Divergent thinking is one of the defining qualities of creative and high ability people. While it may be a prominent trait of children and many gifted adults, encouraging out of the ordinary ideas can be suppressed as we “grow up” and learn to fit in. But it can also be actively nurtured.
Some examples of what could be called divergent thinking can be absurd or very amusing.
As a child, when Einstein was introduced to his newborn sister, he supposedly asked “Where are the wheels?”
He was later expelled from school (in 1894) for “undermining the authority of his teachers and being a disruptive influence.” A teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift forever in his foolish dreams.”
From my article Getting out of school alive.
Psychologist Ellen Winner noted in her book Gifted Children: Myths and Realities that “Intelligence and creativity are not the same things. Intelligence in a domain.. means the ability to function at a high level in that domain, but creativity involves asking new questions and altering the domain. One can be highly intelligent but rigid, noncreative, or lacking in the kind of single-minded passion that drives creators.”
From my article Divergent thinking.
There are ways highly intelligent people can be rigid and restrictive in their thinking, such as being highly sensitive (and fearful of social reactions to unusual ideas, for example), perfectionistic or narcissistic.
But there are strategies to help maintain and encourage divergent thinking skills.
In his article Break Away From Old Ideas, personal achievement leader Brian Tracy provides strategies to help keep “fluid, flexible, adaptive minds.”
One is to simply admit when you are wrong. “Many people are so concerned with being right that all their mental energy is consumed by stonewalling, bluffing, blaming and denying,” he writes. “It is actually a sign of mental maturity, personal strength and individual character to admit mistakes.”
Another strategy is to “Be Flexible With New Information.” (See the article for more.)
Making the effort to keep your perceptions and thinking fluid can have real payoffs.
As Deirdre V. Lovecky, Ph.D. points out, “Divergent thinking has positive social and emotional value. Gifted adults possessing this trait are able to find creative solutions to a wide variety of problems, including interpersonal problems, and are able to see several aspects of any situation.”
From my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.
Photo from post The inspiration of Einstein.