Craig Copeland


Understanding Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking has often been associated with creative problem-solving. However, the glitch in this association is that problem-solving looks for conclusions, which are typically based upon rational thought. Divergent thinking is not about rational thought, and it’s not about problem-solving.

Problem-Solving is not how disruptive thinking works. In its truest sense, divergency is limited when used as a vehicle for coming to conclusions. Funneling down to a single answer stifles the magic of divergent thinking.

Instead of solving a problem, Disruptors are figuring out a riddle, pursuing a curiosity or question, or unraveling a thread of wonder to see where it leads.

In this light, they do not always know if their pursuit will lead anywhere, but more than solving a problem, their journey is about exploration and discovery, kind of like a treasure hunt.

The idea here is that when one does not draw conclusions or look for specific answers, divergent thinking continues to be expansive.

Another way to state this is in the distinction between how we are taught to learn and how we naturally learn.

We are taught to think with reason, rational thought, logic, and critical analysis. Convergent thinking is encouraged as a method of reasoning toward sound conclusions. In school, this means we are taught to look for the ‘one’ answer.

This funneling down process is based upon a societal need to comprehend and apply logic and reasoning to our daily lives and existence. Convergent thinking, therefore, promises to mitigate any chaos in our lives.

Convergent thinking creates order, systems, logic, and a sound model for safety and survival. This type of cookie-cutter idealism is a societal-based construct solely for keeping order and conformity. It suggests that without this type of reasoning, everything would be out of control.

But that is not how we initially begin to think. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.

According to Hans Jürgen Eysenck, a German-born British psychologist, divergent thinking and convergent thinking are two ends of a continuum (Eysenck 2003).

His example was the dichotomy illustrated in the joint work of two famous mathematicians, Srinivasa Ramanujan and Godfrey Harold Hardy FRS.

Hardy, a mathematician who held professorships at Cambridge and Oxford, was the convergent thinker who relied heavily on theorems and proofs to conclude mathematical equations soundly and logically.

Ramanujan the divergent thinker, was the opposite. He couldn’t succinctly explain how he arrived at his mathematical expressions, once stating, “An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.”

His intuition also led him to derive some previously unknown identities, such as

Ramanujan Equation

Yet his concepts proved to be of both importance and great value. Unbeknownst even to him at the time, his theories and ideas later led to the exploration and discovery of such concepts as quantum black holes. Ramanujan’s formula could explain their behavior.

Other such examples of intuitive thinkers include Philosopher Michael Faraday, who discovered electromagnetism. Like Ramanujan, Faraday used an intuitive style of thinking to experiment and explain his idea of what ‘lines of force’ meant to him:

Faraday received little formal education and because of his limited mathematical abilities, he could not aptly explain his concept in the necessary terms of trigonometry. It took James Clerk Maxwell, a friend, and admirer of Faraday’s, years later, to properly summarize and vet Faraday’s theories to be sound.

And these two geniuses are not alone. Other divergent ‘explorers’ include Pythagoras, Nicolaus Copernicus, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, and Albert Einstein, all of whose ideas and theories were (sometimes hundreds of years later), proven to be sound.

So why are we so programmed as a society to place more value on convergent thinking over divergent thinking? Why haven’t we learned from history that divergent thinkers are the doorway to convergent thinking? Why do we continue to ignore the obvious, especially when the most divergent thinkers themselves show us the opposite is true?


The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Albert Einstein

This simple statement tells us two important things. One, that both rational thinking (convergent thinking) and intuitive thinking (divergent thinking) both have their place, and second, that for some unknown reason, we don’t utilize or honor intuitive (divergent thinking) as both valuable and important.

The Reason AI is limited

Another way to understand how convergent thinking can be more limiting than divergent thinking is through the development of AI (Artificial Intelligence).

The term “artificial intelligence” had previously been used to describe machines that mimic and display “human” cognitive skills that are associated with the human mind, such as “learning” and “problem-solving”. This definition has since been rejected by major AI researchers who now describe AI in terms of rationality and acting rationally, which does not limit how intelligence can be articulated.

Russell, Stuart J.; Norvig, Peter (2009). Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd ed.).
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-604259-4.

This very statement articulates that while AI is highly adept at problem-solving on a quantum basis, it will never be able to properly replicate human intuition, which is where creative genius resides. Therefore, it can only conjecture about imaginative thought, playful inventiveness, and fantasy creativeness. So again, why aren’t we placing more importance on cultivating these lesser-used areas of development?

Why Intuitive and Creative are so Necessary

When it comes to the discussion of play, imagination, and creativity with the question about the importance of their roles in both psychological and social terms, we continue to view these areas of development as stress-relievers from a noisy and demanding world. We use them sparingly unless they are deemed valuable in the workplace. Writers, Copywriters, Graphic Artists, Designers, Architects, filmmakers, and Actors are allowed these freedoms in terms of income and occupation. Creating just for creative sake is considered a luxury to be used and enjoyed sparingly.

Yet if we look at our progress and development as a whole, everything that we have adopted in how we think, act, and live, has been the product of someone’s creative, intuitive, or imaginative outlook.

Except in terms of what nature has created everything else that exists in the world was created by mankind. And only when we chose to adopt them as a way of life, did these inceptions become relevant and important to us.

Our very way of life was based upon someone’s unique perspective and imagination: electricity, radio, television, lightbulbs, gasoline, automobiles, trains, airplanes, rockets, telephones, cellular phones, and computers are just a handful of the many examples of what someone created in their mind.

If you think about it, every one of these ideas was nothing more than fantasy until someone made it a reality, and then they were adopted into society. And this all came from one’s ability to think divergently.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The reason it seems that we have fewer Disruptors today than in the past is that these freethinkers were able to express themselves in the areas of philosophy, exploration, discovery, creativity, and experimentation. None of which was predicated on the need or desire for monetary gain. That was sometimes a byproduct that came later.

Today, however, we are a society that reveres and chases money and has structured society in a survival framework, leaving little opportunity to create on a grand scale. And with only a few exceptions, more of the bigger creations, these days, are due to someone with financial freedom or backing, yet we are beginning to see that these individuals are not always as altruistic as we had initially thought; Travis Kalanick of Uber, WeWork’s Adam Neumann, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, Anna Sorokin-Delvey, the architect behind the Anna Delvey Foundation, whose selfish desires caused us to re-examine investing in disruptive concepts.

Because we’ve become a society that admires money, power, fame, and material possession over connection, collaboration, unity, and preservation, the majority of our efforts are used to create, disrupt, and innovate for personal gain rather than growth, evolution, or for altruistic purposes.

How to Reconnect with Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking allows one to expand his mind and create on a higher, intellectual level. It’s never too late to learn the skills that promote creative ideas and expand genius-level thinking. It starts with one’s ability to question and challenge what has become our societal standard, and instead, develop new ideas for how we live. If we stop thinking myopically and start thinking compassionately and altruistically, we will begin to see and encourage higher forms of development and progress.

To do this, we need to figure out how to disrupt the current standards of societal decorum, what we just accept without questioning its value, purpose, or even its relevance. We must examine and dismantle those entities that have been broken for so long, the political system, our educational standards, social conditions, uninformed prejudice, environmental conditions, and overconsumption.

When we no longer accept conditions simply because that is the way it has always been done, we are primed and open to creating new ideas, and new directions for growth and opportunity.

Here are some tools to get you on the right track to expand your divergent thinking skills:

1: Quiet Your Mind:

We live in a noisy world. We’re constantly bombarding ourselves with ways to fill the void, radio, podcasts, YouTube, television, social media, etc. It’s uncomfortable for many to be still or quiet. Because of this constant absorption of external noise and information, and sensory overload, we have lost our natural ability to think divergently.

This is a big problem within the workforce. People become overly stressed and anxious because so much information is coming at them at a rapid rate. And how do they deal with this? By doing other things that add even more noise, ironically as a method to quiet the other noises.

We’ve become so used to relying on external things to give us a sense of calm that we have forgotten that the best solution is to turn everything off and just sit in silence.

When we do this, however, at first, it’s uncomfortable and even awkward. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. We aren’t used to just being quiet and not filling every moment of silence with outside distractions.

Trust in the process: If you can learn to take longer periods of time and space to turn off all the external noise, you’ll actually begin to remap your brain in a more powerful way. When you go for a drive without music, podcasts, or audiobooks, when you take a hike without the need to fill the silence with noise or music, when you eat lunch without external information coming in and you just learn to sit in the stillness, the benefits of this are like meditation, and very soon your mind does what it does best… it begins to wander.

At first, this will be nonsensical, and your default reaction will be to problem solve, but if you stick with it, allowing your mind to just go on its own path, your natural creative and intuitive nature begins to surface and with a little practice, you begin to regain your creative and imaginative thinking process.

Practice this by allowing yourself to have longer and longer periods of quiet time until you actually crave and look forward to this more potent state.

2: Take More Time to Daydream:

Imagination is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of genius thinking. When your imagination is set free, your ability to think expansively greatly increases. We tend to think linearly because we want to draw conclusions. This goes directly to why we crave routine. We condition ourselves to seek out routine as a form of stress release, as this becomes one less thing to think or worry about.

But what’s really happening is that you are conditioning your mind to limit itself to just rational-based thinking, leaving no room for further development. You are, in a sense, impeding your own thinking process.

Daydreaming, fantasizing, and imagining are natural parts of our thinking system that we have learned to stifle as nothing more than silly childish practices that have no real value or purpose.

But the mind is a natural daydreamer. It wants to do this, it’s great at it, yet, for some strange reason, we dismiss it when it shows up.

What if I told you that many of the people you admire are daydreamers? What if I suggested that Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryan, Elon Musk, Steven Spielberg, Jeff Bezos, Eli Broad, Warren Buffett, Lady Gaga, Tony Robbins, and even the Dali Lama are all daydreamers?

The reason for this is simple. Each and every one of them imagines and then creates the world they live in. They do not think in terms of hoping or wishing for their future, they actually design and create it. And they do this through imagining and daydreaming about how it would feel to actually do what they do successfully.

Need another set of high-performance individuals who daydream their way to success? Take Olympic athletes. We know that a major part of their performance training is to take time to visualize their race or event. They don’t sit there just hoping and plotting, they imagine themselves running through the course. They envision every part of their competition before it ever happens. They think about their clothing, their equipment, how the course is laid out, the lighting, the weather, and the sounds around them. They run through every aspect of an event as if they are already there, over and over again, until it feels real and natural to them. In this way, they are all exceptional manifesters. They are creating their own destiny by daydreaming as if it is already taking place.

If you practice this skill of imagining yourself as if you are already doing what you want to do, you will set yourself up both mentally, physically, and emotionally for better outcomes in all your endeavors.

3: Travel:

Limiting yourself to the experience you are most familiar with does nothing to promote growth and personal development. Confining yourself to the familiarity of what you know, where you live, eat, sleep, work, and socialize, offers no expansion to your mindset. As mentioned earlier, routine keeps you from overwhelm.

But travel… now travel has many hidden benefits and opportunities. Going to different places and meeting new people and different cultures offers a whole new perspective on life.

One major benefit is gaining new ideas. As an example, both Airbnb, and Zipcar to name just a couple of companies both who got their ideas by traveling to Europe.  They were inspired by how things worked there and brought their concepts back to the United States.

Another benefit of travel is that it dramatically changes our beliefs. When we venture somewhere new, and experience shifts in ideas and social behaviors, this can have a big impact on how we think.

I remember the first time I saw someone eating a meal with their fingers. It shocked my cultural sense of what good manners were. In fact, in their country, my manners of wanting to use a fork were barbarian.

Traveling changes ingrained ideas of right and wrong, prejudice, and more importantly, entitlement. My ego initially took a big hit when I first began to travel, thinking I knew everything, but as I ventured into different cities, and I visited and spoke with people from other cultures, I began to see newer, more expansive ways to think about life. Just moving to another state had a huge impact on how I looked at life.

Being from California, I thought that taking certain jobs was beneath me. When I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, I saw how people didn’t take jobs for status, but instead, they worked to provide for their families. For the first time, I saw elderly people working at McDonald’s, African Americans working at a Jewish Deli, and Caucasians working at Japanese restaurants. This gave me an entirely new perspective on life.

I especially loved the people from India whose philosophy and cultural practices I believe are responsible for why I am now a more intuitive thinker.

So, what does traveling have to do with daydreaming? When you see the landscape, explore the history of their architecture, when you meet the people, I guarantee you will begin to daydream of newer possibilities.

4: Play More Often:

This may seem obvious, but not so for many adults. As adults, we crave logic, rational thought, and pragmatic reasoning. Our play is limited to things like vacations or personal rewards of pleasure after a hard day’s work. If you have children, you know how easy it is for them to play, but as a parent, you will rein it in, or limit their amount of playtime.

In the workplace, for some companies, play is no longer just an extracurricular activity but is now beginning to be seen as an important part of the culture. Play is encouraged to relieve stress, invite new thinking, cultivate better ideas, and connect people and teams in a more impactful way. The results also are shown to influence the bottom line for competitive advantage.

Daydreaming and imagination are the catalysts for divergent thinking, offering alternative ways of looking at how to approach one’s work, how to develop new areas of advancement, and how to solve problems in new and unique ways. This is where innovation stems from.

Creativity, problem-solving abilities, visualization, and teamwork skills are some of the most important elements in the workforce of the future. We need people who can think independently and be creative; for this purpose, fun and play are excellent sources of inspiration.

Today a “good salary” is no longer the only motivating incentive that companies typically rely on to encourage people to do their work. Companies must motivate and inspire employees in new ways. It’s no secret that the organizations who successfully engage and use the creative abilities of their employees know that creativity can’t be commanded; it doesn’t just flow at will. It must be stimulated.

Forbes – Leadership Strategy – The Importance of Playtime at Work – Soulaima Gourani,

5: Rekindling Your Sense of Wonderment:

When was the last time you were truly curious about something? Did you investigate it further? Did you research its source? At some point in our development, we stop being curious and instead we adopt a mindset of comprehension as a way to understand the world. Logic and pragmatism have become the standard societal drivers for how to think, rather than remaining in a state of wonderment, which ironically causes us to venture farther and explore more frequently. In fact, this is where real science comes from, wonderment, questioning, curiosity, and the desire to figure things out.

Wonderment tells us that every time we approach something we’ve experienced before, it is not with the conditioned response that we already know what we should expect, but instead, that we are approaching it in a new way with an open attitude.

How does this work? Well, the more obvious answer is to look at how comedians approach an idea or a situation. They are masters at skewing our point of view, forcing us to look at something in a completely new, and sometimes peculiar way.

“If God had really intended man to fly, He’d make it easier to get to the airport.”
~ Jonathan Winters

“If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple of payments.”

~ Steven Wright

Comedians, writers, and artists are just a few who look at life from a unique perspective. Their thinking is not constrained, and therefore they create how they see the world rather than reacting to it.

Encouraging a personal sense of wonderment allows you to approach everything without predefined ideas or outcomes. You remain open and divergent in your thoughts and creative process because you aren’t conditioning yourself to seek the same conclusions.

Children are experts at this. Every time they take a bath it is a new adventure. They approach the water with new eyes and a brand-new sense of possibilities. And because they are playing and pretending, they have no predefined expectations, allowing them to wonder what adventures they might discover. Adults, however, approach the water with expectation and conditioned behavior, so, sadly, there is nothing new or unique for them to experience.

Divergent thinking is a gift that has been conditioned out of many of us, replacing it with routine, logic, and expectation. Therefore, pragmatic thinking is devoid of wonderment, curiosity, and nuanced experiences. The good news is that it is never too late to regain those powerful gifts that heighten one’s thinking, encourages bolder risk-taking, and enhances one’s ability to create on a larger scale.

When we learn to balance the scales of divergent and convergent thinking, we allow for limitless opportunity and possibility.

Other Articles:

Here is a complete list of articles I have written on Divergent Thinking. Enjoy!