. While this cognitive process may go unrecognized in many workplaces, it’s essential for the discovery, treatment, development, and resolution of day-to-day problems within many professions.
In 2020, the Reboot Foundation reported in “The State of Critical Thinking” that 94% of people regard critical thinking—effective decision-making based on concrete data and input—as “very important.” Yet, according to that same report, 86% of people believe the general public lacks such a skill.
Using convergent logic and critical thinking is paramount for finding the best solution to a problem. Without this skill, a person or team may find it challenging to arrive at the correct answer or best solution, particularly in complex situations. For a business, this can lead to other problems, such as reduced competition, stunted growth, and customer loss.
However, not everyone possesses one of the work personality types that naturally thrive as a convergent thinker. Fortunately, the steps in this article illuminate a path to develop this cognitive practice so you can enhance your ability to think logically and critically.
- 86% feel most people lack the ability to think critically.
- Convergent thinking is one of the most critical skill sets for the modern workforce.
- Engineers, lawyers, medical staff, and financial professionals use convergent thinking.
- Convergent thinking lacks adaptability and creativity; therefore, one should balance it with divergent thinking.
What Is Convergent Thinking?
Convergent thinking is the cognitive process that focuses on finding a single, correct solution to a problem. It is characterized by logical reasoning, deductive thinking, and narrowing down possibilities to identify the most appropriate and specific answer or outcome. Unlike divergent thinking, which involves brainstorming new ideas, convergent thinking follows a linear and structured approach, aiming to reach a specific goal or answer.
Convergent thinking is helpful in many contexts, including:
- Conducting financial work
- Solving mathematical problems
- Taking multiple-choice tests
- Interpreting contextual meaning accurately
Convergent thinking was first explored by psychologist J.P. Guilford in 1956. It was through his research on the relationship between intelligence and creativity that Guilford discovered two different ways of solving problems: divergent and convergent thinking. While both hold unique strengths, people benefit most greatly from being able to pivot as necessary between divergent and convergent thinking.
Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
Divergent and convergent thinking are two distinct cognitive processes that involve different approaches to generating ideas and finding the best solution to a problem. For example, brainstorming the possible ways an expanding business could tap into new markets would be divergent thinking. By contrast, convergent thinking would involve finding just one specific solution for one specific business need or area of weakness.
As Anne Manning with Harvard Professional Development explains, “Divergent thinking, in essence, is coming up with ideas, going out and exploring possibilities . . . convergent thinking is about taking ideas, thinking about them, reflecting on them, improving them, and coming up with decisions.”
Other main differences between divergent and convergent thinking:
- Goals and focus: Convergent thinkers aim to find a single, specific solution to a problem. The goal for divergent thinkers is to generate as many ideas and solutions as possible.
- Process: Convergent thinkers follow a structured, methodical approach. Divergent thinkers use free-flowing thought, uninhibited by rules, to explore new possibilities.
- Creativity: Convergent thinkers lean on their critical thinking skills within established parameters for the best solution. Divergent thinkers are highly creative and abandon any parameters to draw new connections and think outside the box.
- Problem-solving: Convergent thinking is ideal for situations requiring a clear, single solution to a clear, single problem. By contrast, divergent thinking is well-suited for situations that require multiple solutions and ideas to open-ended problems.
Benefits of Convergent Thinking at Work
- Fosters efficient problem-solving: Convergent thinking enables a systematic and focused approach to problem-solving. By narrowing down possibilities and identifying the most suitable solution, it helps save time and resources, leading to efficient and effective problem resolution.
- Generates solutions with precision and accuracy: Convergent thinking emphasizes logical reasoning and evaluating options based on established criteria. It encourages attention to detail and ensures that decisions and solutions are precise, accurate, and aligned with the desired outcomes.
- Minimizes subjective bias for better decision-making: Convergent thinking aids in making informed decisions by considering available information, analyzing alternatives, and evaluating the potential consequences of each option. It helps minimize subjective biases and supports rational decision-making based on logical and objective factors.
- Nurtures the direction needed to achieve specific goals: In work settings, there are often specific goals and targets. Convergent thinking enables individuals to focus on finding the best solution or approach that aligns with those goals. It helps maintain clarity and direction in the pursuit of desired outcomes.
- Promotes consistency and quality control: Convergent thinking encourages adherence to established rules, procedures, and guidelines, ensuring that tasks are performed consistently and with quality.
Careers That Benefit Most From Convergent Thinking
While all roles and companies benefit from employing a blend of both divergent and convergent thinking, some industries rely on it more than others. Those who thrive in the workplace by becoming convergent thinkers include:
- Law Professionals
- Medical Staff
- Healthcare Workers
- Financial Professionals
- Operations and Project Management Professionals
How to Practice Convergent Thinking
Convergent thinking doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. For example, creative professionals, designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs rely heavily on divergent thinking for their day-to-day decision-making. Fortunately, anyone can become a better convergent thinker by following a few simple steps.
1. Define the Problem
Identifying the problem or objective that needs to be addressed accurately is a critical first step in divergent thinking. If an initial problem isn’t framed correctly, misplaced or misdirected solutions will result, leading to other problems. Therefore, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what needs to be solved or achieved.
Tips for accurately defining a problem:
- Use the 5 Whys strategy—asking “Why?” five times until you get to the root of the problem—or first principles thinking to examine deep truths about the issue at hand.
- Ask yourself why it is a problem. What issues are occurring, or would cease to occur with the right solution?
- List what you know about the problem. What is causing it? When did it start? Who is involved?
- Consider the history and context of the problem. Does it happen constantly or intermittently? Has it occurred before?
2. Gather Information
Once you have a clear picture of the problem, begin collecting all the relevant facts, data, and information related to it. This may involve conducting research, consulting reliable sources, or reviewing any existing documentation. Ultimately, the more information you have, the better you’ll be able to use convergent logic to find the best solution.
Ways for gathering information:
- Find a trusted mentor or expert whom you can consult with.
- Interview current and former colleagues with knowledge of the issue.
- Conduct research on the internet, in books, or from in-person networking.
- Attend relevant conferences and speaking events led by knowledgeable experts.
3. Analyze the Options
After you’ve gathered information, it’s time to analyze your options. This step can be critical for revealing different possible solutions or approaches. To start, review your information and begin considering the pros and cons of each option, assessing their feasibility, and comparing them against the desired criteria or goals.
Factors to consider when analyzing options:
- Criteria: Which of the options best fits the required criteria for the solution? What must absolutely be included?
- Risk: Which option has the least potential risk or adverse consequences?
- Implementation: Which option can be implemented using current or available resources?
- Outcome: Which option holds within it the best possible chance for a desirable, long-term outcome?
4. Use Logical Reasoning
When your best options have been identified and analyzed, logical reasoning can now be utilized to assess the validity and effectiveness of each option. This can be done by considering cause-and-effect relationships, applying deductive or inductive reasoning, and identifying any potential constraints or limitations.
Strategies for improving reasoning skills:
- Try new things and explore new hobbies; this will help keep your mind sharp.
- Challenge your current knowledge by taking classes and enrolling in educational events.
- Incorporate daily exercise to boost cognitive function while reducing any symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Practice journaling for enhanced introspection and reflection; this increases reasoning.
5. Narrow Down Your Options
Based on your analysis and reasoning, you can now narrow the options to a few clear, promising choices. Convergent thinkers do this by eliminating solutions based on the pros and cons of each option.
To narrow down your options, ask yourself:
- Which option(s) have the greatest number of cons?
- Which option(s) require resources not currently available to implement?
- Which option(s) hold the greatest risk for failure or future problems?
6. Select the Best Solution
With just a few options remaining, determining the solution that best meets the defined criteria and goals should be relatively simple. During this step, convergent thinkers choose the option that aligns with the available information, their logical reasoning, and the highest likelihood of success.
Decision-making techniques to use if multiple viable solutions remain:
- Decision tree: This technique involves using a flowchart diagram. It begins with one main idea or problem, and then “branches” out from that with consequences of possible decisions. Once many consequential branches have been added, the diagram tends to look like a tree.
- A decision matrix: A decision matrix is a tool that can be used to prioritize options when multiple complex factors are involved. It first involves identifying a list of priority criteria in columns. Then, it creates rows for each option to see how they measure against the criteria.
- Cost-benefit analysis: As the name suggests, this decision-making model works to weigh the benefits of particular solutions against the costs of implementing them. It helps to reveal which solutions possess benefits worth their cost, and which don’t.
- SWOT Analysis: This analysis helps to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a particular option or problem. Identifying these factors can help a business make better long-term choices because it examines every aspect of a given problem or idea.
For more insights on how to make the best decisions for your business, read “Group Decision Making: 4 Techniques You Should Know.”
Navigating the Limitations of Convergent Thinking
While convergent thinking offers many advantages, no form of thinking is void of its limitations. Therefore, the key to becoming a successful convergent thinker is in acknowledging the shortcomings of this cognitive approach that, in many ways, divergent thinking aids with. This is why being able to use both approaches to problem-solving is so crucial.
Limitations of convergent thinking to keep in mind:
- Overall lack of creativity and innovation
- Missed or overlooked options due to narrow perspectives
- Misdirected solutions based on incorrect problem identification
- Structural rigidity when rapidly-changing situations call for adaptability and flexibility
Ultimately, becoming a convergent thinker requires someone to first question things as they are—a willingness to look beyond norms to view situations with new, independent perspectives. Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
Additional resources for practicing convergent thinking:
- Enroll in an online critical thinking course.
- Read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
- Watch this video program by Harvard Professional Development.
- Practice critical thinking exercises with the Critical Thinking Skills Workbook.
Continue exercising your cognitive muscles by reading “6 Critical Thinking Skills That Create Great Leaders” next.
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- “The State of Critical Thinking in 2020 | REBOOT FOUNDATION.” REBOOT FOUNDATION | Promoting and Developing Critical Thinking Tools and Resources., 27 Oct. 2020, https://reboot-foundation.org/the-state-of-critical-thinking-2020/.
- “Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking.” YouTube, 16 May 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjE2RV6IQzo.
- J., Eva. Think to Succeed: Why Critical Thinking Is Vital for Today’s Business Leaders. 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/think-succeed-why-critical-thinking-vital-todays-business-eva-jenkins.