By Paul Mayze

When you were younger – much younger – you were a genius. At least, according to Sir Ken Robinson, there is a 98% chance that you were. Your speciality? Divergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is the ability to consider multiple solutions to the same problem. To think laterally. To keep a broad and open mind, and view situations from a host of different perspectives. Schooling (according to Robinson’s thesis) ‘educates’ this ability out of us. Instead it trains us in ‘convergent thinking’ – focusing on learning solutions by rote. This is good news (for us all) if you’re designing a skyscraper or preparing the company accounts. But in other areas it is inherently limiting. Having a divergent approach when considering business strategies, marketing ideas, or bigger life choices can only be a positive thing.

Not the most inspiring post, is it? You were a genius. You’re not any more. Great.

Except that there are ways we can start to reclaim our childhood brilliance. And given one of the biggest online trends of 2012, there’s a good chance you’re doing it already.

Pinterest, whose innovations have inspired the redesign of countless websites over the last year or so, has ushered in a new era of ‘purposeless browsing’. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, divergent browsing. Rather than going online to look for a specific solution (what we are typically doing when using Google search for example), Pinterest encourages us, through its design and content, to browse countless alternatives.

Of course, Pinterest excels at visual alternatives, but already the same principles are being applied to web curation (StumbleUpon, Microsoft’s latest so.cl effort), video (Viddy, Chill), and now even blog posts (Howwwl, Medium). This means that there are more tools than ever to assist us in broadening our frame of reference. Tools which allow you to filter out the totally irrelevant without closing off all other possibilities.

But divergent thinking is no good on its own. And let’s face it, that younger version of you could be distracted in a heartbeat. You weren’t exactly Tolstoy. The ideal is to use divergent thinking to capture all the possibilities (a la brainstorming) and then use convergent thinking to drill down on the possibilities and pick the optimal solution. If we only thought in broad terms, we’d get nothing done; if we only thought deep, we’d miss out on other, quite possibly better solutions.

All of which is to say – great to see that you’ve been spending some time browsing Pinterest. Now get back to work.

About the Author
Paul Mayze is co-founder of Howwwl.com, the new publishing and content discovery network. He was formerly COO of online game developer Monumental Games and has a background in technology communications. You can follow him on Twitter at @howwwl and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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