Solving Life Problems with Divergent Creative Thinking

Divergent Thinking is Key to Creative Thought and Problem Solving

Students writing at desk in library
Alberto Guglielmi/Blend Images/Getty Images

Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with multiple solutions to one problem. In other words, it is the process and practice of idea generation. Divergent thought is critical for creativity in problem-solving, and thus increases the availability of various solutions. Divergence, also correlated with lateral thinking, is discussed in two influential theories of intelligence created by psychologists Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner.

Psychologist Teresa Amabile is also well-known for her work on children's creativity and divergent thought.

How to Stimulate Divergent Thinking

There are strategies that promote divergent thinking. These four exercises create a template that supports idea generation, thereby increasing divergent thinking. These are:

  • Brainstorming - A technique that calls for all ideas to be expressed in an unstructured way. As multiple ideas are shared, new ideas may "piggyback" off of previous ones, thereby creating more ideas. Ideas are not criticized or disregarded. During brainstorming, all ideas are recorded and considered as relevant to the topic at hand.
  • Keeping a Journal - A place to record spontaneous ideas over time. By keeping ideas for a specific topic in one place, you can compare and contrast ideas once you move towards developing or organizing your thoughts.
  • Subject Mapping - A process that visually maps or connects all ideas captured during a brainstorming session. The goal is to see similarities in various ideas and move closer to streamlining different ideas around the same topic.
  • Free Writing - A session whereby all thoughts surrounding a specific topic are recorded non-stop for a short period of time. What's shared does not have to be coherent or a complete idea. The goal is to write down all thoughts related to the topic without revising or proofreading the material.

How Tweens Use Divergent Thinking

Tweens are called on to use divergent thinking in school, at home, and in social situations.

For instance, a tween may want to smooth over a misunderstanding with a friend. She can use divergent thinking to come up with multiple ways to accomplish this goal, such as by bringing the friend her favorite snack at lunchtime, writing a lighthearted apology note, or making a heartfelt phone call. There is no one "right" answer to this problem, nor to any problem that requires divergent thought.

Using Divergent Thinking in Everyday Life

Divergent thinking is important for healthy cognition, strong academics, and success in facing the everyday challenges of life. By challenging your mind to think beyond the supposed "right" answer, you allow the possibilities of the better or best answer to come forth. Divergent thinking is also useful when certain solutions have not worked, or opportunities to solve a problem the conventional way are no longer practical or possible. By showing your teen how to use divergent thinking, you can prepare them for a life well into adulthood.


Author Unknown (2009). Strategies of Divergent Thinking. University of Washington Online. 

Santrock, Ph.D., John. ​Children, Eleventh Edition. 2010. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Continue Reading