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The Dynamic Balance: Divergence and Convergence

Kathleen A. Gardner, 1999

Introduction to CPS: Definition and Framework

One of the CPS stages in which potential solutions are used to develop a plan of action. Convergent Bringing together possibilities, choosing alternatives, to strengthen, refine, improve ideas, and reach a conclusion. Creative Problem Solving (CPS) A rational process model used to solve problems in new and useful ways. Data-Finding One of the CPS stages in which the problem solving group considers all possible data to help understand and define the task. Divergent Generating many possible ideas, options, alternatives.

Dynamic Balance

The appropriate use of both divergent and convergent thinking in CPS. Generating Ideas One of the major components of CPS in which ideas are produced to respond to a specific concern or problem.


One of the CPS stages in which many ideas are generated, after which the most promising ideas are selected for further refinement.


One of the CPS stages in which many general goals or starting points for problem solving are considered.


One of the CPS stages in which ideas are selected, analyzed, or developed through the use of possible criteria and application tools.

Planning for Action

One of the components of CPS in which the focus involves examining, and developing potential solutions, as well as developing a specific plan of action.

Understanding the Problem

One of the three components of CPS in which the challenge or concern is more clearly identified. The CPS process is one of the most effective and marketable methods for problem solving in the field of creativity. Its unique framework allows for entry at any component or stage of the process depending on the goal, wish or challenge. Along with the uniqueness of The Dynamic Balance between Divergent and Convergent Thinking and the specific tools used to foster these two thinking processes makes the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS) operative and functional in solving problems.

Introduction to CPS: Definition and Framework

Creative Problem Solving referred to as the CPS Process is a methodological framework designed to assist problem solvers with using creative ability to achieve goals, overcome obstacles and increase the likelihood of enhancing performance (Isaksen, Dorval & Treffinger 1994). CPS is described at several different levels.

The framework consists of, at the most general level, three components. They include Understanding the Problem, Generating Ideas and Planning for Action. Within these three components are six stages which comprise a more specific level of operation. Within the component of Understanding the Problem are three stages, Mess-Finding, Data-Finding and Problem-Finding. The component of Generating Ideas includes one stage, Idea-Finding. The third component of Planning for Action includes two stages, Solution-Finding and Acceptance-Finding. At the next and even more specific level, each CPS stage has two phases. Together these phases emphasize the dynamic balance between divergent and convergent thinking.

Finally, the most basic level of the framework involves specific tools or techniques. These have either a divergent of convergent emphasis. The uniqueness of the CPS model is the fact that the three components do not have to begin in sequential order or have to adhere to any specific time limit. Depending on what is needed by the problem solution seeker generates where the starting point in the process will be. What makes CPS so unique is the workable, flexible framework, a common language, a toolbox, and the dynamic balance of divergence and convergence.

Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is the ability to generate many possible responses, ideas, options, or alternatives in response to an open-ended question, task or challenge (Isaksen, Dorval & Treffinger 1994). Divergent thinking is guided by four guidelines:

  • Deferred judgment emphasizes the need to refrain from evaluation, criticism, or praise of ideas.
  • To strive for quantity encourages participants to think of as many possible ideas as possible.
  • Freewheeling or striving for unusual possibilities allows for unique and novel ideas to form.
  • To seek combinations encourages the group to build off the ideas of others.

All divergent thinking activities are the responsibility of the problem solution seeker (if he/she chooses to participate) and the resource group ( a group of up to seven people who share in this process of generating ideas under the guidelines for divergent thinking). The facilitator is the person who organizes and directs the group but does not participate in idea generation and serves only in the capacity of a guide who defers judgment at all times.

Divergent thinking is a skill. Many researchers have identified it as an important factor in creativity. Having the ability to determine whether possible solutions fulfill the criteria of the problem is a function of metacognition. Divergent thinking by its very definition appears to require the individual to search his/her own knowledge base beyond the currently activated domain of mental content. This may entail the same basic process of executive control or disengagement from current perceptions and knowledge as is required for assuming a belief that is evidently false.

On a higher plane (at a later age) disengaging from a current paradigm and investigating in disregard areas is, of course, the key to creative new insights, (Sternburg & Lubart, 1991). Divergent thinking as referred to by Parnes (1976) is not an end in itself but only a means to an end.

Convergent Thinking

There has been a continued societal (mis)understanding that the CPS Process is nothing more than brainstorming. And while the process of brainstorming is one of the most useful techniques for generating ideas, it is purely a divergent process. This technique is effective only when convergent thinking skills and techniques balance it.

Convergent thinking is also a skill that is directed by a set of guidelines. Affirmative judgment is used to consider both positive and negative ideas. Being deliberate and explicit focuses on specifying and communicating the random and intuitive kinds of evaluation. To consider novelty is to choose and develop something new. Staying on course allows for the development of long-term goals and direction. During the convergent portion of the process, the client, the problem solution seeker does most of the work while gently guided by the facilitator.

This is because the client has the ownership of the problem. Isaksen (1995) states that the basic principles involve affirmative judgment and the development of long-term goals or direction. To converge is to approach the same point from different directions: it is the opposite of to diverge which is to move in directions from the same point. To select an idea from a multitude of possible solutions requires a great deal of analytical thinking for the problem owner. Convergent thinking is the focus of decision making. It is extremely important to allow the client sufficient time for convergence. The greatest value of convergence is the ability to move the client through the CPS Process to a successful solution.

The Dynamic Balance

The whole philosophy behind the CPS Process is this dynamic balance of divergent and convergent thinking, Isaksen (1995) stated that the process within the stages of CPS alternates between divergent and convergent thinking. In the Mess-Finding Stage, divergent thinking allows for an understanding of the full spectrum of opportunities and challenges that may be explored.

Convergent thinking directs ones efforts toward the key opportunities and challenges to be explored. In the Data-Finding Stage, divergent thinking allows for a thorough understanding of the situation while convergent thinking organizes the data to create a whole picture of the situation.

Divergent thinking helps to identify a wide range of possible problem statements that define pathways to solving the problem in the Problem-Finding Stage. Convergent thinking then clarifies and brings attention to the specific pathways for solving the problem.

In the Idea-Finding Stage, the greatest emphasis is placed on divergent thinking. The objective in this stage is to generate as many unique, useful, and novel ideas as possible. Upon the generation of many ideas, the convergent phase is not concerned with final decisions or closure, but rather the collection of the most promising, inviting or intriguing ideas to the client.

In the Solution-Finding Stage, divergent thinking helps generate criteria to effectively analyze the options. It is also used to generate advantages, limitations, and unique qualities. Convergent thinking is influenced by many factors. The task may simply require the application of implicit criteria to make decisions about the options.

One may need to diverge and converge on key criteria and apply those to select and support promising options. Other situations may require a systematic and structured approach to looking at, developing and refining options. This can be done through various tools and techniques for situations that merit their usage.

In the Acceptance-finding Stage, many different divergent strategies can be used. Strategies such as sources of assistance and resistance, developing action steps, or generating ways to overcome limitations. During the convergent phase steps to focusing on sequencing action steps will be taken. The final product will be a step-by-step plan of action.

Tools for Divergence and Convergence

Within the CPS toolbox are many techniques that can be applied within any of the stages. These tools foster specific mental strategies. Divergent tools such as Brainstorming, Forced Connections and the Ladder of Abstraction help generate many varied, unusual and novel ideas. Convergent tools such as Hits, Highlighting and Clustering allow for the selection of the best ideas that fit the clientĮs needs. Another tool, the Evaluation Matrix allows the client to evaluate up to ten options based on criteria. The results usually indicate the most valuable option to further explore or build a plan of action from.


In a CPS Session, it is the ultimate goal to insure that some action will result. Through the dynamic balance of divergent and convergent thinking this action does occur. Throughout the process, it is vital to use both thinking skills. This allows for a smooth passage from one stage to another.


Isaksen, S. G. , Dorval, K. B. , & Treffinger, D. J. (1994). Creative approaches to problem solving. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Parnes, S. J. (1992). Source book for creative problem solving. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation Press.

Parnes, S. J. (1976). Idea stimulating techniques. Journal of Creative Behavior, 10, 2-4.

Sternberg, R. J. & Lubart, T. I. (1991). An investment theory of creativity and its development. Human Development, 34, 1-31.

Vehar, J. , Firestien, R. , & Miller, B. (1997). CPS facilitation. Williamsville, NY: Innovation Systems Group.

Vehar, J. , Firestien, R. , & Miller, B, (1997). Creativity unbound. Williamsville, NY: Innovation Systems Group.


AJD 12/02

Buffalo State College