Convergent versus Divergent modes of thought

Sometimes you need to expand your mind and find more ideas: Divergence.

Sometimes you need to focus, cut scope, and ship it: Convergence.

Understanding these two modes of thoughts, and switching to the right one at the right time, is a vital skill.

"Thinking exercises" are often divergent; they help you find more ideas. Brainstorming exercises; Lateral thinking exercises; Idea generation; Surveys to gather data; Seeking feedback. These all increase the possibilities. They are divergent.

This quote attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away," is about convergence.

Chasing down leads, library research, finding and following references: these are divergent.

Considering is divergent. Choosing is convergent.

Scope creep is divergent. Bug fixing is convergent.

Explorers are divergent. Settlers are convergent.

Writing is divergent. Editing is convergent. (Note the saying "Write drunk. Edit sober." (Often falsely attributed to Hemingway.))

I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.
—Blaise Pascal

...has time for divergences, but not for convergence.

When you've decided what color to paint the bikeshed, you have converged. When Darryl chips in with info about three more colors he quite likes, he's being divergent.

"We're re-imagining the boundaries of the enterprise, because our CEO read an article in Time magazine on the flight back from Helsinki" is too divergent. "It's just the way we've always done things" is too convergent.

Steve Jobs was convergent, "Get rid of the crappy stuff", "More wood behind fewer arrows", he never saw a feature he didn't want to remove. But he would harness divergence: harnessing divergence is the goal of the divergent/convergent dichotomy. Separate teams would work in parallel on their own prototypes and implementations: divergence. Then they'd bring all the results together and kill off the crappy ideas: convergence.

Ted Nelson (inventor of hypertext) is divergent. "The Laws of Subtraction" are convergent.

Inspiration is divergent. Taste is convergent.

shipit award.jpg

concept car.jpg

A "Ship it!" award is convergent. A concept car is divergent.

Amy Hoy and Alex Hilman's book title "Just F*cking Ship" is convergent. Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue" is divergent.

Wikipedia hosts the long-running battle between Inclusionists and Deletionists. In other words, Divergence versus Convergence.

Map|Reduce... map is divergent, reduce is convergent.

Scatter is divergent. Gather is convergent.

Sylvia Duckworth knows what's going on:

Refinement and exploration are convergent and divergent:

Refinement vs Exploration
(from Intercom blogpost referencing Bill Buxton)

Dreams are divergent. Goals are convergent.

Santa Claus is divergent. The tooth fairy is convergent.

Ward's Wiki is divergent. Getting Things Done is convergent.

Sketching is divergent. Inking is convergent.

Riggs is divergent. Murtaugh is convergent.

Divergent people think they're too convergent. Convergent people think they're too divergent.

Distraction is divergent. Focus is convergent.

Tag clouds are divergent. Inbox Zero is convergent.

"Ideas man" is a divergent title. "Man of action" is a convergent title.

Yes, And... is beautifully divergent.

A question mark is divergent. An exclamation point is convergent.

Both are good. Neither is enough.

May all your divergences converge.


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It gives you 4 easy steps to find and validate a humble product idea.

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