The Destruction of Divergent Thinking


‘There was a great study done recently of divergent thinking. It was published a couple of years ago. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but it’s an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question to think what Edward de Bono would probably call laterally – to think not just in linear or convergent ways. To seek multiple answers, not one.

So there are tests for this, I mean, one kind of cod example would be people might be asked to say how many uses can you think of for a paper clip; one of those routine questions. Most people might come up with ten or fifteen. People who are good at this might come up with 200. And they’d do that by saying, “Well could the paperclip be 200 foot tall and made out of foam rubber?” “Does it have to be a paperclip as we know it, Jim?” Now they tested this and they gave them to 1,500 people in a book called Break Point and Beyond, and on the protocol of the test if you scored above a certain level you’d be considered to be a genius at divergent thinking.

So my question to you is what percentage of the people tested of the 1,500 scored at genius level for divergent thinking. Now you need to know one more thing about them – these were kindergarten children. So what do you think? What percentage at genius level? 80? 98%. Now the thing about this was it was a longitudinal study, so they retested the same children five years later aged 8 to 10. What do you think? 50? They retested them again five years later, ages 13 to 15. You can see a trend here can’t you?’

– Robinson, K. (2008, June 16) Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved from Ted.com

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2 thoughts on “The Destruction of Divergent Thinking

  1. Einstein developed his Special Theory of Relativity at the ripe old age of 26, but it took him ten more years of arduous work to arrive at his General Theory. With the possible exceptions of Pablo Picasso and Grandma Moses, most creative work is done during one’s early years, perhaps validating Wordsworth when he said, “The world is too much with us….” – it seems to have a cumulative effect.

  2. While I’d say that’s true for most people as they get sucked ever deeper into the grind, or they become to conservative, meaning they settle for “what is,” it is a reversible process. That comes through detachment and self-empowerment. From that point the knowledge and creativity curve shoots up again. Personal experience only, no group validation.

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