# 15 Convergent Thinking Examples

Convergent thinking refers to problem-solving that results in the single best solution, based on a logical and methodical analysis of the situation.

It is sometimes referred to as linear thinking or vertical thinking.

Examples of convergent thinking include coming up with the correct answer to a physics question, determining the cause of a device malfunction, or choosing a college to go to.

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## Convergent Thinking Definition

A simple scholarly definition is:

The term was coined by Guilford (1956), along with the concept of divergent thinking, the creative half of the two.

Although most scholars and educators are keen to praise the value of divergent thinking over convergent thinking, Cropley (2006) offers a more balanced perspective:

“In practical situations, divergent thinking without convergent thinking can cause a variety of problems including reckless change” (p. 391).

## Convergent Thinking Examples

• Solving a simple mathematical equation: In math, there is usually only one clear answer. This can be great for people who like simplicity and clarity; but be warned, if you’re planning to go into a math-based career like engineering, you’ll also need to be a great divergent thinker.
• Finding the shortest route between two points on a map: For this solution, you might get together a lot of variables such as traffic conditions and weather conditions, but at the end of the day, you should be able to come up with one recommendation for how to get from A to B the fastest.
• Diagnosing a medical condition based on symptoms: Doctors need great convergent thinking skills because they have to find the one true and objective cause of a person’s ailment.
• Identifying the cause of a device’s technical malfunction: If a device malfunctions, there’s a reason why. It’s the technician’s job to find out. They have to gather together the evidence and use it to find out what that cause is.
• Deciding on the most cost-effective solution for a problem: If it’s your job to save money for your business, you’ll need to come up with a clear solution to present to your boss. To do this, make sure you gather together all the data you can, then decide on the single best course of action.
• Selecting the best candidate for a job: When doing this, you’ll want to think up each candidate’s qualifications and experience, weigh up the pros and cons of each candidate, then make one clear decision.
• Determining the winner of a competition: Ideally, a competition will have clear rules that will help you come up with a winner. But at the end of the day, there can only be one winner, so you’ll need to compare the contestants and identify that one winner.
• Predicting the outcome of an experiment: When formulating a hypothesis, you’re using convergent thinking. There are multiple possible outcomes, but you’ve got to decide which single outcome is the most likely.
• Choosing which stocks to invest in: Professional hedge fund managers have to make confident decisions based on market analysis and a lot of uncertain predictions. But at the end of the day, they have to come to a singular decision about how to allocate the funds.
• Diagnosing a car problem based on engine sounds: Mechanics are masters of convergent thinking. They’ve got to use signals like engine sounds, insights from the driver, and smells, to decide what to do about the car. Often, they also need to rely on personal experience to maximize their chances of making that one decision that’s most important.
• Selecting the best insurance policy for your car: based on coverage and cost
• Finding the best camera to buy: based on price, quality, and brand reputation
• Choosing a college to go to:
• Deciding on where to go on vacation:
• Identifying the culprit of a crime:

## Divergent vs Convergent Thinking

Divergent thinking and convergent thinking are opposites. They represent two different types of thinking that are each valuable in different situations.

• Divergent thinking is all about finding new ideas. The term ‘divergent’ comes from ‘diverge’, meaning to separate from the norm. It involves brainstorming, thinking outside of the norm, and thinking creatively to find solutions to problems. It also often involves finding new ways to tackle existing problems and use existing tools.
• Convergent thinking is about gathering facts to come up with an answer or solution. It’s seen as the opposite of divergent thinking because you’re gathering information together to come up with one single solution rather than searching around and comparing multiple different solutions.

While convergent thinking is primarily analytical, divergent thinking is primarily creative.

## Convergent Thinking Case Studies

### 1. Convergent Questions In Research

Research is the process of investigating a specific phenomenon to accumulate factual knowledge. This can include understanding the object’s properties and identifying factors related to its development. These are very descriptive in nature. The goal is to learn as much about the object of study as possible.

For example, when first discovering a new plant or animal species, there is a great deal of observational research conducted with the goal of painting as detailed picture as possible.

Questions are posed such as what, when, where, and how. Case in point: if discovering a new type of tortoise, the scientist wants to know what are the specific features of the animal; what does it eat; when does sleep and mate; how does it gather food and survive.

Those might seem like mundane matters, but they constitute the first step in all scientific endeavors.

After sufficient knowledge has been collected, then the scientist can move forward to ask more divergent questions, such as what happens if factor A occurs, or if it does not occur.

This is the progression of scientific research.

### 2. The Double Diamond

Building on Guilford’s ideas of convergent and divergent thinking, Alex Osborn applied the concepts to the design process into his Creative Problem Solving (CPS) framework. This framework depicts the design process as a diamond shape that represent convergent and divergent thinking.

One half of the diamond is all about collecting facts and gathering information, the other half is all about generating ideas and brainstorming.

Later versions of CPS extended the framework to 6 linear triangles that involved alternating between the two types of thinking which ultimately produce a great design.

Today, the most popular version of this model of design is the Double Diamond created by the UK Design Council.

### 3. The Smartphone

The smartphone is an example of convergent thinking? Seriously? Nearly everyone on the planet would say the exact opposite; that it is the prototypical example of divergent thinking.

While the smartphone certainly is an example of creativity and thinking about the phone in a novel way (who would have ever thought to put a camera on a phone?), it could have never materialized without convergent thinking.

The smartphone is a result of decades of science-based knowledge. Knowledge that was slow, methodical, and systematic.

It all began with scientists understanding the principles of electricity, then the development of early communication transmission systems such as the telegraph.

About 80 years later, and a long list of scientific developments, we have the first smartphone.

Today, smartphones rely on hundreds of technological advancements.

Most of that technology was built on decades of convergent thinking processes, occasionally combined in unique configurations.

The history of the smartphone is also a history of convergent thinking.

### 4. The Assembly Line

Although the invention of the assembly line certainly was a novel approach to manufacturing, its progression over time has been a steady flow of convergent thinking processes. When building a new step in the manufacturing process, the goal is to find the single best, most efficient way to perform that particular task.

As technological advancements are made and design evolves over a period of decades, the entire process becomes increasingly efficient.

Even when it appears that divergent thinking has occurred, for example, with the integration of robotics, convergent thinking was heavily involved.

Robotics is a step that would have never developed without a long progression of methodical advancements. The movements that those robotic arms engage are a result of programmers writing hundreds of lines of code.

Each set of code was tested, errors identified, and then refined. It is a painstakingly slow process. But, over time, that systematic approach will lead to success. It just takes a while.

### 5. Convergent Thinking, Implicit Learning, And Intuition

Implicit learning takes place without intention. The individual is not even aware that they are in fact learning something. Later, when encountering a novel problem-solving situation, they will utilize that implicit knowledge, in combination with other acquired knowledge, to generate a solution.

The moment the solution is generated, it may feel like intuition. The solution seems almost instinctual. Some might even call it an “a-ha” moment.

In reality however, the accumulated knowledge, implicit and otherwise, go through a cognitive incubation process in which the individual is completely unaware.

It only surfaces when making a concerted effort to solve a problem:

“…until-apparently out of the blue-an answer pops up. This is the classical definition of intuition: Aa process of fermentation until an idea is suddenly there, even seeming to come from nowhere… intuition may well derive from convergent thinking at least as much as from divergent thinking” (p. 394).

### Conclusion

Convergent thinking is an approach to solving problems that tries to find one specific answer. That answer is the result of a very logical analysis of the available facts.

When problems are very complex, such as writing a computer program to control a robotic arm, the answer is derived from a very deliberative and methodical process.

Each solution is tested, refined, and tested again. Repeat as necessary.

The surprising thing about convergent thinking, is that divergent thinking cannot occur without it. Every innovation to have ever materialized could not have happened without the preceding progression of convergent thinking.

## References

Cropley, A. (2006). In Praise of Convergent Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 18(3), 391-404. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326934crj1803_13

Guilford, J. P. (1956). The structure of intellect. Psychological Bulletin, 53(4), 267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0040755

Osborn, A. F. (1953). Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of

creative problem-solving. New York: Scribners.

Sadler‐Smith, E. (2015). Wallas’ Four-Stage Model of the creative process: More than meets the eye? Creativity Research Journal, 27, 342 – 352.Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York: Harcourt Brace.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]