Creative Thinking

Creative Thinking

In our Western systems of thinking, there is a strong bias towards using the left-brain. We tend to prefer ideas that fit pre- conceived patterns, systems that have been proved and solutions that are low-risk. But in a time of change, where we need to solve major intractable problems, we need to be more creative and instead of known thinking and known solutions, develop new thinking and new solutions, ie using the right-brain. Here are 7 ways to be more creative.

Think like A Child

As adults we tend to think in a conditioned way aimed at showing how clever we are. Yet, as children, we are simply spontaneous and far more curious in our thinking. To re-capture your childhood curiosity, allow yourself to just wonder at things, to be completely present in the here and now, and to detach yourself from what you thought was real.

Why are leaves green?

Who is Father Christmas?

What makes us yawn?

Where do people come from?

Why do we have to go to sleep?

What’s at the end of a rainbow?

What happens when we die?

What makes us laugh?

Why do people fight?

What makes the light go on?

Where do animals go when they die?

Why do we have to work?

Be More Curious

The search for new answers to old problems starts with being curious about the problem and looking at it with fresh eyes. Sigmund Freud said that such curiosity came more naturally to children than adults.

Other great inventors have also recognised the importance to creative thinking of being curious about the world. This is how Leonardo da Vinci described his endless curiosity: “I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprint of coral and plant and seaweed found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a storm and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thought throughout my life.”

Play with ideas

The route to creativity is to see things in ways that nobody has seen before. Albert Einstein, the father of modern science, imagined how his theory of relativity could work by lying on a grassy hillside and picturing himself riding on a sunbeam into the universe. Steven Spielberg, director of the science fiction film “Close Encounters of a Third Kind”, imagined the spaceship he used in the film by standing upside down on his car bonnet and looking at the night lights of Los Angeles.

The great comedian, Buster Keaton, was one of the most original and inspired creative thinkers of the era of silent movies. He was once asked onto the set of a film to help a director who had put a character into a predicament from which there appeared no logical escape. The character had to get out of a room through one of two doors. One door led into an adjoining room where there was a group of people whom he did not want to meet. The other door led to the outside where the plot had inconsiderately placed a vicious barking dog.

Without even stopping to think, Keaton provided a solution. All the character had to do was to take the door off its hinges, open it a bit to let the dog into the room and then escape the snatches of the dog’s teeth by swivelling the door around full circle, leaving the dog on the inside and himself on the outside.

Make New Connections

To be innovative doesn’t require a university degree; it simply requires making a connection between existing ideas. For instance, did you know that ice cream was invented in 2000 BC yet it took another 3900 years for someone to come up with the idea of a cone? It’s when you take two seemingly unrelated items and use the spark of creativity that inventiveness happens. This is what one inventor did when he was puzzling one lazy morning in bed about how to invent the perfect egg-cup that would adjust to fit all shapes and sizes of egg. Suddenly a bed-spring collapsed with a twanging sound, and the perfect egg-cup, a coiled metal spring to support any kind of egg, was invented.

Try this trick for yourself. Put together two unconnected objects in the room right now – such as a stapler and a pair of scissors – and find a use for them.

Be A little illoggical

One of the least logical thinking systems in philosophy is the Oriental school of Zen Buddhism. Zen attempts to go beyond the confines of logic to enlightenment.

Zen means “meditation”. It takes problems and presents them in ways that make you think. One “koan”, or problem, with no intellectual solution, asks: “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” and another: “when a finger points at the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.”

A Zen tale tells of a Zen master who came across a disciple walking on water. “What are you doing?” he cried. “Crossing the river,” replied the disciple. “Come with me,” ordered the master and together they walked a great distance until they found a ferryman. As they climbed onto the boat, the master said pointedly: “This is the way to cross a river.”

Laugh More

Tom Peters says that the creativity of a workplace can be measured by a laughometer, ie how much people in the organisation laugh. Humour is one of the greatest creative devices. It jolts us out of our normal patterns and puts ideas together that shouldn’t go together. It has been found that after listening to comedy tapes, students’ ability to solve problems rises by 60%. “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” (Geisel Theodor Seuss )

Think Outside Your Limits

Many of the products we take for granted today are the result of people thinking outside their limits. John Lynn recalls attending a computer conference in the 1980’s at a hotel when someone joked that the next thing they’d be thinking of would be computerised doors. When he went back to the same hotel 20 years later, all the doors used computer-programmed key cards. You can practise this kind of thinking with these pointers:

  • let go of old ways of seeing, thinking and doing
  • question what you see, remembering that we distort what we see with our perceptions
  • have a clear understanding of what outcome you desire but divorce the outcome from the method
  • be aware that thinking in familiar patterns can limit your options of what is possible
  • free yourself from judging your own ideas
  • find a stream of creative ideas by thinking more like a child
  • take risks and dare to do things differently
  • be absolutely sure that you will succeed.

When we think vertically, we limit ourselves to what we already know, what’s been done before and the old ways of thinking. We can build upwards as a result but our progress is more of the same, or vertical evolution. The alternative to vertical thinking is lateral, or horizontal, thinking. It is also outrageous thinking, curious thinking, thinking the unthinkable, and creative thinking.


Key Points

  1. Creative thinking at all levels has become a necessity for organisations to stay ahead in the modern business world.
  2. When you’re in the wrong hole, it’s no good digging deeper; you need to get another hole.
  3. Children tend to be more curious about their world than adults.
  4. One simple way to increase your creativity is to make new connections between unrelated objects and ideas.
  5. Creativity requires us to open up our minds to experiences and ideas we don’t usually have.
  6. A creative workplace is invariably one in which there is a large amount of humour and irreverence.