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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important?

What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important?

Have you ever wondered why some can come up with amazing ideas while others can’t? The ability to connect the dots and see the larger picture all rest in a certain skill – creative thinking.

Creative thinking is our ability to look at ideas presented or a scenario, and find new alternatives that solve the problem. Best of all this skill isn’t bound to the creative people like designers, musicians, or other artists. A lot of people can benefit from thinking this way from time to time. They can also receive a number of benefits on top of a wide variety of ideas that can spark change.

What Is Creative Thinking?

Defined by the Business Dictionary, creative thinking is:[1]

A way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unorthodox solutions (which may look unsettling at first). Creative thinking can be stimulated both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, and by a structured process such as lateral thinking.

Creativity is, therefore, our ability to form something new out of what’s presented. It’s our ability to think differently and provide new angles and perspectives to a solution.

This can translate to a new solution that wasn’t there or even the realization that a problem doesn’t need a solution at the moment or at all.

The Importance of Creative Thinking

True that many people may not care so much about new solutions or angles but that’s the point. Our brains have a natural tendency to fall into certain ‘shortcuts’.

Have you ever been in a situation where you hear or learn one piece of information and you use it all the time?

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I bet you have, since we don’t need to relearn how to use a knife or a fork.

That way of thinking does have its perks in those situations but has some drawbacks in other situations. This is especially true with problem-solving.

Creative thinking and creative thinkers are needed in those situations because it pushes out of that linear way of thinking. It encourages us to look at other perspectives and even open up to the idea of new solutions.

Creative thinking is also important for other reasons:

Thinking creatively provides immense freedom.

When we create, we have the opportunity to engage with the world without judging ourselves. It’s similar to what we felt when we were a child. Back then we didn’t care what people thought of us.

Creative thinking provides self-awareness.

We start to think with authenticity as we use our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. This creates biases in our ideas, but we can learn to set those aside and deeply learn about ourselves.

We become more confident in our ideas.

Maybe right now, you don’t present ideas or your ideas get shut down. By tapping into creative thinking, we can build our confidence in our ideas and start to contribute to the group and our work at large.

What Are the Creative Thinking Skills?

Creative thinking isn’t barred to those who learn in creative fashions. Anyone can pick up creative thinking skills and use them to enrich their lives and those around them.

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Because anyone can learn this, there is no one “right” method or a set of skills you absolutely need. Some of us may need to strengthen one area while others may need to do more. Regardless, here are some skills that can complement creative thinking.

1. Perception & Empathy

Feeling surprised that this is one of the creative thinking skills? Being perceptive and empathetic works hand in hand with creative thinking. Being able to read the mood of a meeting or a discussion you’re having with people can help immensely.

This is key because there are times and places to share ideas. Specifically, you may find the best opportunities to share ideas when:

  • You’re facing a major problem or issue and can’t seem to find a way to proceed and solve it.
  • During times of change, when the future is more obscure than usual and you’re thinking of possibilities.
  • When there is a clear divide between what people think needs to happen. It’s especially needed when no compromises can happen without considerable effort.
  • When something new is needed and hasn’t been tried before.

Empathy also helps with how an idea is presented. Maybe in your workgroup, people aren’t always receptive to your ideas. However, there is that one person who always has a plan and people support.

Empathy is letting that person take “ownership” of that idea and be the voice behind the idea. In these sorts of scenarios, you build up more than empathy. It also builds the belief that your idea will prevail in the hands of someone else.

2. Analytical

Analytical skills help us in understanding many other situations outside of the social environment. Being able to read text or data and have a deeper understanding of what they mean will serve you in a variety of ways.

I find that with creative thinking, the first step is being able to intake information and digest it in various ways. Being able to analyze information is often the first step in the creative thinking process.

3. Open-Mindedness

Once you’ve taken in the information, it’s important that you have an open mind. This means you need to set aside your biases or assumptions and encourage yourself to look at a problem in a new way.

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Biases and assumptions are some of the mental barriers you’ll face. But looking at the other barriers, they often stem from that sort of thinking. A strict and “this is how it should be” way of thinking. Other examples of limitations are that you’re thinking of a problem too logically or that creative thinking is somehow breaking the rules.

These are limiting because we know that to have an open mind is to succeed. Every successful entrepreneur in the world today had to break rules at some point in their lives. Consider Richard Branson or Elon Musk whose work revolutionized or created an entirely new industry. All because they didn’t back down to how things were. You can do the same thing within your own group in some fashion.

4. Organized

The last thing people associate creative thinkers is that they’re organized. While we think of great minds have messy rooms or desks, that’s not the case at all.

Being organized plays a crucial role in creative thinking in that it allows you to better organize our ideas. Not only that, but it also helps to present it as well. When we present ideas, it’s similar to a speech. There ought to be a structure, a vision, and have it easy to follow and understand.

Furthermore, if your idea is given the green light, you’ll need to form an action plan, set goals, and have specific deadlines. Being organized will keep you on your toes and prepared for almost anything.

5. Communication

Communication plays a vital role in all this as well. You can’t sell a group or an individual on an idea if you can’t communicate effectively. This applies to both written and verbal communication skills.

This goes back to empathy a bit in that you need to understand the situation you’re in. This also means you need to be a good listener and being able to ask the right questions.

6. Dissect Ideas

The last skill I’ll offer is a challenging one but can pay off in so many ways. Sometimes creative thinking means taking two ideas and merging them.

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This helps because in most situations ideas in their base form might not be able to satisfy the original goal or problem. That or maybe the idea is outright terrible but, there are some good pieces of information in it.

The ability to look at ideas and be able to break them down and dissect them and merge with other ideas is a great skill to have. This could easily help solve disputes and help to find a middle ground.

Some Examples of Creative Thinking

The list of creative thinking examples is endless. In most situations, these examples will boost your creative thinking as well so I encourage you to try them out yourself:

  • Designing anything from a logo, to a simple webpage layout, to a poster and more
  • Creating a lesson plan for a group training course
  • Writing in a journal, a blog, or any social platforms
  • Creating a test or quiz from scratch just for fun
  • Brainstorming project ideas at work, or decor/renovation ideas at home
  • Finding procedures to improve the quality of a product or service
  • Suggesting solutions to improve a product or service

Bottom Line

The number of examples of creative thinking is endless but they are all challenging. This is a good thing as the world continues to change and grow. This pushes us to learn new skills, to think differently, and to start asking the more important questions. “Why?” and “Why not?”

These are skills and abilities that can change the world and that anyone can adopt. So long as you have the patience to learn and develop yourself, you too can be a creative thinker!

More Tips to Boost Your Creativity

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Business Dictionary: Creative Thinking

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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