Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thinking About Divergent Thinking

I’ve been thinking about thinking again. And wouldn't you know it? A hundred things came to mind! Unfortunately, they came to mind at 5:15 AM … an hour before my alarm was set to go off. The thoughts seemed to be whizzing through my brain so fast that I had to get up and write them down. I wrote as fast as I could, but in the end I had a jumble of ideas on my paper. How would I ever make sense of it all? What good was it to write it all down? There must be a way to organize my thoughts. Maybe if I slept on it?

Divergent thinking can be both a blessing and a curse. It does not begin with ‘a’ thought. It begins with a large number of spontaneous and rapidly produced thoughts. A divergent thinker has the ability to consider multiple approaches to a problem and can make unexpected connections between these thoughts. The ideas tend to be new and different than those suggested by most other people. Subsequent convergent thinking comes into play as the thoughts are organized and the ‘best’ solution to the problem is determined. A divergent thinker also possesses the ability to put the solution into action after working out the details.

For a gifted child, divergent thinking is often a frustrating experience. Sleepless nights, daydreaming, reprimands from teachers for being off-task; all these things come into play. Their own lack of understanding about why so many thoughts are racing through their minds all at once can often lead them to conceal the fact that it is happening at all. Or they may think everyone thinks this way – has a multitude of answers for every question posed to them. (Hint: they do not.)

You don’t have to be gifted to be a divergent thinker. However, personality traits associated with divergent thinkers include risk-taking, being curious and persistent, and generally being regarded as a non-conformist. Know anybody like that?

Parents cannot solely rely on schools for teaching divergent thinking. For numerous reasons, it rarely occurs in a regular education classroom. Most teachers don’t have the time to develop and then use activities that promote divergent thinking. Modern-day classrooms are geared to teach that only one correct answer is acceptable; i.e., teaching to the (standardized) test. And it is hard to grade a ‘possibility’. Can you think of a better way to stifle creativity?

The skills that society values most – creativity, innovation, and problem solving – have their roots in divergent thinking. It is the basis upon which we evolve and become better with each successive generation. It is incumbent upon parents to nurture these young minds. Your child needs to harness the power inherent in this type of thinking; to understand how it can increase their ability to do creative problem-solving. Various techniques can be used to encourage divergent thinking such as mind mapping, journaling, brainstorming (SCAMPER, 6 Thinking Hats), and unstructured writing.

The world today is facing what seems like insurmountable problems – economic downturns, environmental disasters, political strife, new diseases without cures – all of which need answers. Inspiring gifted minds to think divergently will benefit society by finding viable solutions to these very important issues.

After 6 revisions, I was finally able to make sense of my thoughts … on divergent thinking. Of course, it involved several sleepless nights and a slew of naps … but this blog post is a wrap!

Graphic courtesy of Flickr CC 2.0

Updated 4/12/2015.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

♫♪♫ What the World Needs Now is … Creativity … ♪♫♪

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of! ♫♪♫ At least that’s how the song is being sung these days. In fact, in the U.S. it is not just a matter of ‘too little’; creativity is actually on the decline. And my point is?

Well, for starters, creativity is a much sought after commodity. Ask any major employer and you’ll learn that it is one of the most coveted skills in the job market today. And you know what happens with hot commodities … people, important people … figure out ways to produce more and more of that commodity. Everyone else is eventually out of luck.

How does one go about developing a source for creativity you might ask? There are no ‘creativity mines’ waiting to be exploited. Or are there? Where would you look to find them if they did exist?

If you’re an economist, the whole question brings to mind days sitting in a boring (well, not for you since you actually chose to become an economist) economics class in college hearing about human capital for the first time. When the concept was first discussed, it had a bit of a negative connotation. Nobody wanted to think of people as being a commodity, but what if it was their ability to think and create that we were talking about?

And who would stand to benefit the most from this type of human capital with all its intangibles attached? Well, consider a relatively small country with few or no natural resources. Now, consider some of the countries who have been doing well on international tests lately.

Let’s take a look at Singapore’s Ministry of Education’s Gifted Education Programme . In part, they say, “Singapore is a small nation with only human resources to rely on for its progress and prosperity. It is to the advantage of the nation that the gifted are helped and nurtured.” Furthermore, “The aim of the GEP is to develop intellectual rigor, humane values and creativity in gifted youths to prepare them for responsible leadership and service to country and society.” And, finally, “The intellectually gifted need a high degree of mental stimulation. This need may not be met in the mainstream classroom and the gifted child may become mediocre, indifferent or disruptive in class.”

Another country to recognize the need for creativity among its students is Korea. While the rest of the world is concerned about establishing a knowledge-based economy, Korea has already moved on. Almost a year ago, the following was published in The Korea Herald, “Universities should move away from "department-store-like education" and seek ways to enhance global competitiveness … The world is undergoing a major transformation from a knowledge-based economy to a creativity-based economy. Our future society is projected to be led not by knowledge, but by creativity. Whether a country succeeds in nurturing creative talent or not will determine its national competitiveness in the future. … In this vein, now is the right time for a massive transformation of our educational system from the previous cramming system to a creativity-nurturing system.” Got your attention now?

Countries are looking to turn around the current economic decline that the world has been experiencing in recent years. Those who were late to the party are now scrambling to reform their educational systems in hopes of reviving their economies. The need for critical and creative thinkers has never seemed greater.

This is an opportunity for advocates of gifted education to educate world leaders in the necessity of supporting their high-ability learners. These students offer the shortest time in development with regard to return on investment.

Now don’t be put off by my terminology! It is the language of those who control the proverbial ‘purse-strings’ when it comes to education budgets and of policy wonks who influence politicians. No, our children are not commodities to be bought and sold, and that is not the intent of this post.

In reality, supporting gifted children – identifying who they are, providing them with an appropriate education, and inspiring creativity – just makes sense for everyone.

Creativity has been defined as “the experience of thinking, reacting, and working in an imaginative and idiosyncratic way which is characterized by a high degree of innovation and originality, divergent thinking, and risk taking." So, here are a few things that need to be considered – innovation, originality, and divergent thinking. Innovation is the introduction of new things or methods. Originality implies something that has never been done before. Divergent thinking is creative, open-ended thinking aimed at generating fresh views and novel solutions. This leads to convergent thinking where all the ideas are brought back together into the best idea. All of which will make the world a better place.

Thus I return to my original premise … what the world needs now is creativity! It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of …

Post-script: Today in remarks made to the World Bank, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, made these remarks:” Education is now the key to eliminating gender inequality, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, to preventing needless deaths and illness, and to fostering peace. And in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity. Education today is inseparable from the development of human capital.”

I rest my case.

Study by Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William and Mary, May, 2010.

The Korean Herald, March 2010,

The Maine Art Education Association