Reviews of the American education system reveal that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adolescents and young adults has risen in parallel with the growth of standardized testing in colleges and universities. We have come to accept that a significant percentage of kids are being routinely medicated. Unlike ever before, young generations are confronted with information from every angle, yet they are getting penalized for getting distracted from what they consider “boring stuff” at school. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth, yet we are getting them through education by anaesthetizing them.
Rather than putting students to sleep, educators should is exactly the opposite: we should be waking them up to what is inside of them! In view of the challenges we as a global community face, we should develop our thinking in the exact opposite way of what we have done so far. Instead of convergent thinking, we need to develop divergent thinking , i.e. the ability to see a lot of different answers to a question and lots of different ways to interpret the question – an essential capacity of creative thinking. In a longitudinal study , kids before schooling score 98% in the divergent thinking test, at the age of 13-15 years the score dropped below 40%. This study shows that while we all have the capacity of divergent thinking, it mostly deteriorates the more we get educated.
 An example of divergent thinking: “How many uses can you think off for a paper clip?” Most people come up with 10-15, convergent thinkers about 200, by asking questions back like “Could it be 200 foot tall and made of foam rubber?”
October 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm
I believe Dr. Muff is precisely correct in her posit on the issue of convergent/divergent thinking. In fact this major conundrum was recognized and codified in a major industry that is often seen as a leader in ‘conformity’ (convergent thinking) – the auditing profession. Here, in the Statement of Auditing Standards No. 99, “Consideration of Fraud in a Financial Statement Audit,” this issue was formally addressed with a requirement that the audit team employ brainstorming techniques in planning and executing the audit. Brainstorming is based on the concept of divergent thinking. That is, what new filters (views, patterns of thinking, etc.) can be applied to this client, its processes, and the engagement that yields a better view of the current state.
From my own professional experience, it is often the new employee who sees things just a little differently (through different filters) that finds the chink in the armor that leads to a better understanding of the situation. In one company where I served as CEO, a new employee identified something everyone had missed for years that led our company to rise from 5% world market share to 40+% world market share.
So this issue of convergent/divergent thinking is critically important and needs to begin as early in our educational processes as possible. And teachers, leaders, and managers must be aware of the benefits of supporting and considering different views instead of being threatened by them.
October 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm
Thanks a lot for your feedback John.
On Behalf of Dr. Katrin Muff