In the 1960s a guy call George Land conducted a ‘divergent thinking’ study with 1500 pre-schoolers – he asked them ‘how many uses does a paperclip have?’ They came up with literally hundreds, and 98% of them scored ‘genius’ levels at divergent thinking. 5 year olds aren’t distracted by ‘rules’, so they think freely. Who says a paper clip can’t be a mile high and touch the clouds?
Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with a multitude of answers to the one problem, rather than convergent thinking where there is only one answer [sound familiar? school perhaps?].
By the time they were 15 less than 10% had retained their ability to think divergently – ‘education’ had purged the remainder.
Albert Einstein was an average student at school, a day dreamer and impractical. He couldn’t even land a teaching job after school. But he was a divergent thinker. He dreamt of the possibilities.
In the field of sustainable development our ability to think divergently is critical. There is never only one answer to a problem – by its very nature, holistic design leads to a multiplicity of potential solutions. The art, therefore, is in our ability to weigh up all of the outcomes, the pros and cons and downstream consequences, and to make an informed judgement about which solution provides the best result at the time.
Rather than pouring our energy into seeking ‘the one answer’ when we are presented with a challenge, we need to forget what we know and free ourselves up, much like a 5-year-old who hasn’t yet been educated about why most of their solutions won’t work.
One or two of those crazy ideas might be just what the world needs.