On a recent flight home from the U.K., I re-watched the movie Divergent, based on the bestselling novels by Veronica Roth, which my daughters and I had enjoyed tremendously when they first came out. The heroine, Tris, has been identified as divergent, which in a society that encourages a tribal commitment to singular personality traits (you get to choose between being friendly, brave, smart, honest, or self-effacing) is considered a dangerously subversive condition.
Yet in our own culture, divergent thinking has been identified as "an optimal trait for creativity and success." According to Wikipedia:
Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It is often used in conjunction with convergent thinking, which follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution, which in some cases is a "correct" solution. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn.
Within our culture, because divergent thinking seems unusual and even difficult to do, we have developed practices and processes to encourage it, from meditation and journaling to mind-mapping and visualization. But "divergent thinking" is actually a natural use of the mind -- how the mind works when we're not over thinking things in a desperate attempt to find the "right" way to proceed.
For example, if you've ever daydreamed, you've been "practicing" divergent thinking -- tapping into an effortless flow of thoughts which proceed by association and insight rather than following a set of logical steps from one idea to the other.
Similarly, if you've ever struggled with a problem, "slept on it," and then woke up with a new level of clarity or even a ready-formed solution, you've been making use of your mind's innate capacity for "divergent" thinking.
To better understand how it works, let's go back to the world of the movie. In order to test new members of the "dauntless" tribe, a simulator has been developed which causes them to have to face their worst fears in their imagination and overcome them. The typical "convergent" thinkers look for tools they can use -- bits of metal to jam into the cracks and stop the walls of a metal room from crushing them, or a stick that can be lit on fire to chase away a flock of angry crows.
But our divergent heroine finds a simpler way through. Each time she is in the simulator, at some moment, she catches sight of her own reflection. In that moment, she realizes that her worst fears aren't real -- they're just part of the simulation. She then breaks through imaginary walls, walks through imaginary fire, and wakes up from each simulation unscathed.
And this is remarkably similar to how we awaken the creative power of divergent thinking within ourselves. Rather than find new, empowered ways to overcome our fears and obstacles, we wake up to what they are -- projections of the mind -- and carry on in the direction of our goals and dreams unimpeded.
It's that simple. When you realize that you're only imagining the depth and breadth of what stops you, you're free to move forward, generating solutions and possibilities at a rate and speed that those still stuck in their imaginary limitations might even be tempted to label as "divergent"...
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