Convergent Thinking: 4 Key Principles and Examples of Use

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 23, 2022

Published July 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Convergent thinking—also known as critical, vertical, analytical or linear thinking—is a way of approaching issues that isolates the best possible solution from a wide array of possibilities. By applying the principles of convergent thinking, business leaders can more effectively make timely decisions that foster desired outcomes. By understanding what convergent thinking entails and how it works, you can apply it both personally and professionally to transform ideas into actionable steps.

In this article, we define convergent thinking, discuss the four key principles associated with it, examine how it compares with divergent thinking and provide several examples to help you understand its practical uses.


What is convergent thinking?

Convergent thinking focuses on finding the single, correct solution to any problem by following defined, logical steps. With convergent thinking, answers are either right or wrong, with zero ambiguity. Through convergent thinking, you can narrow down large numbers of possible solutions by logically analyzing all options and comparing each possibility against real-world constraints and established criteria.

Related: 6 Main Types of Critical Thinking Skills (With Examples)


4 key principles to guide convergent thinking

Use these four key principles to guide your convergent thinking:


1. Use affirmative judgment

Using affirmative judgment means focusing on the positives of an idea rather than the negatives. Affirmative judgment creates a constructive evaluation process. When you assess an idea, identify what's good about it and try to bolster its strengths. Investigate the limitations of the idea only after you've determined its positive aspects. By focusing heavily on positive aspects, affirmative judgment changes how people view negative aspects.

Related: Positive Thinking in the Workplace: Benefits and Tips


2. Keep creativity alive

This principle features the notion of not ignoring ideas just because they're unique. Convergent thinking tends to be careful and selective, often ignoring viable solutions solely on account of their novelty. Rather, stay curious and analytical about all possible solutions to a problem, even the options that sound risky. Instead of immediately discarding high-risk or unusual ideas, focus first on the positive aspects of each one and then consider how to minimize any risks.

Related: The 20 Best Jobs for Analytical Thinkers


3. Be persistent

Convergent thinking involves a lot of effort. The process of convergent thinking requires you to choose the most viable ideas from a broad selection of options, refine each idea and then rework it until it's the perfect fit for your needs. Be unwavering about the choices ahead of you, analyzing the array of possible solutions fairly and then testing selected options thoroughly.

Related: Key Workplace Skills: Determination (Definition, Tips and Examples)


4. Check your objectives

Always be aware of your original objectives, as this is key to remaining persistent throughout the convergent thinking process. Think of your objectives as a guide. As you work through possible solutions to a problem, determine whether they propel you toward one of your goals or add value to your efforts. If they don't, you may not be focusing your attention in the right areas.

Related: 10 Tips for Being More Goal-Oriented at Work


Convergent vs. divergent thinking

Convergent and divergent thinking are not separate thinking modes but rather opposite ends of a spectrum. The approach you use to solve a problem may land anywhere along that spectrum. Some problems require more convergent thinking, while others require more divergent thinking.

Here are the main differences between divergent thinking and convergent thinking:

  • Direction: Divergent thinking moves outward, producing lots of ideas with no logical order. Convergent thinking is linear and always focused on the best possible solution.


  • Novelty: The goal of divergent thinking is to produce as many novel ideas as possible. Convergent thinking focuses on known criteria and procedures.


  • Limits: Divergent thinking can produce limitless possible answers. Convergent thinking looks for the best solution.


  • Certainty: Divergent thinking deals with ambiguity and risky possibilities. Convergent thinking is more rigid, with ideas being either right or wrong.


  • Efficiency: Divergent thinking is interested in all possible options, making it more scattered and inefficient. Convergent thinking systematically works to find a solution, producing decisions efficiently.


  • Personality: Divergent thinkers are often extroverted, creative and open to novel experiences. Convergent thinkers are often introverted, logical and more comfortable with familiar information and proven facts.


  • Answer value: With divergent thinking, all answers have an equal value. Convergent thinking focuses on producing one solution with the highest value.


  • Complexity: Divergent thinking favors complex ideas without concern for execution. Convergent thinking works best with simple, proven concepts.


  • Risk: Divergent thinkers take risks in their thinking. Convergent thinkers tend to avoid risky ideas and stick with time-tested concepts.


  • Reasoning: Divergent thinking favors inductive reasoning, with many solutions stemming from a single idea. Convergent thinking primarily uses deductive reasoning to eliminate less-worthy options in the pursuit of a single solution.


  • Quality vs. quantity: Divergent thinking favors quantity, with the intent to produce as many ideas as possible. Convergent thinking favors quality, focusing on the pursuit of the best-fitting solution.


  • Time: As it considers all possible answers to be valid, the divergent thinking process can be lengthy. Convergent thinking tends to take less time, evaluating only the most worthy ideas.

Solving most problems requires a combination of convergent and divergent thinking. A divergent brainstorming session can help you produce many possible answers, whereas convergent thinking allows you to organize and evaluate them against known criteria to determine the best solution.

Related: What Is Divergent Thinking? Definition and Tips


Examples of convergent thinking in practice

Here are a few examples highlighting the practical uses of convergent thinking:

School

Convergent thinking is one of the main cognitive processes exercised in most schools today. Multiple-choice tests, quizzes, standardized tests and spelling tests all require students to use convergent thinking, as each question typically has only one correct answer. Additionally, the curriculum expects students to memorize facts and use logical problem-solving steps to arrive at the correct answer.

Business

Effective business leaders have a reputation for thinking convergently. They analyze all possible solutions to a given problem and find the best fit according to their budget, resources and organizational goals. Employees, too, apply convergent thinking principles to quickly filter out unviable ideas, allowing them to focus their time on the most helpful solutions.

Science

Scientific experiments are great examples of convergent thinking. Scientists conduct experiments to find the best possible answer to a problem. Experiments also follow a logical sequence of events and compare unknowns to proven scientific facts.

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