As a child, when Einstein was introduced to his newborn sister, he supposedly asked, “Where are the wheels?”
It may not be the best example of divergent thinking, but it is so fun I’m using it anyway.
Divergent thinking is one of the defining qualities of creativity and creative people. It refers to ‘diverging’ from the known or accepted, to access new ideas.
One form of it appears in creativity tests, which, for example, ask you to come up with as many solutions as possible to open-ended problems such as: “How many uses can you think of for a shoe?”
While it may be a prominent trait of children and many creatively gifted adults, encouraging unusual thinking and ideas can be suppressed as we “grow up” and learn to fit in. But it can also be actively nurtured.
Some examples of what could be called divergent thinking can be absurd, amusing or simply useless. But many coaches advise developing creativity by not pre-judging or rejecting ideas or thinking in ourselves – or others.
Einstein was expelled from school for “undermining the authority of his teachers and being a disruptive influence.” A teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift forever in his foolish dreams.”
From my article Getting out of school alive.
There are strategies to help maintain and encourage divergent thinking skills.
In his article Break Away From Old Ideas, business and personal achievement author Brian Tracy lists several approaches to help keep “fluid, flexible, adaptive minds.”
One is to simply admit when you are wrong. “Many people are so concerned with being right that all their mental energy is consumed by stonewalling, bluffing, blaming and denying,” he writes.
Even board games can stimulate thinking skills. One example, “Cowgirls Ride the Trail of Truth,” includes questions like “If I woke one morning as a man, what are the first three things I would do?”
ADD and Creativity
A ScienceDaily news story reports on a study showing that young adults with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) displayed more creativity compared with those without the condition.
The article says, “Researchers at the University of Michigan and Eckerd College also found that ADHD individuals preferred different thinking styles. They like generating ideas, but are not good about completing the tasks.
“Lead author Holly White, an assistant professor of psychology at Eckerd, and Priti Shah, an associate professor at U-M, replicated their study from 2006, and those results found that ADHD individuals show better performance on standardized creativity tests.
“We knew that ADHD individuals did better at laboratory measures of divergent thinking, but we didn’t know if that would translate to real-life achievement. The current study suggests that it does,” Shah said.
The researchers took steps to “ensure that the ADHD and non-ADHD participants in the sample were similar in academic achievement.
“Individuals who are not succeeding as well academically may benefit from understanding that there may be tradeoffs associated with ADHD. With extra motivation to overcome difficulties in planning, attention, and impulsivity, they may be able to take greater advantage of their creative strengths, Shah said.”
From Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Score High in Creativity, ScienceDaily, Mar. 17, 2011.
If you want to get a better sense of what ADD is like, try the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) Test (here on Psych Central).
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Last reviewed: 20 Mar 2011