A mental model for creative thinking.
Five years ago my brother-in-law, Arian, decided to go all in and follow his passion for videography, driving from Boston to Los Angeles to live his dream.
In the years that followed, he consistently stretched his creative boundaries and produced an impressive volume of work. A few years in, his persistence and dedication began to get real attention and festivals like Burning Man and Coachella started requesting that he come and document their events. Today, the world’s most notable brands and icons seek him out.
I spent last weekend with him and asked about his creative process.
“I think I am different from most people. I only have about three to four hours of solid focus time in me each day. So if I am not doing something that requires a high level of creative thinking, I need to let my mind just float and drift.”
It turns out Arian’s three to four hour limit on focused work time is not that unusual — but his level of self-awareness and proactivity is. A 2016 survey of office workers found that the average amount of “productive” work time barely hits three hours in a normal workday. Beyond these three hours, though, most time was spent browsing the web, chatting with co-workers and getting food.
After Arian and I spoke, I realized that he unknowingly optimizes his day for Convergent and Divergent Thinking, terms coined by psychologist Joy Paul Guilford.
Divergent Thinking is free-flowing and non-linear. It’s blue sky thinking. It doesn’t need to be rational or feasible, and oftentimes it doesn’t take place at a desk. It might be triggered by activities like going for a walk, cooking, taking a shower or simply stepping away from your screen.
Convergent Thinking, on the other hand, is structured and methodical. It can include analyzing ideas and planning how to implement them. Its triggers include making lists, considering outcomes and constructing a timeline.
Both are incredibly important for creative work — but it’s easy to get so wrapped up in one that we forget to make time for the other. A good first step is to simply become aware of our limited stocks of convergent and divergent time each day and structure our days accordingly.
We explore this concept as well as the growth mindset, flow and more in this month’s Creativity Guide.
To finding your balance,
P.S. This is also a really useful framework for team meetings. We often make this distinction for our creative brainstorms, starting off with a bit of Divergent Thinking — new ideas that have been prepared in advance and shared. Then we switch to Convergent Thinking and drill down into the best possible option for our desired outcome. It’s a method we returned to more than once while developing our Holstee Reflection Cards, which we are preparing to launch later this summer.