Help the old lady


In creativity processes, both convergent and divergent thinking are important. Thus, to run an effective creativity process, it is Important that all participants are aware about the difference between these two phases and their potential outcomes (Cropley, 2006).


What is this technique about

The technique is about making students experience the differences between convergent and divergent thinking in ideation and need analysis problem solving. It helps students to develop ideas and solutions based on both thinking styles, and it is fun because it is organized as a competition.

Where does it come from 

In 1950 Joy Paul Guilford coined the terms convergent and divergent thinking to contrast two different thinking styles. Convergent thinking is oriented toward finding a single best solution and therefore relies on logic, argumentation, and information accumulation. In contrast, divergent thinking is geared towards producing several unique ideas or solutions in a spontaneous, explorative, and associative manner (Cropley, 2006).

For which purposes it is used (why in your engineering teaching)

This exercise is normally used for …

  • … introducing the difference between divergent and convergent thinking as two different but complementary ways that can be used in need analysis or ideation and bring about results with different characteristics, or
  • … sourcing and creating many different ideas on potential needs or ideas for solving a problem  

How to use it

This session is used in an online classroom, the groups will need breakout sessions.

How to implement this technique online

Preparation: Before the session
  • create material (e.g., a PowerPoint slide) that you will use later to explain the difference between the two thinking styles
  • set up a document (e.g., a word document) that outlines
    • the problem for which the need analysis or ideation exercise shall generate insights (“Imagine that you should help an old lady to…” / if you have another target group, just replace “old lady”), and
    • the below table with one row per group in your class:
    • Group Convergent solutions Divergent solutions
  • upload the document and make sure that all students can access it
  • (if necessary): pre-set the group rooms
During application, i.e., while giving the session
  • Introduce the students to the different thinking styles
  • Introduce them to the challenge and the rules: They will need to find solutions in groups and write them into a shared document, but it is not allowed to repeat solutions other groups have already written down (you will delete them), and they have only five minutes.
  • Tell them where the document is and make sure everybody has access to it.
  • Sent the groups to breakout rooms.
  • Delete any repetitive answers in the document while the groups are working.
  • Call the groups back in the online classroom after 5 minutes.
Follow-up, about what to do after the session
  • Review and discuss the quality of with the two creative thinking styles gained insights/ ideas. Relate them to the need analysis or problem solution development process.
  • If you want, you can ask participants to select the most useful/insightful/crazy idea by making “I” in the document.

Examples and/or testimonials

Patricia Wolf, Professor in Innovation Management at the University of Southern Denmark:

During the COVID pandemic, I used the method in a hybrid teaching setting in a class with Bachelor Engineering students in “Product Development and Innovation” (3rd semester) to explain the difference between convergent and divergent thinking. Some of the students were in class and others were online.

I used the table made by Cropley (2006; 391) to give them some examples.  

Help the old lady - 1

I did not have to set up groups, as we had MS Teams group rooms and the groups were formed at the beginning of the semester. I uploaded the word document with the table to the general folder of the MS Teams group and used the following very simple task sheet: 

Help the old lady - 2

The students had a lot of fun, particularly in filling in the divergent thinking part, and a lot of funny suggestions were made (e.g., send the old lady and her food in a parcel with Post Nord). I needed to delete repetitive answers across the group, to ensure a wide variety in the answers – this was also the most stressful part.

Altogether, the exercise went well!

Tools needed

You need a tool …

  • … through which participants can commonly access and edit the document with the table (e.g. MS Teams or google doc)
  • … that allows you to share your screen and set up break out rooms for groups (e.g., Miro, MS Teams, or Zoom)



A link to a variation of the exercise in physical settings – if you want to do this online, you will need to send sets with material In advance to the participants or ask them to have material sets available at their places:

Convergent and divergent thinking in idea generation: Blog post by Martin Luenendonk (last updated on September 19, 2019):


Divergent vs convergent thinking explained in less than 2 minutes:


Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist, 5, 444–454.

Cropley, A. (2006). In Praise of Convergent Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 18(3), 391-404.