Having spent about a week embroiled in a “Lost” marathon with my family, I can say with some confidence that this series is an excellent example of divergent thinking. It’s not unusual for a series or movie to jump from character to character, have multiple sub-plots developing concurrently with the main plot, and even to move back and forth between the present and other time periods. But, somehow J.J. Abrams and his crew have taken this type of jumping about to a new level. They manage to keep our heads spinning, without confusing us. We’re left baffled and bewildered, but are enjoying the ride immensely. And then, there are the moments of complete, unadulterated whimsy. Stuff that is just random, in a delightful kind of way. It’s very much like listening to a young child tell a story.
“There’s this airplane that falls apart in the sky and a bunch of people land on the beach on a deserted island and mostly aren’t hurt. And there’s a dinosaur monster in the jungle, except it’s not really and dinosaur, it just sounds like a dinosaur, and it’s really smoke, and it eats the pilot. And a dead guy is walking around in a business suit and white tennis shoes. Oh, and a polar bear comes charging out of the jungle even though polar bears aren't supposed to live in tropical jungles. And a guy has to push a button every 108 minutes to save the world, and one day he doesn't, and that's why the plane crashes. And the island they’re all on can be moved by turning a big wheel. Oh, and in the past this guy was a con man, and now a boar is tormenting him and trashing his stuff, and in the future he’s living in the past. And, I forgot, the island isn’t actually deserted, ‘cause a bunch of people have been living there for a really, really long time, I’m not sure how long, but they just don’t want the other people to know they’re there, and this one guy never gets older even though he’s been there forever. And there’s a super-mysterious power source on the island and all these secret hidden stations with old computers in them. Oh, and a submarine! There has to be a submarine, ‘cause submarines are cool.” You get the idea. This is total divergent thinking. And, in this case, it is brilliantly executed.
In contrast, the other night I watched an episode of Heros with Papa Bear, who last year was deeply embroiled in that series. This show tries to be divergent, but doesn’t quite get there. Even though it bounces around from character to character, event to event, and time to time, the overall composition of the story is still linear. You know it’s plodding along in a logical progression, and that everything is going to be tidily explained and nicely wrapped up at some point. There aren’t many “I didn’t see that coming” moments to spin your head around. There’s no sense of delighted bewilderment. It’s a convergent mind trying to look divergent, and after being completely delighted by Lost, Heros simply did not hold my attention. It failed to hold Papa Bear’s attention, too.
At the heart of divergent thinking lies enchantment and an all-encompassing sense of wonder. A complete, soul-nourishing delight and bewilderment at the world around us, and what some of us are capable of creating when allowed the time and permission to do so. Our cultural soul is STARVING for these sparks of divergent thinking that can burst into a flame of complete wonder and awe.
So, bring it on kids! We, the confined, conformed and convergent-minded grown-ups of the world, promise to do our best not to squash your creative thinking, and to actually nourish it as best we are able. Because, deep down in our hearts and souls, we know this world desperately needs your beautiful, soulful, flabbergasting cage-rattling to set it straight.