Two sides, same coin: using divergent and convergent thinking in strategy planning
The distinction between divergent and convergent thinking was introduced by J.P. Guilford, president of the American Psychological Association, in the 1950s. Guilford and his colleagues defined divergent thinking as the ability to generate multiple alternative solutions to a given situation or problem (Runco, 2014). It is a useful technique for answering open-ended questions during brainstorming. Meanwhile, convergent thinking leads us to find the right answer as a consequence of previous logical steps and does not require much creativity.
In simpler terms, divergent thinking answers questions like “How can a brick be used?” whereas convergent thinking answers questions like “Who won the 1988 World Series?”
Strategy planning is a process that requires considerable thought from stakeholders. During the strategy formulation stage, executives may consider many possible options. A lot of information and data relevant to accomplishing the strategy have to be gathered, too. SWOT analysis, Porter’s Five Forces, or PESTEL analysis are used in the external and internal environmental scan, and multiple scenarios can be drafted before reaching a conclusion. All types of information relevant to the analysis are gathered: historical information as well as internal and external data.
During strategy planning, the opportunity to innovate emerges. Broad research, asking relevant questions, considering multiple perspectives, and generating new ideas all require the use of divergent thinking. Brainstorming sessions are examples of techniques where divergent thinking is applied and can be used to gather as many options as possible while exploring many paths, some of which may be unusual. Divergent questions may be asked, such as what happens if factor A does or does not occur.
Divergent thinking answers the questions with an open-ended task “How can we do this?” followed by multiple possible answers. Convergent thinking is then used to narrow down the “right” answers until a single answer is found. This is done by correctly diagnosing a problem, making the decision to adopt the most cost-effective strategic objective, and selecting the best strategy by weighing the pros and cons.
Both divergent and convergent are useful for the strategy planning process, as the former fosters creativity to generate original ideas and new possibilities while the latter enables concrete solutions to be identified. Ideas from divergent thinking are transformed into structured, feasible plans with convergent thinking. In a complex strategy planning process, it is best to adapt both—divergent thinking for creativity and innovation and convergent thinking for efficiency and structure.