Here’s How You Can Avoid A Common Pitfall


I’ve noticed many would-be startup founders struggle to make the distinction between divergent and convergent thinking, which stifles their creativity and snuffs their progress. Both thinking hats are important… but at different times.

Divergent thinking is where you want to explore many possibilities: problems to tackle, customers to serve, and solutions to propose. You don’t commit to any option, but try to find as many options as you can, without worrying about limitations or “reality” getting in the way. You look for as many destinations – and routes to these destinations – as possible, without initially deciding where to go and how.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is when you’ve decided on a problem/customer/solution, and are looking for the best way to reach the goal of building a product that people love. You start ironing out details and picking the best route to a specific destination.

You can’t start writing code and building a product when you’re stuck in divergent thinking. That’s because divergent thinking is essential for planning, but not execution. You will either draw a blank or start and stop with every step you take, line of code you write, or line you draw. 

Trying to execute while relying on divergent thinking is like holding a map and highlighting all the roads around you. You’ll either get stuck on the first fork you face (“which direction should I go if both roads are highlighted?”), or end up going around in circles without reaching a meaningful destination. You will certainly end up somewhere, but is that “somewhere” where you want to be?

Divergent thinking involves coming up with as many ideas as possible. Think one to many. How can I begin with a single question that leads to many answers? What problem do I want to solve? Then list as many problems as you can.

Convergent thinking is coming down to a single option to go with. Think many to one. Of all the possibilities and answers you’ve come up with, you will go with one and only one option. Now you can execute.

You can associate each way of thinking to a hand: Look at the palms of your hand. Your left hand symbolizes divergent thinking, where your thumb (one) leads to your other fingers (many). Your right hand symbolizes convergent thinking, where your fingers (many) funnel into your thumb (one).

While working on your startup you will switch between the two ways of thinking, but it’s crucial that you make the switch at the right time. Divergent when exploring possibilities, and convergent when deciding on the path to take.