7 Steps to Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills
Updated July 21, 2022
Companies value employees with good creative thinking abilities. Thinking creatively encourages collaboration, results in new ideas and fosters increased productivity. Understanding how to improve your creative thinking skills increases the value you bring to your role, regardless of which industry you work in. In this article, we explore how creative thinking works and provide practical tips to boost your creative thinking skills.
What does creative thinking involve?
Creative thinking means being able to look at a problem or situation from a new perspective. Good creative thinking in the workplace often results in generating new ideas and being able to solve problems in unexpected ways. Many people associate creative thinking with artists, musicians and other creative professionals. However, anyone can improve their ability to think in creative ways. Thinking creatively is not limited to producing works of art. In fact, a new solution to a problem—or the realization that the problem does not even need a solution—is itself a valid product of the creative process.
How to develop creative thinking in 7 steps:
Here are seven steps to guide you in thinking creatively at work:
1. Identify problems
Typically, in the workplace, creative thinking is beneficial when trying to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle. It's important to begin the creative thinking process by clarifying the actual problem or the challenge that you're facing.
It might sound like it's straightforward to use creative thinking to clarify the problem you're trying to solve, but it's often not as easy as you think. Without purposefully identifying the problem, you risk missing something important that helps you better understand the challenge.
2. Gather knowledge
Having all the information available is a critical step in solving any problem. It's a good idea to find relevant data that prepares you properly before you think of new solutions. Without gathering all the information about a problem, it's possible to miss a crucial aspect that inspires an original idea. The knowledge gathering phase might include the people affected by the problem, the currently available tools, the existing processes, or the data and opinions of colleagues who also working on the problem.
3. Formulate questions
It's useful to plan a list of questions about a problem or issue before sitting down to come up with new ideas. A good list of questions can prove vital in stimulating creative thinking. Known as "starbursting," you can create an entire list of questions around keywords such as who, what, when, where, why and how.
4. List Possible Solutions
Using the questions you have planned, focus on gathering as many potential responses as possible per question. Even if you don't think they're the best solution, write them down anyway.
5. Experiment with ideas
Exploring new ideas is the crux of where creative thinking shines. Instead of relying on solutions that you already know about and have tested, experiment with fresh ways to solve the problem. The traditional, less creative way to think about problems is to find a single correct solution. This approach is called convergent thinking.
Exploring ideas is where divergent thinking comes into play. Divergent thinking means coming up with multiple possible solutions to a problem which includes alternative and unexpected solutions you haven't used before. Divergent thinking is more open-ended, and it depends less on logic as the only way to solve a problem.
Some techniques that promote idea experimentation include brainstorming and role-storming. Brainstorming is when two or more people who are trying to solve a problem gather informally and offer all the ideas they can imagine. "Role storming" is a variation of brainstorming. In this method, team members gather ideas by using spontaneity to propose solutions and assuming different roles.
6. Evaluate proposed solutions
Not all proposed solutions that emerge from creative thinking are good ones. It's important to take time to evaluate all the solutions you come up with when experimenting with ideas. Proper evaluation means looking at the solution from a neutral perspective and assessing whether it's viable in overcoming your challenge or solving your problem. It's also important at this stage to combine different ideas that might connect to form a viable solution to your issue.
You also need to evaluate proposed solutions in the context of any criteria that limit their feasibility. All companies have to work with different budgets, time frames, and other factors which can limit the practicality of moving forward with an idea.
7. Implement findings
Creative thinking doesn't end when you come up with new ideas. The final step of the process is to implement your findings. If you've proposed a fresh way of solving a problem, then plan how you're going to implement it in your job. Understand the resources you need for your solution to become realized, whether those resources are people or processes.
Practical tips for improving creative thinking
If you want some practical advice for improving your creative thinking skills, the following tips should help you out:
Practice generating ideas
It's a good practice to sit down regularly and try to come up with ideas about random topics if you want to inspire ongoing creativity. The essence of creative thinking is generating new or innovative ideas that you haven't thought of yet. The ability to generate many ideas about different topics stems from consistent practice.
If you want to practice generating ideas, think about hobbies you're interested in and try to come up with as many ideas as you can about that hobby. The key is to make idea generation a habit without judging those ideas. As you now know, evaluating ideas is an important step that comes later in the creative thinking process.
Move outside your comfort zone
One of the best ways to inspire creativity is to move outside your normative thinking comfort zone. Read a book or a blog about an industry that's different from the one you work in, or about a field of study that you find challenging. When you learn about new topics, your mind naturally opens and broadens, which inspires creative thinking.
Another great way to go outside your comfort zone of thinking is to draw or paint something from scratch. In the workplace, it's easy to become stuck in rigid ways of thinking and doing things. The great thing about drawing a picture is that it's an unstructured practice that takes your mind outside its normal comfort zone.
Go for a long walk
Some of the most successful creative thinkers in history, including Einstein, Beethoven, Darwin and Dickens attribute their brilliant ideas to long walks.
There's something about movement and fresh air that inspires unexpected insights. More intense exercises like boxing or swimming aren't as conducive to creative thinking. They require focus rather than opening up the mental space needed to let your mind wander. To get the most benefit from your walk, opt for a distraction-free outing without podcasts or music.
Use mind maps
While brainstorming is an excellent way to get as many ideas on paper as you can, mind maps link ideas together in surprising ways. With a mind map, you visually work out the relationships between different ideas by connecting them.
The basic technique of mind mapping is to write down a specific idea and link that idea to other concepts by drawing lines between those concepts. Mind mapping works on the premise that inspiration sometimes comes from thoughts that radiate from a central idea.
Learn the six thinking hats technique
The six thinking hats technique is a classic approach to problem-solving that gets you out of your habitual thinking patterns. The concept revolves around six different types of thinking, labelled as different hat colours:
White: all about the data and information available about a problem.
Red: considers the problem from an emotional and intuitive perspective.
Black: careful and cautious; it's about considering the risks and downsides to a solution.
Yellow: optimistic and focuses on the benefits of different ideas or solutions.
Green: about coming up with new ideas and unexpected solutions.
Blue: focuses on processing and organizing the other thinking types.
Try mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation means paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. By using an anchor point, such as your breath or the sounds in your environment, your mind naturally becomes clearer and calmer. When surface-level habitual thinking reduces, you discover what lies beneath. You might be surprised to unearth some truly creative gems when you take twenty minutes from your day to meditate.
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