Creative Thinking

 Creative Thinking can lead to better learning

Three masks in different shades of brown with multicolored strips for hairCreative Thinking can improve the way you learn and can also lead to success in your career.

There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever be repeating the same patterns.                   — Edward de Bono

Creativity is inherently joyful, challenging, and absorbing. It introduces laughter into what would otherwise be tedium. It engages attention and imagination and, when skillfully facilitated, it enhances communication and group processes. The regular experience of practical creativity, we suggest, in and of itself, makes schooling more attractive to students. It induces more participation in their own education.
— Caine and Caine, Making Connections, p.105

The three faces or masks at the right seemed to represent creativity. Judging from the color of the three faces, we appear to have people who are different, possibly with varied interests and skills. But their similar styles make me think they are all creative.

Developing creative thinking skills and attitudes

Robert Sternberg, in his book, Successful Intelligence, discusses this topic. I adapted here, to apply mainly to college students and added some ideas from other sources

1. Find creative people for role models. Look for professors in a wide variety of academic fields who are described as unusually creative. Find students who seem most creative. Discuss ways they approach and solve problems.

2. Appreciate creativity wherever you find it.  Study creative art, music, writing, inventions, approaches to different subjects. What made these things creative? Would you have been able to come up with a different idea that would be just as good?

The world is but a canvas to our imaginations. — Henry David Thoreau

3. Learn about your own creativity. When are you most creative? Are you more creative at one time of day? Are you mainly creative in one area and not in other areas? For example you may be creative in writing, possibly even a poet, but not have creative solutions to problems in a way that would be appreciated in a business. Perhaps you are creative in art or with fashion. Perhaps, when people have problems in relationships, you can suggest creative solutions.

A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.     —Nikos Kazantzakis

4. Exercise your creative skills. Do something creative every day. Practice creativity in a variety of areas and see where you are most successful.

Imagination grows by exercise and, contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.         — W. Somerset Maugham

Creativity is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and, where appropriate, profits.            — Edward de Bono

5. Question your assumptions. Consider your assignment to write a paper. Don’t assume your professor wants a dull summary of the facts on your paper.

Might she welcome a different point of view? In American history, for example you are asked write a paper on the causes of the Civil War. Your textbook lists the causes. You could use these and provide a few examples for each.

But you might also choose to compare the causes on that list to the causes from the viewpoint of the south. Or perhaps the viewpoint of the south is not a single viewpoint. You might find viewpoints of plantation owners, slaves, small farmers, businessmen, and politicians to be quite different. You might need to work much harder, but you might also find viewpoints of women and children.

But, when you consider these ideas, check with your professor. You might also consider that the more interesting approach could take a lot more time for research.

6 . Be a risk-taker. This doesn’t mean risking your life or possibly injury.  You have an original idea but others might laugh at.  Fine. Take a risk. You’d like to share your opinion in class but you’re concerned that other students and maybe the professor will disagree. That’s OK. Share your idea anyway.

The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought, you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it.
—  Trevor Baylis

Sometimes creative ideas fail. This is especially true in creating inventions or when coming up with ideas to improve a business. It is often necessary to make a lot of mistakes. You may need to try a lot of ideas that don’t work, before you find one that works.

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.
— John Dewey

As a student, you are more likely to make mistakes in social relationships. What seems to you like a wonderful surprise may come as an unpleasant shock to your friend. You might take a friend place to go horseback riding and learn she refuses to get up on a horse. You might bring her a beautiful box of candy and she gives it back because she’s are on a diet, or perhaps she has allergies to the nuts inside. Does this mean it is best to always warn her or ask her opinion? No. Most people love a surprise. Go ahead and be creative.

The man with a new idea is a crank — until the idea succeeds.                                             — Mark Twain

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.   — Albert Einstein

7. Tolerate ambiguity. Take the time you need to think about an idea. Understand that there isn’t always one best idea. Be clear that solutions aren’t always right or wrong. There’s a lot of in-between.

When a student has almost the right topic for a paper, or almost the right solution to a difficult math problem, it is tempting to say go with it and accept the near miss. When a manager makes almost the right decision, he will probably stick with it. When a person looking for a new house sees almost the right house, or the person looking for a partner finds almost the right partner, it’s tempting to call it quits and end the search. Creative intelligence includes a tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to take all the time necessary to come up with good solutions and make good decisions.  — Robert Sternberg  p. 214

8. Recognize where your creativity is appreciated and where it is not.  Robert Sternberg’s example is from the movie, Dead Poets Society.  “A teacher who is clearly very creative is judged incompetent by the school in which he works and has to leave.” p. 219. With the emphasis today on teachers sticking with the curriculum and teaching for the tests, I can see there could be a serious problem for creative teachers. I was extremely lucky to find, in every school where I taught, that my creativity was welcomed. When I climbed up on my desk to drop a rock and a sheet of paper while teaching about Galileo, students were sure I’d be fired for standing on my desk. They knew they’d be punished for such an act.

For you, this means getting a feeling for each professors openness to creative ideas before submitting a paper from an extremely creative viewpoint. It’s great to think of those creative ideas, to write them in your journal or share them with your friends, but you also need to use logic. If this paper causes you to get a poor grade, then you probably shouldn’t write it that way.

How can Creative Thinking change the way you learn?

1. Creative Learners are curious.  They have questions about many aspects of their life. In classes, they begin asking deep questions about the subject and about what they are learning. How does anyone know this is true? What else might be true?  Their curiosity and questions lead to more interest in the subjects and to more active learning.

2. Creative Learners know what they want to learn and, therefore, take charge of their own education. While they might still work hard in class and make fairly good grades, they may spent more time and a far greater effort learning what they consider most important.  These INDEPENDENT LEARNERS, become LIFELONG LEARNERS, who have both the learning skills and the determination to continue to learn.

3. Creative Learners often begin college with a list of BIG QUESTIONS. These might be questions about the universe, about social issues, about themselves, or about other important ideas. As they search for answers, they develop a wide variety of thinking skills and they encounter many different points of view or opinions on these questions. They end up knowing themselves better.

4. Creative Learners love challenging problems both in and out of class. They believe they can find new solutions to problems. This attitude means that employers appreciate creative thinkers who will help their company look toward the future, invent new products, and find new uses for existing products. Creative thinkers are far more successful that students who made straight A’s in college.

5. Creative Learners look eagerly for connections between what they learn in one class and what they are learning in other classes. They look for connections between new ideas and the information and ideas they already had. They look for connections between what they are learning and the big questions they continue to ask.

The Process of Creative Thinking

1. Learn a lot about a lot of things. You are more likely to have a great creative idea if you understand the problem and know what has already been tried.

He who has imagination without learning has wings and no feet.
— Joseph Joubert

Creative novelty springs largely from the rearrangement of the existing knowledge, a rearrangement that is itself an addition to knowledge.
— J. Knell

2. Think carefully about the problem before looking for a solution.

3. Let the problem simmer in your unconscious for a while. You may be surprised what bubbles up to the surface.

I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time, often for a very long time, before writing them down.               — Ludwig van Beethoven

4. Brainstorm. Sometimes it is good to brainstorm by yourself. At other times it is better to join with a group and brainstorm together.  Brainstorming means that no response is rejected. A crazy-sounding totally impossible idea may spark a workable idea from someone else.

The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.  —  Linus Pauling

5. Trust your hunches.

A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.     — Author unknown

6.  Take time to evaluate or judge the ideas. Be Creatively Critical of the results of brainstorming. If an idea appear useless, try to add something to it or revise it to create a more effective idea. Brainstorming without being critical won’t take you very far. Combine ideas to create a really good idea. Something that seemed useless may, with just a little tweaking, provide a great solution. Something ridiculous may suddenly make sense. Don’t dismiss the crazy ideas too quickly.

Every new idea looks crazy at first.       —  Author unknown

7.  Network with many people with different interests and skills. According to Jonah Lehrer in his book, Inspire: How Creativity Works, p. 203 says that people whose networks were ” expansive and diverse” rather than having close friends like themselves are “three times more innovative.”

8. Take time to relax. Jonah Lehrer also says that our most creative thinking takes place while resting, daydreaming, taking a warm shower, or (my favorite) when remaining in bed for a time after you start to wake up. This is because when we are relaxed, alpha brainwaves may make new connections.

When we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be focused outward toward the details of the problem we are trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving a problem analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights.                                         —   Jonah Lehrer p. 3

But, is creativity really important?

When you finish college and get a job, you may not need much of the information and concepts you learned in your classes. Many employers are usually eager to hire creative people, people who are good problem-solvers, people who can imagine the future and envision how the company needs to prepare for change. Begin practicing your creative skills now.

It is no accident that the greatest geniuses share a profound irreverence toward conventional opinions. The courage to be different is a cornerstone of high intellect.                                      —Win Wenger,  The Einstein Factor  p. 13

I must end with an outstanding piece of advice from the book, A Whack on the Side of the Head.

Knowledge is the stuff from which new ideas are made. Nonetheless, knowledge alone won’t make a person creative. I think we’ve all know people who knew lots of stuff and nothing creative happened. Their knowledge just sat in their crania because they didn’t think about what they knew in any new ways. Thus, the real key to being creative lies in what you do with your knowledge. Creative thinking requires an attitude or outlook which allows you to search for ideas and manipulate your knowledge and experiences.           — Roger von Oeck, p. 6

Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.            —  Roger von Oeck, p. 7

You might want to read       Compare & Contrast Chart for Creative and Critical Thinking

if you haven’t read it, you might first read   Critical Thinking

You might also read      Judgment       This is an important step in Brainstorming.

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