Cognitive Processes and Idea Generation*

Basic Idea Generating

The bottom line to a successful idea-generating process is to honor the voices in the room and to use different thinking styles. That's right, intermix the different temperament patterns as well as the divergent perceiving and convergent judging focuses and activities.


Alex Osborn, the advocate of brainstorming, compared divergent and convergent thinking to driving a car. Imagine, he said, that when you are using divergent thinking, your foot is on the gas pedal, all the way to the floor. There are no obstacles, and the roads are in perfect condition. The ideas flow.

When using convergent thinking, it's as if your foot is on the brake, evaluating, selecting, and judging ideas.

His point was this: it is critical to facilitate creative thinking by honoring both processes and keeping them separate. If you don't, it's as if you had your foot on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. You wouldn't get very far, and it wouldn't be good for the transmission either.

In essence, from a psychological type perspective, Osborn said to honor the perceiving processes and then honor the judging processes. First, generate information and ideas using Si, Se, Ni, and Ne, and then call on Ti, Te, Fi, and Fe for making decisions.

Divergent thinking. Convergent thinking. Sounds simple, and sometimes it's challenging.

By using divergent and convergent thinking, you are asking people to stretch from their comfort zone. For them to do that, they need to trust you. With the tools provided in this book, along with the right attitude of honoring the many voices of creativity, you will succeed in building trust in your abilities to guide the process for generating new ideas that will become useful. And with that trust will come commitment for doing a good job, confidence in the creativity of yourself and others, competency in using the tools and methods, and capability to use the right techniques at the right time.

Step 1: Divergent Thinking

Here are some examples of divergent thinking triggers:

  • List all the uses you can think of for a shoe.
  • Generate meanings for a nutshell
  • List all the resources available for your next project
  • Make as many sentences as you can using all of the following words: candle, hope, tissue, egg.

Notice how each is an open-ended exercise. No evaluation is required or asked for. None of the questions asked you to meet any criteria whatsoever. The responses are free from any restriction, even if they are outside the parameters you perceive in the question. That's an important point.

Generally, though, we unconsciously know there are "right" answers and that there is only one right answer to every question. To truly appreciate the gift of divergent thinking, a change of attitude is required. People need to be open to the idea that there may be many "right" answers. The goal of using divergent thinking is to generate as many potential "right" answers as possible. In order to do this, the potential "wrong" answers must be included. One of the benefits of using divergent thinking is knowing that in the second phase, during convergent thinking, the best responses will be selected and ideas not worth considering will be left behind, modified, or saved for later.

How do you get outrageous ideas? Ask for them! Research conducted in the '50s showed that when idea-generating participants are asked to generate outrageous ideas, they do. When they are not asked for outrageous ideas, they are not as likely to offer them up. Try it out, and see for yourself.

Step 2: Convergent Thinking

Here are some examples to demonstrate convergent thinking.

  • Which shoe idea is the most novel?
  • Rank your meanings of the nutshell from the most personally meaningful to the least
  • Select the resources that are most challenging to maintain

Of all the sentences you made, which is the most intriguing?

Notice each statement or question asks you to use 'narrow-down' thinking. During the convergent stage, we apply critical thinking; that is, we use some criteria to evaluate, select, and analyze the output from the divergent phase.

If the divergent output is kept in the verbal realm, only in talking or in conversation, it is quite challenging to do a good job in the convergent stage. As a result, one of the standards for idea generating is to capture the ideas in a way that makes it easy to evaluate the total output later on.

Also, if all the idea generating is conducted interactively, you are pulling only on the extraverting processes - Se, Ne, Te, and Fe. By doing this you get ideas that fit what is (Se), what might be (Ne), how to organize using principles (Te), and how to organize to meet people's needs for harmony and connecting (Fe).

For balance, consider including opportunities for reflection time for the other four voices to be heard-Si, Ni, Ti, and Fi. Factor in occasions to welcome ideas from what was in the past (Si), conceptual considerations and meanings (Ni), framework fit (Ti), and personal values (Fi).

Divergent and Convergent Thinking in the Eight Cognitive Process Voices

This chart shows how each cognitive process voice may contribute to diverging and converging activities. Use it as a guide to broaden your approach to stimulate creative thinking.

<<<

DIVERGE

>>>

CONVERGE

PERCEPTION
JUDGMENT
Creative ideas—
where they come from.
Consider using each of these:
Creative ideas—
how they are evaluated. How well do ideas meet these criteria?

Extraverted Sensing (Se)
Change what is.

  • Give new uses and tactics for what is contextually happening now, what's right in front of you.

Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Improve efficiencies, structures, measurements, and organizing principles.

  • Demonstrate excellence using provable and profitable standards.

Introverted Sensing (Si)
Change what was.

  • Recombine past elements.

Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Improve understanding of how something works.

  • Provide clear categorical shifts.

Extraverted iNtuiting (Ne)
Change what might be.

  • Infer new patterns, potentials, and spin-offs from the current situation.

Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Improve harmony among people.

  • Facilitate cooperation and interpersonal harmony in the outcome.

Introverted iNtuiting (Ni)
Change the representation of the future.

  • Integrate insights to form new concepts.

Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Align with values, personal and corporate.

  • Demonstrate commitment to what is truly important to those impacted and involved.

Adapted from Marci Segal, Creativity and Personality Type: Tools for Understanding and Inspiring The Many Voices of Creativity (Telos Publications, 2001) *Used with permission.


Type Training & Certification with Linda Berens Ph.D.




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