By Anne Evenson
Creative thinking involves the consideration of new ideas and perspectives to solve problems, carry out tasks and meet challenges. Anyone can nurture and develop this highly desirable trait, and employers across all industries look for it in prospective employees.
“It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out-of-date.”
Roger Von Oech, American speaker and author.
Creative thinking isn’t exclusive to artists and performers. Anyone can nurture and develop this highly desirable trait, and employers across all industries look for it in prospective employees. Professionals who learn to think creatively can see situations from various perspectives, discover unique solutions to overcome challenges, and transform knowledge into insights and innovative ideas. In addition, those who develop their creative thinking skills and use them regularly in the workplace create opportunities for success and career advancement. In this article, we’ll define creative thinking, discuss why it’s essential and discover the tools you can use to think creatively in the professional world.
Creative Thinking Defined
Creative thinking involves the consideration of new ideas and perspectives to solve problems, carry out tasks and meet challenges. Creative thinkers explore diverse tactics and strategies to find similarities and connections between different concepts and situations. They experiment with different types of solutions to see how they might feature in the scope of their project. People who think creatively aren’t afraid to take risks and explore new ideas. This type of thinking plays a crucial role in successful business development, and those who have developed this very marketable soft skill are in great demand. Some examples of creative thinking in the workplace are:
- Experimenting with different interactive map designs on a webpage to improve user experience.
- Modifying a workspace layout to facilitate better communication among team members.
- Researching alternative ways to market a product or service and conducting trials using new marketing channels.
- Organizing a brainstorming session to gather preliminary thoughts and observations about a new project.
- Identifying a new opportunity to promote the organizational brand and developing a strategy to implement the promotion.
The Benefits of Creative Thinking
Creative thinking paves the way for success by allowing people to use their imaginations to explore all the possibilities, scenarios and outcomes related to a specific situation. It prompts people to think about how and why they do things and to consider alternative ways to contemplate concepts or perform tasks. Thinking creatively removes process roadblocks, promotes collaboration, drives innovation and supports professional advancement.
Professionals who use creativity to find unique solutions to some of today’s most pressing problems expand their knowledge and skills while building self-confidence. In addition, creative thinking inspires people to see things from multiple viewpoints, promoting empathy and increased emotional intelligence. People who learn to flex their creative thinking muscles build resilience and can better adapt to changing situations and adversity. Creative thinking can also reveal people’s hidden talents they may not have known existed.
The Building Blocks of Creative Thinking
Whether creative thinking comes naturally to you or not, there are skills you can learn and develop to hone this powerful tool.
Brainstorming is one of the best ways to unlock the creative potential of a group by allowing everyone to collaborate on ideas to solve small or large-scale challenges. It’s best to follow a few basic rules when conducting a brainstorming session:
- Postpone Judgement: The brainstorming space should be a criticism-free zone so ideas can flow freely without defense.
- Avoid Censorship: Encourage people to think outside the box and embrace wild ideas. There’s often a fine line between an idea that’s outrageous and one that’s brilliant.
- Remain Focused: Keep everyone’s eye on the prize. Sometimes brainstorming sessions can go off the rails, and while divergence can be good, staying on topic is crucial.
- Document Visually: Break out the whiteboard, and use colored markers and Post-It notes. Get all those great ideas on the wall where everyone can see them.
- Go Big: Encourage everyone to generate as many ideas as possible; this helps people avoid overthinking things, which can stifle creativity. For any 60-minute session, you should aim for 100 concepts.
- Expand Each Other’s Ideas: Use “and” rather than “but” to foster positivity and inclusivity. Creating this holistic and inclusive environment promotes loads of ideas across the group.
- Challenge Assumptions: Step back and ask yourselves whether assumptions related to the issue are crucial or just things everyone accepts because they are accustomed to them.
Mindmapping is a visual thinking tool that connects thoughts, ideas and concepts to create an infographic. Seventy percent of the human brain is connected to our eyes, so using visual stimuli along with thoughts and ideas helps us process information differently and see links and connections where we wouldn’t have otherwise seen them. Mindmaps are wonderful tools to structure and establish relationships between disparate ideas or complex concepts.
Empathy is understanding how to relate intellectually and emotionally to other people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences and is a core component of creative thinking. Seeing things from various perspectives while considering the opinions and views of others will help you discern more possible outcomes for a situation or applications for a product or service. For example, designers, marketers and advertisers purposely incorporate empathy into their creative processes to try and understand how their target audience will respond to specific designs or messages.
Visualization is the process of visualizing all possible scenarios or avenues to success that broadens your perspective and opens your mind to all possible outcomes. Envisioning how your future actions may influence a situation or a person is a skill you can apply to almost any scenario.
Experimentation is an effective way to test your creative concepts to determine their viability in real life, and it’s an integral part of the creative process. First, define your purpose, then list your assumptions and finally, design your framework. After you’ve executed your experiment, record the results so you can modify variables to refine your outcomes. One way to adjust your variables is to consider changing the medium you’re working within, which forces you to engage with the challenge in a new way and prioritize different aspects. This shift is a powerful way to gain new insights and apply existing knowledge you already have but perhaps haven’t deemed relevant to the existing problem.
Communication is essential to successful creative thinking because it involves the ability to articulate your ideas to others clearly. Communication skills like storytelling, listening to others, processing their ideas and sharing feedback are critical to providing an equal exchange of ideas. The best workplaces greatly value imaginative people who use creative thinking to generate new ideas and innovative solutions to complex problems. Whatever your background or role, with a bit of curiosity, flexibility and persistence, you can learn to think creatively and gain a competitive edge in your career.
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Bellingham, WA. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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