6.1 Searching for “Aha!”

Learning Objectives

  1. Name some myths about creative thinking.
  2. Practice guidelines for creating ideas.
  3. Follow rules and directions to create effectively.
  4. Explain group creativity when it comes to effective brainstorming.

Creativity can be learned.

Creative thinking is the ability to look at things from a new perspective to come up with fresh solutions to problems. It is a deliberate process that allows you to think in ways that improve the likelihood of generating new ideas or thoughts.

Let’s start by addressing a couple of myths:

  • Creativity is an inherited skill. Creativity is not something people are born with but is a skill that is developed over time with consistent practice. It can be argued that people you think were “born” creative because their parents were creative, too, are creative simply because they have been practicing creative thinking since childhood, stimulated by their parents’ questions and discussions.
  • Creativity is free-form thinking. While you may want to free yourself from all preconceived notions, there is a recognizable structure to creative thinking. Rules and requirements do not limit creative thinking—they provide the scaffolding on which truly creative solution.

Creative thinking involves coming up with new or original ideas; it is the process of seeing the same things others see but seeing them differently. Creative thinking utilizes skills such as examining associations and relationships, flexibility of thought, elaboration and modification of ideas, imagery, and metaphorical thinking. Throughout the creative thinking process, you will stimulate your curiosity, come up with new approaches to things, and have fun.

Tips for Creative Thinking

  • Feed your curiosity. Read. Read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs—anything at any time. When online, follow links just to see where they will take you. Go to events or productions that you might not normally attend. Take advantage of guest lectures and other public presentations.
  • Gather information. Creative people make a habit of gathering information as they never know when they might put it to good use; creativity is often as much about rearranging known ideas as it is about creating a completely new concept. The more “known ideas” you have been exposed to, the more options you’ll have for combining them into new concepts.
  • Develop your flexibility by looking for a second right answer. Throughout school we have been conditioned to come up with the right answer; the reality is that there is often more than one “right” answer. Examine all the possibilities. Look at the items in Figure 6-2. Which is different from all the others?image
  •  Source: College Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2015. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

    If you chose C, you’re right; you can’t eat a board. Maybe you chose D; that’s right, too—clams are the only animal on the chart. B is right, as it’s the only item you can make oil from, and A can also be right; it’s the only red item. Each option can be right depending on your point of view.

    Life is full of multiple answers, and if we go along with only the most obvious answer, we would be in danger of losing the context for our creative ideas. The value of an idea can only be determined by comparing it with another. Multiple ideas will also help you to generate new approaches by combining elements from a variety of “right” answers. In fact, the greatest danger to creative thinking is to have only one idea. Always ask yourself, “What’s the other right answer?”

    • Combine old ideas in new ways. When King C. Gillette registered his patent for the safety razor, he built on the idea of disposable bottle caps, but his venture didn’t become profitable until he toyed with a watch spring and came up with the idea of how to manufacture inexpensive (therefore disposable) blades. Bottle caps and watch springs are far from men’s grooming materials, but Gillette’s genius was in combining those existing but unlikely ideas. Train yourself to think “out of the box.” Ask yourself questions like, “What is the most ridiculous solution I can come up with for this problem?” or “If I were transported by a time machine back to the 1930s, how would I solve this problem?” You may enjoy watching competitive design, cooking, or fashion shows (Top Chef, Chopped, Project Runway, etc.); they are great examples of combining old ideas to make new, functional ones.
    • Think metaphorically. Metaphors are useful to describe complex ideas, and are useful in making problems more familiar and in stimulating possible solutions. Observe how metaphors are used throughout communication and think about why those metaphors are effective. Have you ever noticed that the financial business uses water-based metaphors (cash flow, frozen assets, liquidity) and that meteorologists use war terms (fronts, wind force, storm surge)? What kinds of metaphors are used in your area of study?
    • Ask. A creative thinker always questions the way things are: Why are we doing things this way? What were the objectives of this process and the assumptions made when we developed the process? Are they still valid? What if we changed certain aspects? What if our circumstances changed? Would we need to change the process? How? Get in the habit of asking questions—lots of questions.
    • Don’t worry about fitting in. A study by Sharon Kim (2012) found that creative people tend to stand out, and have often become creative in response to social isolation. No longer worrying about what others think can be freeing.
    • Go for a walk. Walking, especially outside, can significantly stimulate your creativity. Oppezzo & Schwartz (2014) found that in three studies, 81-100% of the college students studied were more creative when walking than sitting, and in another of their studies, 100% came up with “at least one novel high-quality analogy,” but only 50% seated inside could do the same.

    There are many ways to stimulate and grow your creativity, but the most important takeaway is to practice. Some of these suggestions (reading more widely or walking every day) are simple enough and will have other benefits beyond improving your creativity. For now,  just pick a couple of the above suggestions to fold into your everyday life!

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