The difference between ‘convergent’ and ‘divergent’ research
Which is the best approach? Looking under a ‘microscope’ or gazing through a ‘telescope’?
In the early 1960s when NASA wanted to design space suits that allowed maximum protection while still allowing maximum movement, they looked around to see if anyone else had solved the problem.
This led Garrett AiResearch, one of the firms working on the spacesuit problem for NASA, to the Tower of London to look at the tournament armour made for Henry VIII to use at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.
The Tower sent Garrett photos and data on the armour, in which each plate of steel fitted flawlessly over the next, giving the wearer complete freedom of movement. One NASA engineer supposedly said he wished they’d known about Henry’s armour sooner as it would have saved them a lot of time and money.
NASA acknowledged its debt in the 1970s when it sent a replica Apollo suit to London to be photographed next to the armour. The suit is currently at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.
This is an excellent example of ‘divergent’ research means looking at the problem in a wider context; taking the ‘telescope’ view. In other words, to ‘see what’s out there’.
How is the problem tackled by other organisations? How is the problem tackled in other areas? In other countries even?
The opposite of this approach is known as ‘convergent’ research. This is the most commonly employed method of research.
It means taking the ‘microscope’ view; focusing on the problem and looking deeper and deeper into the causes.
However, this can quite often be limiting as your research efforts can find themselves being directed towards a solution and not the problem itself.
For the best result, you should ideally include both research methods.