MBA Insight: 4 Keys to Convergent Thinking
Brainstorming is a time-honored method of coming up with new ideas. A business manager gathers people in a room, gives them an objective like “come up with a new feature for our cars,” and tells them to start throwing out ideas—the wider the variety, the better. It’s called divergent thinking, and it can be quite useful, but only if you know what to do next.
Having a lot of ideas is only helpful if you know how to choose the right ideas to pursue. Selecting an idea and plotting a course forward is a process called convergent thinking, and it’s just as important as the divergent thinking you used in the brainstorming process.
In Walden University’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) course Fostering a Culture of Innovation, students study convergent thinking and how to achieve it in ways that allow the initial creativity of the brainstorming process to remain intact. In particular, Walden MBA students read selections from the book Creativity Rising, by Gerard J. Puccio, Marie Mance, Laura Barbero Switalski, and Paul D. Reali. In it, the authors lay out four key principles to guide convergent thinking. These are:
- Apply Affirmative Judgment
To Apply Affirmative Judgment is to identify what is good about an idea, and to continuously work to overcome its flaws.
Just as Defer Judgment is the cornerstone of divergent thinking, Apply Affirmative Judgment is the cornerstone of convergent thinking. This principle encourages you to approach evaluation with a constructive attitude. It implies that evaluation of options must begin by examining their positive aspects, and with the positive intention to build on them and make them stronger.
The assumption that evaluation should—indeed, must—begin from a positive perspective might run counter to our typical thinking. When confronted with something new—an idea, a goal, an action plan, etc.—often our first instinct is to criticize, to look for flaws before looking at merits. Anyone who has been in a meeting has witnessed the deathblow of immediate negative judgment: It is not possible, we have tried this before, it is too expensive, over my dead body, and so forth.
The most productive way to conduct an assessment is to first look carefully at the positive facets of an option, and only then at its limitations. Starting from the positive side actually changes the perception of the negatives.
- Keep Novelty Alive
To Keep Novelty Alive is to defend the quest for a creative outcome while forging a solution and making decisions.
Convergent thinking is by nature careful and selective. When it is time to make a decision, one needs to consider the real value and relevance of an option. In doing so, people often become conservative, retreating to their comfort zones and discarding possibilities that present true uniqueness. They forget that this is exactly what they were looking for when they decided to engage in creative thinking! This principle reminds us of the importance of novelty, which needs to be nurtured and protected throughout evaluation and refinement.
Whether you are applying convergent thinking alone or in a group, remember that creative outcomes require taking some risk. It is difficult to achieve novelty when you are too bound to safety. One solution is to make newness part of your decision criteria, and another is to find ways to overcome the risks. This is the work of solution development (e.g., refining, improving, perfecting), which is a primary outcome of convergent thinking. Instead of discarding a promising option because it sounds too risky, first ask yourself how might you minimize the risks presented in it, or anticipate and overcome them.
- Stay Focused
To Stay Focused is to be persistent.
Convergent thinking is reflective and purposeful. It asks you to focus on the task at hand and invest the necessary thought and energy to ensure that the best alternatives are being selected and then developed. Staying focused means also to be resolute about the choices that need to be made. It means to analyze the various possibilities with fairness and objectivity, and then to have the persistence to refine, craft, and test the options that have been selected.
Convergent thinking requires deliberate effort and discipline. It is why most creative outcomes are the fruit of hard work and seldom the result of a spark of genius, as it is often romanticized in a naive view of creativity.
One sure way to keep focused is to turn back and look at your objectives, which leads us to the fourth and final principle for convergent thinking.
- Check Your Objectives
To Check Your Objectives is to stay aware, while solving a problem, of what you wanted to accomplish in the first place.
If thinking is defined as a purposeful mental activity, the purpose of creative thinking is to bring about results that combine newness and value and that meet the objectives you have established. The Check Your Objectives principle reminds you to work toward a defined purpose. It is convergent thinking’s compass.
In order to attain results that have value and are relevant to your challenge, you need to keep track of what you are looking for: your defined objectives. Many meetings at work end up being inconclusive and disorganized because people lose sight of the objectives they are trying to accomplish, which are the very reason they gathered in the first place.
How Can You Learn More About Creative Thinking in Business?
Being creative in business takes serious skill—skill you can gain if you earn an MBA degree. Part business administration degree and part management degree, an MBA can help you learn to lead organizations and realize business goals, no matter what industry you work in.
And thanks to online education, you can keep working in your industry even as you earn your Master of Business Administration. That’s because online MBA programs are designed to give you convenience and flexibility. You’ll be able to take your business administration master’s courses right from home and at whatever time of day works best for you. For many working adults, an online MBA program is the perfect way to advance a career without having to take a break from that career.
If you want to go into management, developing new ideas is just one of the many challenges you’ll likely face. By earning an MBA online, you can prepare yourself for all the challenges ahead, and put yourself in position for a successful business career.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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