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Pivot Thinking: The Neuroscience of Design


A cognitive problem solving style that easily pivots or
shifts between convergent or divergent problem solution possibilities.
The conceptual model for pivot thinking assumes that problem solving preferences are generally divided into Guildford’s two primary Operations – Convergent and Divergent. This model assumes no overlap between the two approaches, as they are mutually exclusive. For example, the search for a single, unique correct answer is exclusive of the search for multiple correct answers. A “Converger” would tend to favor convergent problem solving techniques and solutions, although retain a limited interest in divergent problem solving, while a “Diverger” would tend to favor divergent problem techniques and solutions and also retain a limited interest in convergent problem solving. em solving.

it takes and the higher the cognitive load. Cognitive scientists also measure time and error rates in “task switching” the control processes that “reconfigure mental resources for a change of task by requiring subjects to switch frequently among a small set of simple tasks”. It has been shown that RT and error rates grow as the brain alternates between different cognitive systems, indicating a higher cognitive load and higher cognitive energy associated with task switching. This is most evident when switching between distinctly different cognitive tasks, like a convergent task (arithmetic) and a divergent task (alternate possible rules for geometric classification) that resulted in “switching-time costs” .

As individuals bring different cognitive capabilities and the freedom of choice to problem solving, they likely gravitate toward problems they find easier to solve and solve problems in ways they find easier to process. In this manner, individuals with a divergent problem solving style may seek situations that feature divergent problems (over convergent problems) and may seek to solve any problem using divergent style techniques. Similarly, individuals with a convergent style may seek convergent problems and tend to solve problems using convergent style techniques. This is simply a way of managing cognitive load and minimizing the cognitive energy needed to problem solve.

Pivot thinking, the ability to easily shift between convergent and divergent
problem solving, may be more aligned with the psychological construct of
“state.”  The psychological construct of state is typically associated with
temporal definiton – states are short-lived or temporary.   While clearly some individuals will show no long-term preference for either convergent or divergent problem solving, others are able to flex into an opposing role depending on
mood, emotion or circumstance.  For example, time and deadline pressure may encourage a divergent thinker to be more likely to accept convergent problem solutions and frustration or failure may make a convergent thinker more interested in a divergent range of possible solutions.

Similarly, the emotion of fear may moderate an individual’s willingness to pivot to another problem solving style. Perceptions of risk and failure consequences all impact on individual choice, which suggest that the ability to pivot between convergent and divergent problem solving styles may be less of a cognitive ability and more a factor of emotional self-awareness  and regulation.


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