Divergent thinking; child’s play

 “All children are artists.
The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.”

I stumbled upon an article recently which highlighted some of the differences between children and adults. It’s not a recent article but the message resonated with me. It talked of different ways of thinking about problems.

Divergent thinking is the ability to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Convergent thinking is the opposite. It’s the ability to give the “correct” answers and does not require significant creativity.

The article, in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland (2005), talked of research into divergent thinking. A study of 1,600 3 to 5 year old children who were tested for divergent thinking, showed that 98% were able to think divergently. When they were aged 8 to 10, 32% could generally think divergently. When the same test was applied to 13 to 15 year olds, only 10% thought of problems in this way.  When the test was used with 200,000 25-year-olds, a mere 2% solved problems in this way.

It would appear that various factors at play during the education process almost force our convergent thinking ability to take precedence over divergent thinking. Is education still too driven by the idea of one answer? Does divergent thinking become stifled? I think things have moved on hugely in Education since 2005 but I’m pretty sure there is still scope to encourage divergent thinking further and to give it greater importance within the curriculum.

It’s not just our ability to think creatively which changes as we grow. Our willingness to share our creative ideas with others also changes. Children are open and eager to share their thoughts, ideas or “amazing” works of art with anyone and everyone. However, as adults, we can find it intimidating, threatening even, to share our ideas, our thoughts or our written work with our colleagues. How scary is it to ask a colleague to read something you’ve written or to put forward a suggestion during a meeting?

In order to meet the challenges life throws at us we need to ensure that:

  • our children maintain their natural, fearless creativity so that when, as adults, they are faced with problems in the workplace they can create bold, innovative solutions.
  • as adults, we rekindle our own creativity and encourage creativity in others.
  • we rediscover that child-like fearlessness which allows us to share our ideas with colleagues so we can work together to create great solutions which will propel our businesses forward.

For this to happen we need to focus on building trust within our organisations and strengthening our teams so our businesses become brave and creative rather than fearful or stagnant.

Julie McDonald, Director of People Solutions
01224 531523

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