Successful innovation at any level in any field depends upon skillful performance in two critical mental abilities – divergent thinking and convergent thinking. The optimum ratio of the two thinking processes differs greatly across different occupations and organizational functions.

Let’s first define these abilities.

Divergent thinking means expanding your thoughts and developing options in many different directions: searching for new trends, problems, possibilities & opportunities for change, defining problems from different angles, looking for different facts and points of view and even seeking out options and alternatives when it seems that none exist. Divergence skill requires letting ideas come to light in the absence of criticism and instant over-analysis. Deferring judgment enables you to pursue directions you didn’t think possible.

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking means narrowing the focus, carefully selecting the best options to take forward, and importantly always with an open mind.

When a group is charged with evaluating a wide array of options and possibilities, the ability to hold off premature judgment, to listen carefully, to clarify and respect what others are saying and to apply unbiased criteria, is of paramount importance. Removing misunderstandings, assumptions, hidden motives, or ego enables the group to zero in on the options that everyone believes are important and be committed to them. We call these “best bets”.

But what is the right ratio of divergent and convergent thinking in innovation?
What’s the right amount of time to devote to each? We have found that higher ratios are typical in work classified as more problem finding in nature, such as researchers and academics or professors. More of their time is devoted to long range work with accomplishments occurring longer time frames, perhaps in years, developing new theories and questions for exploration.

Lower ratios are found in work classified as more solution implementation in nature, such as manufacturing production, sales, and logistics. More of their time is devoted to short term achievements: They know by the end of the day or week how successful they were in meeting a goal or installing a new procedure.

Moderate ratios are found in work classified as more problem solving in nature, such as marketing, advertising agency and nonprofit organization administration. Perhaps more of their time is devoted to launching and testing new programs and initiatives whose success may be measured in say, months or semesters.

In summation, successful innovation is dependent on quality divergent thinking balanced with quality convergent thinking at every step of the innovation process with judgment managed consistently throughout.

The exact nature of the balance depends on the field of work

For more specific details, field research identifying optimum divergent
/convergent ratios for different jobs in different industries can be found in the Creativity Research Journal, Vol 8, (1), pp 63 – 75):DOWNLOAD HERE Optimal ideation-evaluation ratios.