Creative Thinking

Creative Thinking

Types of Thinking

Creative thinking can be contrasted to the logical processes of deduction and induction. With deduction, one thing is inferred from the logical conclusions entailed by the premise and the set of logical rules. With induction general conclusions are drawn based upon the similarity within a given sample. In contrast, creative thinking involves lateral, associative or analogical thinking that looks at the difference between things and tries to synthesize them. Creative thinking involves the ability to draw associations and patterns across different elements. Creativity is related to broad activation through associative/heuristic networks, allowing seemingly unrelated information to be related.3

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking means moving across from the main pattern of thought to a side pattern.4 One way of achieving this is through provocation which is entirely contrary to our normal logical thinking, where one thing leads to another. With normal logical thinking, one can only say things that make sense, that fit with previous experience and fit in with what has been said before.5 Provocation is a creative thinking method that purposefully interjects non-conformity or diversity into a process of reasoning to break its logical sequence and thus enable one to shift laterally from one context or pattern of thought to another. With logical reasoning, everything must have a prior reason from which the assertion follows, but with lateral thinking and provocation, there may not be a reason for saying, doing or thinking something until after its existence.6


Creative thinking is both the capacity to combine or synthesize existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways and the experience of thinking, reacting, and working in an imaginative way characterized by a high degree of innovation, divergent thinking, and risk-taking.7 Creative thinking involves the mental process of making associations between a given subject and all present pertinent factors without drawing on past experience; thus enabling free association.8 Creative reasoning is the type of reasoning that leads people to think ‘outside the box’ of normal logical processes of inference. This specifically demands that one digress from the rules of logic, and tries to think without being restricted by any initial boundaries, with the use of imagination being a key tool in achieving this.9

Creativity & Conformity

Creative thinking involves the creation of something new, and thus a departure from what already exists, this departure from what exists can be understood in terms of conformity and nonconformity; creative lifestyles are characterized by non-conforming attitudes and behaviors.10 Evolutionary psychologists say that we all have an internal tension between conformity and creativity and that people will vary with respect to the strength of their conformity bias. Conformity offers many desirable conditions such as ease of collaboration; reduced need for thinking and learning through copying; a sense of place, solidarity and shared culture; deferring responsibility; saved energy, as thinking demands a significant amount of energy and takes time.

Those who are less likely to conform are more sensitive to the changing conditions of their environment, and as a result, they are more sensitive to problems or limitations and can spot opportunities. They are more likely to develop new solutions and adaptive responses to a changing environment. This is of significant value to a society or organization as it enables adaptive capacity, the capacity for the organization to adapt to its environment by generating new solutions in response to changes. However, equally conformity at a certain stage in the process can work to promote change, because as others see these new ideas, they learn. They replicate. They repeat. They imitate. In this way, these creative ideas get spread and a new paradigm is created.11

Aspects of Creative Thinking

The primary factors involved in creativity are identified by Mel Rhodes as process, product, person and place12 forming what is calls “the four Ps” and the different perspectives people take when discussing or trying to interpret creativity.



The creative thinking process involves a process of divergent and convergent thinking.14 People who bring about an acceptable novelty in a domain seem able to use well two opposite ways of thinking: the convergent and the divergent. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed upon solution. It involves the ability to generate a lot of ideas; to switch from one perspective to another, and to combine unusual associations of ideas. Divergent thinking though is not much use without the ability to tell a good idea from a bad one – and this selectivity requires convergent thinking. Convergent thinking involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer. It is important for narrowing down the many possibilities to focus on the delivery of a finished valuable product.15


In the field of creativity, there happens to be much consensus on what makes people creative. Teresa Amabile from Harvard has a model that gets at the essence of what is required for someone to be a creative thinker. She puts forward the idea that there are three core attributes to a creative person; domain mastery, cognitive skills, and motivation.16 In her model, creative people have three overlapping attributes. The first being what she refers to as domain-relevant skills. This involves the mastering of a domain through practice and expertise. Mastery of a domain means one is able to know what everyone else knows—to think like everyone else. But the creative thinker has to go beyond this to create new knowledge; this is what she calls creative relevant skills. In creativity-relevant skills, we have cognitive skills and attitudes that put one in a better position to develop a domain in new ways. Highly creative people build on and diverge from what they know to create innovative approaches and solutions.17 The third component is motivation. Amabile and others have discovered that there’s a particular kind of motivation that is a good indicator of creativity, what is called intrinsic motivation.


In Mel Rhodes’ book An Analysis of Creativity the author talks about the creative product as such “the word idea refers to a thought which has been communicated to other people in the form of words, paint, clay, metal, stone, fabric, or other material. When an idea becomes embodied into tangible form it is called a product.”18 With a focus on product, the end result is taken as a proxy for the creativity of the person who produced the product. A focus on the creative product usually appears in attempts to measure creativity and creative ideas.

Learned Creativity

The 10,000-hour rule—popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, based on research by Benjamin Bloom and Anders Ericsson—states that it takes 10,000 hours in order to achieve mastery of a domain or task. It takes even more time to be creative. Harvard’s Howard Gardner studied seven great creators—Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi—and he observed a coherent pattern that, on average, it took 10 years before they came to their first major creative breakthrough, and it wasn’t just practice that happened during this 10-year period. They experimented and explored; they failed and learned from their failure. They borrowed ideas, cross-fertilized, and revised their thinking. For Mozart, it took ten years of composing music before he produced what is considered his first masterpiece.

We all possess creative skills to varying degrees and whatever your ability it can be enhanced and there is plenty of research that shows this. Creativity is a skill like all other skills, and as such, it is something that we can practice and something that we can learn. What is slightly different about creativity is that it is a holistic skill. It is a skill that cuts across all areas of one’s life.

Systems Innovation

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