Divergent Thinking: How do your DT abilities affect your work?

In one of the previous posts, we discussed the 4Ps of Creativity — Process, Person, Press and Product. Although the model focuses on all four dimensions, in the author’s point-of-view, the Person is the center-piece. The Person is the entrepreneur or the intrapreneur who uses the Process and the environment (Press) to create the Product.

In the last post, we focused on the Person, where we discussed the importance of both Divergent and Convergent thinkings. Successful problem solvers have both divergent and convergent thinking abilities. A recent study shows that having both superior knowledge and intelligence are crucial in being creative at work. However, they do not guarantee one will be creative.

In this post, we will dive into Divergent Thinking (DT) in more details with emphasis on what DT dimensions mean in work environment.

What is Divergent Thinking?

Divergent Thinking is the ability to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions in an effort to find one that works.

Divergent Thinking starts from a common point and moves outward in diverging directions to involve a variety of aspects or perspectives. It is the type of thinking we do when solving an abstract or new problem that hasn’t been solved before and could have many possible answers, solutions, or outcomes. This ability comprises of four dimensions; Originality, Flexibility, Fluency and Elaboration.

Originality — Originality is the measure of the infrequency of your responses. It is the ability to look beyond obvious solutions and generate novel ideas and responses. It is how unique and “out-of-this-world” your solutions are. These responses will be unexpected and unfamiliar and may often lead to breakthrough solutions. However, be aware that your ability is negatively affected if your solution is not relevant to the current task or problem on-hand.

Flexibility — Flexibility is the ability to generate a variety of ideas and responses across different categories, and to look at things from different points-of-view. It is also the ability to simultaneously think about different concepts as well as switching between them. High Flexibility thinkers are non-linear thinkers and are able to hold two opposing points-of-view in their mind at the same time. It is the ability associated with many effective leaders in organizations.

Fluency — Fluency is both the ability to generate a large number of ideas or responses and the ability to deliberately generate alternatives, even when you are satisfied with your current ideas. An individual who has high Fluency in creative thinking has the ability to think of many diverse ideas quickly. While Flexibility is about diverse categories of ideas, Fluency is about creating ideas in a specific category.

Elaboration — Elaboration is the ability to expand on an idea and embellish it with details. It is also the ability to create an intricate plan. Unlike Fluency, which is the ability to generate ideas, Elaboration refers to the details within each idea. Elaborate leaders tend to be eloquent, expressive and persuasive. It’s the ability that put your peers and your colleagues at-ease, especially because they might notice the amount of detail and transparency you are willing to provide.

What do these dimensions mean in the work environment?

One’s measure of Divergent Thinking abilities is a measure of an individual’s innovativeness and creativity. Your score is comprised of four primary abilities: Originality, Flexibility, Fluency and Elaboration.

A person high on Originality tends to push the boundaries by generating novel and breakthrough ideas; one with a high score on Flexibility, tend to be more adaptable and are able to attack a problem from multiple angles. A high Fluencer is one that can get past the first and obvious choices and a high Elaborator is one with detailed and intricate plans.

The table below summarizes the pros and cons of each ability:

Why are Divergent Thinking tests not as widely-known or used?

As we all know, traditional and knowledge-based assessments focus on one-right-answer type questions. Most personality assessments are designed in likert or multiple-choice formats for the ease-of-grading and automation.

Quantifying one’s Divergent Thinking abilities is extremely tricky, simply because the traditional assessment styles are not applicable. In order to accurately measure one’s such abilities, one must be given a set of open-ended stimuli, scenarios and exercises. Such assessments difficult to grade. It requires trained graders which tend to be costly and not easily scalable. Hence, such assessments were primarily kept small workshops, c-level executives and senior-level managers.

With the advancement in machine learning, data mining and computational powers, such problems have been resolved. One of the well-researched and well-known assessments is SparcIt’s Creative Thinking assessment. Unlike traditional assessment, SparcIt’s unique feature is the use of open-ended exercises and automated scoring.

SparcIt’s unique feature is the use of open-ended exercises and automated scoring.

Using a Watson-like engine, SparcIt’s patent-pending engine, accurately and efficiently grades the participants’ responses and provide a detailed report to the participants and the test administrators.