This author is a former teacher of gifted and talented students, where creative thinking and problem solving is a primary focus.
Becoming a More Innovative Thinker
Changes in Perception are Critical
Lists of skills and strategies to develop creative thinking are simple to find. What's often missing is discussion about the mind frame adjustments needed, and might even be considered prerequisites to being a more innovative thinker. These are concepts usually not usually taught in schools, and may result in failure similar to trying to build a structure without a solid foundation. These skills are often particularly difficult challenges for left brain analytical types, who may be brilliant engineers but simply aren't wired for the ambiguity involved in creative problem solving.
When practicing creative thinking, remember:
- There is never only one correct answer. In fact, rule number one in brainstorming is not to censor ideas but to let them flow without evaluation nor judgement. It's much better to generate them quickly, allowing all to make the list. Nothing kills creativity quicker than censorship. Never accept your first thought as THE one, for your first thought will be biased toward usual ways of thinking when the point is to stretch that perception.
- Creativity requires discipline. Creative problem solving is a process that requires patience, determination and passion. You must go through the motions to train the brain, while a the same time not being afraid to make mistakes. Even when ideas or projects end up being dismissed, these were part of the learning process.
- Strive to think unconventionally. Analytic thinkers tend to exclude anything not related to the problem. Instead look for ways to include everything which will provoke new thinking patterns, which redirects focus and is how novel ideas are created.
Why Creative Thinking Can be a Paradox
Practicing creative thinking is often not something you WORK at, but rather a skill you surrender yourself to by making time for practicing it as a priority. One paradox about this skill is that it cannot be forced simply by hard work, but requires a giant step back to consider unique perspectives and alternative approaches.
Here are more ways creative thinking might feel like a paradox or a contradiction:
- desire success yet be able to embrace failure
- look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different
- have knowledge but forget about that knowledge, allowing new growth
- see unexpected and unusual connections, yet stay grounded in reality
- work hard yet also spend time doing nothing as ideas incubate
- create many ideas, yet know that many of them may be useless
- be persistent in actively problem solving, yet never stubborn
- listen to experts, yet be able to disregard them
To spark innovative thinking can feel like an enigma of ambiguity. You step out of analysis paralysis in attempts to consider new possibilities, and in the process you train the brain to see from different perspectives. Creative thinking is much like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to produce results. That desired result could be a new song, a painting, a new book or developing an idea or art that's unique and innovative.
In the business world, the innovation could be ideas for a new product, new marketing solutions or any strategy that results in a competitive advantage. It might result in some cutting edge approach that is unique in the field, and this is often the very reason that small startup businesses make it big. Employers value such creative problem solving skills highly.
Synonyms for Creativity
Repetition Breeds Stronger Imagination
Consider some of the most creative geniuses of all time, famous creative thinkers such as: Picaso, Shakespeare, Edison, Mozart or Rembrandt. Did you know that each of them created literally thousands of works? Some of their creations ended up being the genius pieces that made them famous, but others were mediocre and some were not impressive at all. Still their talents developed because creativity was given priority as a muscle which was strengthened daily.
"Whenever an answer, a solution, or a creative idea is needed, stop thinking for a moment by focusing attention on your inner energy field. When you resume thinking, it will be fresh and creative."
~ Eckhart Tolle, Practicing the Power of Now
Creative Thinking Loves Solitude
Your creative self might prefer being alone, and if so, allow periods of solitude regularly. Of course that introvert vs extrovert condition comes into play, as extroverts may find more active creative juices are stimulated when among other people. Either way, pull away from usual settings and conditions, like television and computer screens and noisy crowded offices. Create and allow space for innovative ideas and thoughts to grow without distraction.
Give yourself the gift of time and space to let your creativity out to play. Just like our muscles grow stronger with exercise, our creative talent needs regular exercise as well. So the discipline involved requires making it a personal habit to carve out time DAILY to allow focus on some kind of creative activity or playful designs.
Some find that their most creative ideas appear when either on vacation or in a very relaxed state. Yet the problem for many of us is that we don't ALLOW that relaxed state very often. We stay too busy, too regimented with schedules and other input to let creativity happen. Turn off the noise and/or listen to pleasant music in a quiet place that may allow the imagination space to grow.
"True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found." ~ Eckhart Tolle
Edward DeBono on Creative Thinking
Edward DeBono originated the term 'lateral thinking' and has written over 50 books on creative thinking. Lateral thinking refers to looking a problem from an indirect or unusual approach using creative reasoning that is not exactly traditional nor logical.
One of DeBono's most popular strategies for groups is "The Six Thinking Hats". This method assures that a broad variety of thinking styles and views are given voice and amplifies creative discussion. Used successfully for decades in both businesses and classrooms, the strategy involves mentally wearing and switching roles (hats) in order to focus and redirect thought toward more innovative ideas and solutions.
"Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learned. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork and productivity. It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all." ~ Edward DeBono
What are Examples of Paradigms?
Paradigms might simply be described as thought patterns, which can include theories or research methods or standards accepted as legitimate in any given field. Common examples of paradigms in science include: the scientific method, the theory of evolution, or the basic scientific assumption that the earth is round. Examples of paradigms in society would include standard assumptions of basic human rights like equality and freedom.
Do Paradigms Stifle Creative Thinking?
Thought paradigms do stifle creative thinking due to rigid thought parameters that limit possibilities and potential innovative solutions. For this reason, creative thinkers are encouraged to not only be aware of thought paradigms, but to stretch thinking beyond them in order to discover and apply more innovative ideas.
Consider this example of an innovative idea that emerged due to paradigm shifts. It wasn't until the 21st century when food trucks have become wildly popular and common in most cities. Long ago, of course there were chuck wagons and ice cream trucks and even some street vendors who serviced construction sites and some street corners. But it wasn't until around 2010 that the concept of food trucks really exploded as a viable and respected startup business.
Our usual paradigm of thinking suggests a restaurant as a stationary brick and mortar location with an address (and without wheels). The notion of attractive moving trucks with branded offerings and unique menus is one that once defied our assumptions of what is 'normal' for the perception of dining out. Yet due to innovative thinking, the food truck industry has grown huge. Now there are national associations of food trucks owners and reviews that evaluate and compare brands. What an innovative business model that would never have grown without the motivation and willingness to create a paradigm shift.
Innovation Challenges During Stressful Times
Indeed the only thing we can be sure of is that CHANGES will occur. Yet there are times when change happens at light-speed, and this can result in stress. Turbulent times will evoke emotions like anxiety, fear and a survival mindset that tends to wear out our brain resources and prevents higher level thinking. Feelings of uncertainty tend to feed a vicious cycle of scarcity mindset, which is hard to shake. If we can overcome the survival mindset, we can better keep imagination alive during turbulent times.
In his book "Exploiting Chaos" Jeremy Gutsche encourages risky thinking as what is most needed in times of change and disorder to turn chaos into opportunity. Jeremy is a trend spotter who encourages relentlessly creative souls to break boundaries in rebellious ways, to rethink assumptions, get inspired, and turn business-as-usual upside down.
Thinking Outside the Box
Ever get tired of that 'think outside the box' expression? In real life - our 'boxes' are very real. Maybe you are married (that's a box) or have a job, mortgage and kids (all boxes). The point is to make the best of whatever it is you HAVE, to allow space to think creatively despite whatever boxes your life includes, or maybe to think despite your boxes.
Did Houdini 'think outside the box'? No, he accepted the reality of his box, yet did not allow the fear of it to prevent him from working his magic from within. So it is with you, to accept whatever 'boxes' exist in your life, yet to strive toward creative problem solving in spite of your boxes, to go beyond them into a way of thinking that inspires you to think of solutions in spite of your box.
That is sometimes referred to as 'the Houdini Principal' - meaning to rise above limited perceptions with ways of thinking that are beyond conventional logic in order to find creative solutions.
About creativity: "It can first fit into the cracks of your life, and as you nurture it, it will expand into a glorious interior garden."
Right Brain VS Left Brain and Creativity
Right brain dominant people are considered to be most creative and intuitive. The right side of of the brain tends to focus on the visual, then process information in a simultaneous way, looking first at the whole picture and then the details.
The focus of the left brain is much more analytical, processing information in a more sequential way, looking first at the pieces then putting them together to get the whole.
While we have natural tendency to be brain dominant, the two sides of our brain work together in synergy. Both sides of our brains need exercise, and the most effective thinking and creating involves both sides of the brain working together. Knowing personal strengths including brain dominance is a start, and yet anyone can strengthen newer ways of thinking with regular practice.
Divergent Thinking Examples
When we brainstorm and attempt to generate as many ideas as possible, we're using divergent thinking. Think of diverge as 'to spread out'. On the other hand, converge means 'to come together' so convergent thinking aims toward taking several pieces and from them, finding a single answer.
There are similarities between divergent thinking and right brain dominant thinkers because they both naturally imagine many possibilities and spread out their thinking to see the big picture. They think outward toward a wide variety of perspectives.
Convergent Thinking Examples
A good example of convergent thinking is using clues to solve a mystery. All the many pieces of the puzzle are significant. We study them all then use deductive reasoning to come up with ONE answer. Left brain dominant thinkers tend to be most comfortable with convergent thinking, as it is guided toward concrete facts such as mathematics where there is only one answer.
What is metacognition?
Metacognition refers a self-analysis of how we perceive, organize and understand information. Simply translated it means 'thinking about thinking'. Metacognition is significant to developing creative thinking skills because it's geared toward evaluating our own cognitive skills in ways that also allow us to control them and actually plan to think in new ways. It's a higher order level of thinking that allows us to choose which manner of thinking is best for a particular task, and to also be able to switch to other approaches and manners of thinking when needed. All of the above are considered examples of metacognition: divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and using right brain vs left brain tendencies.
Creative Thinking Can be Bizarre
Every creative thought was once deemed insanity by other "normal" people at one time or another. Luckily, that didn't stop the creative geniuses from standing by them. Creative genius is often called insanity, so why be normal? The key is to find a balance to allow allow your imagination to flow and yet not get you detached from the real world completely. Creative minds learn to embrace insanity, to let GO for periods of time on a regular basis.
"Sanity calms, but madness is more interesting." ~John Russell
SCAMPER and More Brainstorming Techniques for Creative Thinking
Brainstorming is a strategy used to boost creativity and generate ideas for new products, solutions, creations or services. The method involves considering ways to improve existing ideas and ultimately generating new and innovative ones. Among brainstorming methods, one of the most popular strategies is called SCAMPER. This is an acronym or mnenomic device, the letters standing for: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate and Reverse. SCAMPER is just one of many tools to encourage lateral thinking, and is often used along with other brainstorming techniques such as metaphorical thinking (using comparisons) and reframing (considering from new perspectives).
Creative Thinking Tools to Spark Imagination
What's in your creativity toolbox? While the methods described above are popular creative thinking tools for small groups in schools and businesses, other strategies may play effective roles for individuals alone at home. One might experiment with with photography or collage, write, paint, draw or color. Even a few minutes daily of allowing yourself the time to just play with creativity in some way will support growth over time.
The book title below is a whimsical artsy version of an almanac ('Awemanac') by artist Jill Badonsky. Filled with entertaining drawings and a creative thinking prompt for each day of the year, this book has long been a favorite as a creativity boost among items in my creativity toolbox. A favorite artist comments about this book: "I love this energizing, inspiring, feisty companion of a book! The Awe-Manac is brilliantly escorting me through my creative days (and nights)" SARK
Favorite Book to Nourish Creative Thinking
"The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself."
— Alan Alda
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2006 Carolan Ross
TanoCalvenoa on October 04, 2013:
I love the "Every child is an artist" quote by Picasso. I often tell people that the biggest inhibitor to creativity is fear of what others think of what you're doing. Eliminate this and just enjoy what you're doing and that's all that matters.
Morgannafay on March 21, 2012:
You make me want to break out my pencil instead of going to bed! Hahha, Now look what you've done! I'm sleepy but want to doodle! I love that kind of kick in the pants. :)
I really enjoyed the read. HUGS
julieannbrady on March 14, 2012:
I love to see creative thinking and appreciate the unique and authentic creativity of others.
clouda9 lm on January 15, 2011:
Ahh! My mind is whirling with all wonderful things from my visit here today. Thank you my friend :)
awakeningwellness on January 01, 2011:
i believe that life is a playground for creating and I love what you have created here!
myraggededge on January 11, 2010:
Fabulous, you lttle Sark-ette, you! This is really lovely. Thank you for your lovely comment on my lens too.
Is it too late to say Happy New Year? I'm saying it anyway.
ElizabethJeanAl on June 30, 2008:
Creative like most skills has to be cultivated. It takes time and practice. Its been 6 years since I wrote my first piece of fiction. I didn't give up. Each story, each book was better than the last. My debut novel, My Mother's Shoes, will be released in September.
It doesn't matter if your creative expresses itself in the written word or on canvas. Keep at it. It will pay off in the end.
AlisonMeacham on June 29, 2008:
I think this is so true. Perhaps a lot of creativity is lost as we grow up - think of how a child can play for hours and imagine so many stories. I like the concept that creativity is a muscle that you have to exercise.