Creative Thinking Skills

Image of a pottery wheel.

Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world. —Paulo Coelho, author and lyricist

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define creative thinking
  • Identify the value of creative thinking in education
  • Describe the impact of limitations (such as rules) on creative thinking
  • Describe the role of creative thinking skills in problem-solving

 

Creative Thinking

Think about a time when you visited a museum or a sculpture garden, or you attended an orchestral performance or a concert by a favorite performer. Did you marvel at the skill, the artistry, and the innovation? Did you imagine how wonderful it must feel to have those abilities?

If you’ve ever had thoughts like this, you must know you’re not alone. It’s hard for anyone to behold a great work of art or performance and not imagine standing, even briefly, in the artist’s shoes.

But when you’ve admired creative works or creative people, have you acknowledged the seeds of creativity within yourself?

You might be surprised to know that everyone has creative abilities: It’s true of everyone who fully expresses creative abilities as well as those who express them very little or not at all. All humans are innately creative, especially if creativity is understood as a problem-solving skill.

Put another way, creativity is inspired when there is a problem to solve. For example, when a sculptor creates an amazing sculpture, it’s an act of problem-solving: perhaps she must determine which artistic style to use in order to create the likeness of an object, or perhaps she is deciding which tools will most suit her purpose or style, perhaps she is assessing how best to satisfy a customer’s request or earn income from her art—you get the idea. In every case, the problem sparks the sculptor’s creativity and she brings her creativity to bear in finding an artistic solution.

Considered as an act of problem-solving, creativity can be understood as a skill—as opposed to an inborn talent or natural “gift”—that can be taught as well as learned. Problem-solving is something we are called upon to do every day, from performing mundane chores to executing sophisticated projects. The good news is that we can always improve upon our problem-solving and creative-thinking skills—even if we don’t consider ourselves to be artists or “creative.” The following information may surprise and encourage you!

  • Creative thinking (a companion to critical thinking) is an invaluable skill for college students. It’s  important because it helps you look at problems and situations from a fresh perspective. Creating thinking is a way to develop novel or unorthodox solutions that do not depend wholly on past or current solutions. It’s a way of employing strategies to clear your mind so that your thoughts and ideas can transcend what appear to be the limitations of a problem. Creative thinking is a way of moving beyond barriers.[1]
  • As a creative thinker, you are curious, optimistic, and imaginative. You see problems as interesting opportunities, and you challenge assumptions and suspend judgment. You don’t give up easily. You work hard.[2]

Is this you? Even if you don’t yet see yourself as a competent creative thinker or problem-solver, you can learn solid skills and techniques to help you become one.

ACTIVITY: ASSESS YOUR CREATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS

Objective

  • Evaluate your attitude toward problem-solving in the context of cultivating creative thinking.

Directions:

  • Access Psychology Today’s Creative Problem-Solving Test at the Psychology Today Web site.
  • Read the introductory text, which explains how creativity is linked to fundamental qualities of thinking, such as flexibility and tolerance of ambiguity.
  • Then advance to the questions by clicking on the “Take The Test” button. The test has 20 questions and will take roughly 10 minutes.
  • After finishing the test, you will receive a Snapshot Report with an introduction, a graph, and a personalized interpretation for one of your test scores.

Complete any further steps by following your instructor’s directions.

Creative Thinking in Education

Now that you have taken the creative problem-solving self-assessment test, do you have a better sense of which creative thinking skills and attitudes you have, and which ones you might want to improve upon?

College is great ground for enhancing creative thinking skills. The following are some college  activities that can stimulate creative thinking. Are any familiar to you?

  • Design sample exam questions to test your knowledge as you study for a final.
  • Devise a social media strategy for a club on campus.
  • Propose an education plan for a major you are designing for yourself.
  • Prepare a speech that you will give in a debate in your course.
  • Develop a pattern for a costume in a theatrical production.
  • Arrange audience seats in your classroom to maximize attention during your presentation.
  • Arrange an eye-catching holiday display in your dormitory or apartment building.
  • Participate in a brainstorming session with your fellow musicians on how you will collaborate to write a musical composition.
  • Draft a script for a video production that will be shown to several college administrators.
  • Compose a set of requests and recommendations for a campus office to improve its customer service.
  • Develop a marketing pitch for a mock business you are developing.
  • Develop a comprehensive energy-reduction plan for your cohousing arrangement.

How to Stimulate Creative Thinking

The following video, How to Stimulate the Creative Process, identifies six strategies to stimulate your creative thinking.

  1. Sleep on it. Over the years, researchers have found that the REM sleep cycle boosts our creativity and problem-solving abilities, providing us with innovative ideas or answers to vexing dilemmas when we awaken. Keep a pen and paper by the bed so you can write down your nocturnal insights if they wake you up.
  2. Go for a run or hit the gym. Studies indicate that exercise stimulates creative thinking, and the brainpower boost lasts for a few hours.
  3. Allow your mind to wander a few times every day. Far from being a waste of time, daydreaming has been found to be an essential part of generating new ideas. If you’re stuck on a problem or creatively blocked, think about something else for a while.
  4. Keep learning. Studying something far removed from your area of expertise is especially effective in helping you think in new ways.
  5. Put yourself in nerve-racking situations once in a while to fire up your brain. Fear and frustration can trigger innovative thinking.
  6. Keep a notebook with you so you always have a way to record fleeting thoughts. They’re sometimes the best ideas of all.
a picture of a blank video screen
Video: How to Stimulate the Creative Process

A Brainstorm of Tips for Creative Thinking

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. —Linus Pauling, double Nobel Laureate, chemist, biochemist, and peace campaigner

Below are some additional tips to help you tap into original and creative thinking in your college assignments and endeavors:

Sensing

  • Use all your senses—see, taste, smell, touch, hear, think, speak.
  • Be a good observer of people, nature, and events around you.

Thinking

  • Engage thinking on the right side of your brain (intuition, open-mindedness, visual perception, rhythm . . .).
  • Change  your interpretation of an event, situation, behavior, person, or object.
  • Allow ideas to incubate.
  • Be open to insight as ideas pop into your mind.

Imagining

  • Brainstorm by generating ideas with a group of people.
  • Ask, “What would happen if . . .”
  • Ask, “In how many different ways . . .”
  • Develop ideas and expand their possibilities.
  • Envision the future.

Speaking and Writing

  • Use your words and your “voice” when conveying your original ideas.
  • Avoid using clichés or overly familiar responses to questions or problems.
  • Explain how your ideas move beyond the status quo and contribute to a discussion.
  • Take notes.

Drawing

  • Use mind-mapping to capture ideas; start with a key concept and write it in the center of your page; use connecting lines, radiating from the central concept, and write down any connected or related ideas that come to you.
  • Create pictures or drawings of situations (“rich pictures”) to show them in a different way.

Learning

  • Find ways to demonstrate your personal investment in projects.
  • Gather knowledge and conduct research.
  • Have more fun learning!

Moving

  • Do physical activities to engage the creative areas of your brain and think differently.

Resting

  • Take breaks.

Problem-Solving with Creative Thinking

Creative problem-solving is a type of problem-solving. It involves searching for new and novel solutions to problems. Unlike critical thinking, which scrutinizes assumptions and uses reasoning, creative thinking is about generating alternative ideas— practices and solutions that are unique and effective. It’s about facing sometimes muddy and unclear problems and seeing how “things” can be done differently—how new solutions can be imagined.[3]

The following words, by Dr. Andrew Robert Baker, are excerpted from his “Thinking Critically and Creatively” essay introduced earlier. Below, Dr. Baker continues to illuminate some of the many ways that college students will be exposed to creative thinking and how it can enrich their learning experiences.

THINKING CRITICALLY AND CREATIVELY

While critical thinking analyzes information and roots out the true nature and facets of problems, it is creative thinking that drives progress forward when it comes to solving these problems. Exceptional creative thinkers are people that invent new solutions to existing problems that do not rely on past or current solutions. They are the ones who invent solution C when everyone else is still arguing between A and B. Creative thinking skills involve using strategies to clear the mind so that our thoughts and ideas can transcend the current limitations of a problem and allow us to see beyond barriers that prevent new solutions from being found.

Brainstorming is the simplest example of intentional creative thinking that most people have tried at least once. With the quick generation of many ideas at once, we can block-out our brain’s natural tendency to limit our solution-generating abilities so we can access and combine many possible solutions/thoughts and invent new ones. It is sort of like sprinting through a race’s finish line only to find there is new track on the other side and we can keep going, if we choose. As with critical thinking, higher education both demands creative thinking from us and is the perfect place to practice and develop the skill. Everything from word problems in a math class, to opinion or persuasive speeches and papers, call upon our creative thinking skills to generate new solutions and perspectives in response to our professor’s demands. Creative thinking skills ask questions such as—What if? Why not? What else is out there? Can I combine perspectives/solutions? What is something no one else has brought-up? What is being forgotten/ignored? What about ______? It is the opening of doors and options that follows problem-identification.

Consider an assignment that required you to compare two different authors on the topic of education and select and defend one as better. Now add to this scenario that your professor clearly prefers one author over the other. While critical thinking can get you as far as identifying the similarities and differences between these authors and evaluating their merits, it is creative thinking that you must use if you wish to challenge your professor’s opinion and invent new perspectives on the authors that have not previously been considered.

So, what can we do to develop our critical and creative thinking skills? Although many students may dislike it, group work is an excellent way to develop our thinking skills. Many times I have heard from students their disdain for working in groups based on scheduling, varied levels of commitment to the group or project, and personality conflicts too, of course. True—it’s not always easy, but that is why it is so effective. When we work collaboratively on a project or problem we bring many brains to bear on a subject. These different brains will naturally develop varied ways of solving or explaining problems and examining information. To the observant individual we see that this places us in a constant state of back and forth critical/creative thinking modes.

For example, in group work we are simultaneously analyzing information and generating solutions on our own, while challenging other’s analyses/ideas and responding to challenges to our own analyses/ideas. This is part of why students tend to avoid group work—it challenges us as thinkers and forces us to analyze others while defending ourselves, which is not something we are used to or comfortable with as most of our educational experiences involve solo work. Your professors know this—that’s why we assign it—to help you grow as students, learners, and thinkers!

—Dr. Andrew Robert Baker, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom

Resources for Creative Thinking

 

 

LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS
CC licensed content, modified from the original
  • Creative Thinking Skills. Authored by: Linda Bruce. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
CC licensed content, Shared previously
All rights reserved content
  • How to Stimulate the Creative Process. Authored by: Howcast. Located at: https://youtu.be/kPC8e-Jk5uw. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License

  1. Mumaw, Stefan. "Born This Way: Is Creativity Innate or Learned?" Peachpit. Pearson, 27 Dec 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016.
  2. Harris, Robert. "Introduction to Creative Thinking." Virtual Salt. 2 Apr 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016.
  3. "Critical and Creative Thinking, MA." University of Massachusetts Boston. 2016. Web. 16 Feb 2016.

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