Albert Einstein once observed, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were on when we created them.”

Paraphrasing Einstein, this is a matter of perception. We cannot solve our problems and overcome our challenges by merely doing something different; it’s thinking about the problems differently.

This requires a different mindset in the people you hire and, eventually, work with or report to. Luckily, science has done the groundwork and identified whom those people are.

Divergent thinkers

Scientists call it divergent thinking, and if one possesses it, it could be a game changer for increasing ingenuity and productivity.

The premise behind divergent thinking is this: Those who can seamlessly access the brain’s right temporal lobe are able to generate multiple related ideas for a given topic or problem by exploring many possible solutions.

Plain and simple, divergent thinkers think differently; they have the uncanny ability to come up with free-flowing ideas and problem-solving insights in a short amount of time, as opposed to their convergent-thinking counterparts who solve single problems in a systematic and linear fashion.

A test for divergent thinking

Divergent thinkers literally think “outside the box.” Here’s what I’m getting at. Next time you want to test a job candidate or new hire for divergent thinking skills, use the “nine dots puzzle” test. Popular in the 1970’s and 80’s, this test was used by management consultants to teach counterintuitive problem solving.

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

The instructions are simple: Have the person connect all nine dots, without lifting his pencil from the paper, using only four straight lines. Try it for yourself first. Just copy the diagram above onto a piece of paper and give it a try before reading any further.

If you’re the convergent thinker type (which is the majority of us), it seems impossible to pull off. We imagine a boundary around the box that isn’t there. As long as you stay within the boundaries of the box, you can’t do it.

To divergent thinkers, their natural bent is to solve the problem by literally thinking outside the box — by drawing outside the lines, as you see below.

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

What this means for your workplace

While a team with high convergent IQ will systematically hammer away at a problem until they find a solution to it (while staying within the boundaries of their problem solving), divergent thinkers don’t look for one right answer; they come up with as many solutions to the problem as possible.

When a whole company’s culture shifts to a growth mindset of exploration, where your creative employees are given freedom to question standard processes, rules, and conventional wisdom, the wellsprings of divergent thinking erupts; it ushers in a new era to challenge assumptions, share knowledge, discuss alternatives, and consider a counter-intuitive way to solve problems.

Originally published at