19 Creative Thinking Skills (and How to Use Them!)

creative thinking methods and techniques

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In a fast-moving world, being able to find new perspectives and create innovation is an increasingly valuable skill . Creative thinkers are often at the forefront of driving change, solving problems, and developing new ideas. Not only that, but those who bring creative thinking to how they work are often happier, more productive, and resilient too!

So you might be asking yourself, how can I develop my creative thinking skills and think more creatively at work?  Whether you want to supercharge your interpersonal skills, advance your career or be happier and more satisfied in the work you do, it pays to learn to think more creatively.

For many people, creative thinking is the key that unlocks solutions, promotes diverse thinking, and leads to better relationships and job satisfaction. So how can you get started with creative thinking?  As passionate believers in the value of creative thinking, we’re here to help and truly think unleashing your creativity can be key to your personal development!

In this post we’ll define what creative thinking is, highlight the benefits, explore 19 key creative thinking skills and give you some examples of how to apply them in the workplace . Let’s dig in!

What is creative thinking?

Why is creative thinking important, what are the benefits of creative thinking.

How to improve your creative thinking skills? 

Creative thinking is the ability to approach a problem or challenge from a new perspective, alternative angle, or with an atypical mindset. This might mean thinking outside of the box, taking techniques from one discipline and applying them to another, or simply creating space for new ideas and alternative solutions to present themselves through dialogue, experimentation, or reflection.

Bear in mind that the number of different creative approaches is as vast as the number of creative thinkers – if an approach helps you see things differently and approaching a challenge creatively, follow that impulse.

While there are some proven methods and guidelines that can help you be a better creative thinker, remember that everyone can be creative and finding what works for you is what is important, not the terminology or specific framework.

One misapprehension about creative thinking is that you have to be skilled at more traditional creative skills like drawing or writing. This isn’t true. What’s important is that you are open to exploring alternative solutions while employing fresh techniques and creative approaches to what you’re working on. 

You don’t need to be a great artist or even work in a traditionally creative field – we believe everyone is capable of creative thinking and that it enriches your personal and professional lives when you learn to be more creative.

Another misconception about creative thinking is that it applies only to the ideation or technically creative parts of the process. All aspects of our lives and interactions with people and challenges can benefit from creative thinking – from the ability to see things differently.

At work, thinking creatively might mean finding better ways to communicate, improve your working practices, or developing and implementing fresh solutions too.

Creative thinking is important because it drives new ideas, encourages learning, and creates a safe space for experimentation and risk-taking.

As organizations and people grow, they often develop tried and tested ways of operating. While it’s important to have solid working practices and processes, unswerving dedication to the norm can lead to stagnation and a lack of innovation and growth. 

Creative thinking is important because it drives new ideas, encourages learning and creates a safe space for experimentation and risk-taking. Simply put, creativity and creative thinking are part of what helps businesses and individuals succeed and grow .

Whether your team or business thinks of itself as a creative one, you can’t afford to miss out on the benefits of creative thinking if you want to grow , deliver change, and help your team bring their best selves to work. 

Using creative thinking skills at work creates b enefits not only in the ways we solve problems but also in how we approach everything from communication to self-fulfillment, task management, and growth . Bringing a culture of creative thinking into a workshop or group is often the job of a talented facilitator but whatever your role, there are benefits to thinking more creatively. Let’s explore some of the benefits of thinking creatively at work and in your everyday life!

Build empathy

Find ways to move quickly and effectively

Discover new talents and promote learning

Boost your CV and employability 

Empathy and creative thinking go hand-in-hand. By practicing creative thinking skills and regularly looking for new ideas and points of view, you can actively become better at understanding your colleagues, customers, and even your family and friends. One of the major barriers to having productive and meaningful relationships is an unwillingness to see things from a perspective other than your own or failing to understand how another person is feeling. 

By developing this skill, you can engage more meaningfully and honestly with people, ideas, and perspectives in all aspects of life. What’s more, because of the benefits that creative thinking can bring, you’ll actively want to see things from new perspectives and be more empathic : something that’s fundamental to creating real change.

Bust assumptions 

Assumptions can be harmful in both our personal and professional lives. Whether it’s making assumptions about why someone is behaving the way they are in a workshop or what features will make your customers happiest, holding onto incorrect or inadequately formed assumptions can be problematic . It can create difficulty and tension in relationships and what’s more, it can lead to the development or introduction of solutions that are simply unfit for purpose.

Using creative thinking skills to challenge assumptions, build clarity, and see things from new perspectives can be transformative. If an assumption someone else makes feels incorrect, think about why and try to find out more. If someone challenges an assumption you hold, be open and listen.

Become a better problem solver

An example of not being a creative thinker is sticking to a tried and tested approach and sticking to the norm in every situation without considering whether trying something new might not lead to better results.

When looking to solve a problem or create innovative solutions, going outside of what you know and being open to new ideas is not only exciting, but it can create more impactful solutions too. You might even try using problem-solving techniques alongside some of the creative thinking skills below to find the absolute best solutions!

Some processes and working practices can be slow, especially in large organizations with many moving parts – but do they all have to be? Thinking creatively can help you find lean, actionable solutions that you can put into practice quickly and test ahead of bigger changes .

Experimentation and a willingness to take risks are vital to growth and change, and creative thinking helps create a climate conducive to finding and trying quick, effective solutions. 

Increase happiness and satisfaction

Finding fresh, appropriate solutions to problems can be incredibly satisfying and is a fast-track to finding happiness both in and out of work. Bringing your whole self to a situation and being enabled to think outside of the box is a great way to feel valued and engaged with what you are doing.

Feeling frustrated with how a situation or process at work is going? Try developing and employing your creative thinking skills alongside your colleagues to find a better, happier way to collaborate! Feel unfulfilled or that not all of your skills and interests are being utilized? Consider how you might creatively deploy the skills or talents that make you happy and scratch that itch.

As children, we are encouraged to see things differently and try new things as part of our learning and growing process. There’s no reason we shouldn’t do this as adults too! Trying new things and learning to think creatively can help you find new skills, talents, and things you didn’t even know you were good at.

Staying curious and following what interests you with an open mind is a prime example of what a small change in thinking can achieve. Remember that creative thinking is a gateway to learning and by actively developing your creative toolset, you can grow and discover more in all walks of life – a surefire path to personal development.

Get better at dealing with adversity

It’s easy to get frustrated when problems seem to come thick and fast and existing solutions or methods don’t work. Adversity is something all of us will face at some point in our personal and professional lives but there are ways you can become more able to handle problems when they arise .

A strong suite of creative thinking skills is an important aspect of how we can build resilience and be more flexible when adapting or creating change. By exploring alternative ways of thinking, you’ll be better prepared to face adversity more openly and find alternative ways to resolve challenges in whatever context they emerge.

Creative thinkers are valuable employees at organizations of any size. Whether it’s championing innovation, creating change in policy, or finding better ways to collaborate, people who can effectively solve problems and leverage their creative thinking skills are better positioned for success at work.

Consider how you might plug your skills gap and boost your CV by developing your creative skillset and you won’t just be more successful – you’ll be happier and more engaged at work too! 

Whatever your background or role, you are capable of thinking creatively and bringing creativity into your life.

What are creative thinking skills? 

Creative thinking skills are the methods or approaches you might use when trying to solve a problem differently and explore a fresh perspective. While some of these skills might come naturally to you, others might need a more considered, purposeful approach.

For example, you might be a natural visual thinker who is great at presenting and interpreting visual information but you might not be so good at freely experimenting or creating space for reflection. In this case, you might try some brainstorming exercises to loosen up your experimentation muscles or create scheduled time for reflection in your working routine.

While creative professions like artists, writers, or designers may see more obvious uses for creative thinking skills, all professions can benefit from developing and deploying creative thinking . If you find yourself having difficulty at work or in need of inspiration or motivation, finding space to build on your creative skillset is a way to not only move forward but have fun while doing so.

If you think you’re not creative or have no creative thinking skills, we’re here to tell you that whatever your background or role, you are capable of thinking creatively and bringing creativity into your life : you might just need a little push or to reframe how you think about creativity!

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Examples of creative thinking skills (and how to use them) 

Creative thinking skills come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from things like abstract thinking and storytelling to finding ways to radically plan projects or recognize organizational patterns .

In this section, we’ll explore each of the example creative skills below and talk about how you might use them in your personal and professional practice. We’ll also point out some things to watch out for where appropriate so you can make the most out of your new creative skills and avoid potential setbacks.

We’ll also include a method from the SessionLab library that will help you practice and explore each skill, whether alone or with others .

Feel free to read and explore the creative thinking skill which feels most interesting or applicable to you and come back and experiment with others in the future!  

Some example creative thinking skills include:


Open-mindedness, lateral thinking.

Deep and active listening

Challenging norms, lean organization, simplification, radical planning.

Data collection

Interdisciplinary thinking

Frameworks and rulesets, micro and macro thinking, visual thinking, abstract thinking, storytelling.

Note that this list is not exhaustive, and there are many more ways of thinking creatively – try to see these creative skills as a jumping-off point for seeing things differently and exploring creative thinking at work . 

Let’s get started!

A core creative skill is the ability to experiment and try new things, whether that’s in your personal practice, in a closed environment, or even in the field. It can be easy to fall short of implementing new ideas or following through with creative projects because critical judgment or overthinking gets in the way . A good experimenter is a self-starter who makes informed decisions to kickstart projects and test hypotheses. 

Think of a painter who throws paint at a canvas and introduces new materials without overthinking or being self-critical. While not everything they try will be perfect, that’s the point – not every experiment needs to be successful in order to teach you something useful. By experimenting, you can try things that might prove useful or will lead you towards new solutions and better ideas. Remember that the act of experimentation is generative and often fun so be sure to give it a try!

One thing to watch out for is being sure to effectively capture the results of your experiments and to continue developing and iterating on the results. Experimentation is a great place to start, but remember that it is part of a larger process. Without effective documentation, you might not trace what delivered the best results and be unable to reproduce the outcomes. Experimentation is a great example of why creative freedom should be paired with a strong process in order to be at its best. 

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

Four-Step Sketch is a great method for promoting experimentation. By following a process that enables quick brainstorming before development, you can help build an experimental mindset that also generates results.

Open-mindedness is a critical element of creativity and one of the best creative thinking skills you can try to build if you’re new to the practice. Being open-minded means being receptive to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and perspectives which are not your own. It means not closing down conversations or ideas prematurely and trying to actively explore what is presented to you.

Imagine that a colleague comes up with an idea that is so far out of the status quo it seems off-the-wall and bizarre. Being open-minded means actively engaging with what is presented and to refrain from forming judgments before first understanding where your colleague is coming from .

Your colleagues’ initial idea might not be perfect, but being open-minded and truly attempting to understand their perspective means you can create dialogue, foster creativity, and move forward as a team. 

Being open-minded doesn’t mean accepting every new idea and agreeing wholesale with every different opinion. While you should always try to be open and receptive to new ideas and other perspectives, you should also critically appraise and engage with them as part of a larger creative process. Don’t be so open-minded you have no strong opinions of your own!

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR)   #issue analysis   #empathy   #communication   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.

Open-mindedness is particularly useful when it comes to meaningfully communicating with others. Whether its developing the ability to walk in the shoes of someone else or building empathy and listening skills, Heard, Seen, Respected is a great method to try when learning to be more open-minded.

Lateral thinking is a prime example of how we can creatively solve real-world problems in a measurable and easy-to-understand manner. Deploying lateral thinking means using reasoning or non-traditional logic to find an indirect or out-of-the-box approach to solving a problem. 

A simple example might be a challenge like: we need to increase revenue. Traditional thinking might mean considering hiring new salespeople to try and get more direct sales. A lateral approach might mean engaging more with current customers to reduce churn, working with external partners to get new leads, working to get sponsorship, piloting an affiliate scheme or any number of new ways to solve the existing problem.

Broadly speaking, lateral thinking often means stepping back and considering solutions or approaches outside of the immediately obvious.

One potential danger with lateral thinking is spending time to create new solutions to problems that don’t need them. Not every problem needs to be solved laterally and the best solution might actually be the most straightforward. Be sure to tap into existing knowledge and appraise a problem before trying something radical to avoid wasted time or frustration!  

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Developing your lateral thinking skills comes more naturally to some than others. The Creativity Dice is a great method for getting out of linear thinking habits and moving into different ways of thinking.

Pattern recognition 

Pattern recognition is the ability to recognise existing or emerging patterns and make connections based on the patterns you have discerned . While pattern recognition goes back to our prehistoric roots, being able to spot patterns outside of the ordinary and consider what may not be immediately obvious is a vital creative thinking skill for today. 

Consider how meetings between some members of a team might often end in conflict. While it might first seem that these two people just can’t get along, it might actually be that certain emotional triggers are being tripped or the format of the conversation isn’t working. Looking beyond your initial impressions and from a new perspective might let you find a repeating pattern that isn’t immediately obvious.

When trying to spot patterns, try to be mindful of existing biases so you avoid bending what is happening to fit a pattern you might be expecting. Be sure to interpret all data fairly and honestly, even if you believe a pattern is already forming. 

Affinity Map   #idea generation   #gamestorming   Most of us are familiar with brainstorming—a method by which a group generates as many ideas around a topic as possible in a limited amount of time. Brainstorming works to get a high quantity of information on the table. But it begs the follow-up question of how to gather meaning from all the data. Using a simple Affinity Diagram technique can help us discover embedded patterns (and sometimes break old patterns) of thinking by sorting and clustering language-based information into relationships. It can also give us a sense of where most people’s thinking is focused

Pattern recognition is a skill that benefits from thoughtful practice. Try starting with a deliberate pattern-finding process like Affinity Map to build the ability to see patterns where they might not first be obvious.

While it might not seem like it at first, being a good listener is a creative thinking skill. It asks that a person not only try to understand what is being said but also to engage with the why and how of the conversation in order to reframe prior thinking and see things from a new perspective.

Deep listening or active listening is not only hearing the words that someone is saying but actively seeking to interpret their intent, understand their position, and create a positive space for further conversation. Not only does this create a deeper conversation for both parties, but this act of engagement and understanding leads to more creative and dynamic results too. 

Think of a workplace grievance that one person might have against another. Without actively listening and trying to understand the core issues from the perspective of everyone involved, you might not only fail to solve the issue but actually make staff feel less heard and valued too.

By employing this creative thinking skill in such a conversation you can see things more clearly and find a way to creatively satisfy the needs of everyone involved. 

Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Trying to be more present in conversations is a great place to begin building your deep listening and active listening skills . Want to supercharge the process as a group? Try a role-play activity like Active Listening to more thoughtfully see and reflect on how important this skill can be.

Not all established working practices are the best way of doing things. People who practice this creative thinking skill are likely to question the status quo in search of something new which can deliver meaningful change. While any challenge to the established order needs to be conducted respectfully and thoughtfully, thinking of how to go beyond the norm is how innovation occurs and where creative thinkers excel.

When trying to practice this skill, be prepared to question existing methods and frameworks and ask if there might be a better way outside of the limits of the current system. 

As with lateral thinking, it’s important to recognize that not everything is a problem that needs to be solved and so you may need to be selective in which norms should be challenged – otherwise, you may never make it out of the front door!

Additionally, challenging the established order often means questioning the work someone else has already done. While this is a necessary part of growth, it should always be done constructively and respectfully.  

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

Challenging norms without a considered approach can be ineffective and potentially frustrating. Taking the time to build shared understanding and push in the same direction with What, So What, Now What? is a great way to explore how your existing process is or isn’t working and challenge norms productively.

Creative thinking doesn’t mean being disorganized or chaotic just because you have an abundance of ideas. In order to facilitate creative thinking, it’s important to stay organized and approach the process with the right framework, mindset, and space. As a creative thinking skill, lean organization means considering what you absolutely need to do in order to make things happen, versus what you don’t.

Think of how a large, multi-discipline team might go about organizing themselves for a big project. While it’s vital everyone is aligned and kept up to date, a traditional system of scheduled meetings might not be the most productive. Lean organization means considering the needs of the team, the project and thinking creatively about what you need to stay organized, and keeping unnecessary admin to a minimum.

Thinking creatively about organization is something all leaders should practice but any project can benefit from thinking through the process by which it will be accomplished. 

MoSCoW   #define intentions   #create   #design   #action   #remote-friendly   MoSCoW is a method that allows the team to prioritize the different features that they will work on. Features are then categorized into “Must have”, “Should have”, “Could have”, or “Would like but won‘t get”. To be used at the beginning of a timeslot (for example during Sprint planning) and when planning is needed.

Lean organization often means being honest and realistic about what is absolutely necessary versus nice to have. MoSCoW is an effective agile framework for planning work and also reframing your approach to organizing time, tasks and more!

Simplifying, presenting or decoding any information is a vital skill when working with others. In a creative thinking context, simplification is the act of seeing what is important about a task or piece of data and stripping away the extraneous parts to see things more clearly.

Some problems can feel unassailable because of their complexity or scale – simplification allows you to reconsider a problem in simple terms and reframe it in a way that means you can approach it productively. 

An example of using this creative thinking skill at work might be when presenting the results of a project to the rest of your organization. People working on other teams and in different disciplines could become disengaged if exposed to too many complex moving parts or it might simply be a waste of time to discuss every detail.

By simplifying a project into more succinct terms, you not only can help your group connect with the material swiftly but also boil a project down to its most important elements . This is a great way to creatively re-energize a project and identify where you can make an impact immediately. 

6 Words   #ufmcs   #red teaming   This tool is designed to help critical thinkers focus on a core idea by writing a short phrase summarizing their thoughts into a set number of words that are clear, concise, and accurate. This idea is based on a complete short story written by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale, baby shoes – never worn.” Six Words forces people to synthesize their ideas in a succinct and meaningful way, cutting away fluff and distilling the idea to its bare essence.

One way of practicing simplification is by summarising or condensing thoughts, ideas of stories into a more concise, compressed form . 6 Words is a method for cutting away extraneous material from ideas that engages creative thinking and reframing approachably – great for groups!

Any major project requires some measure of planning in order to succeed, especially when working with others. But are there times where overplanning or traditional working processes feel too slow or frustrating for the project at hand? This is where these creative thinking skills come in handy! Radical planning is a way of approaching project planning from an alternative angle in order to generate fast, effective results.  

When taking this planning approach, you will often shuffle the order of the normal planning process in order to create alternative outcomes and cut out elements you may not need. For example, with the backcasting workshop activity, the approach is to think of desired outcomes up to twenty years in the future and work backward to figure out how we can make small steps today.

You might also try planning with a mindset of what you and your team can each achieve immediately and in a more experimental fashion with an activity like 15% solutions . 

By approaching planning with a creative thinking mindset, you can surface ideas and plans which may not have come up with a more traditional planning process. Another great benefit is to question the normal manner in which your team or organisation approaches planning and can help your team find a method that works best for you!

Backcasting   #define intentions   #create   #design   #action   Backcasting is a method for planning the actions necessary to reach desired future goals. This method is often applied in a workshop format with stakeholders participating. To be used when a future goal (even if it is vague) has been identified.

Collaborative thinking 

Effective collaboration requires us to bring many different skills together, but consciously considering how to be a more effective collaborator is worth mentioning separately. When a creative thinker approaches collaboration, they will try to think of how to use alternative approaches to make the collaborative process more effective while also helping everyone on the team contribute and be heard.

An example is when it comes to getting work done in meetings – if the current process isn’t enabling everyone to collaborate effectively, you might employ creative thinking to try finding an alternative format, consider working asynchronously, or timeboxing parts of your agenda.

The best collaborators also find ways to champion the work of others and create a safe space for everyone to contribute – it might not be enough to assume collaboration will be accomplished when you get people in a room.

Employing this creative thinking skill can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction, interpersonal relationships and group outcomes too! Try approaching your collaborative projects more mindfully and see how it changes things for you!

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.

Working together on a task as a team is an effective way of kickstarting collaborative thinking, especially if you approach the task mindfully . The Marshamllow Challenge with debriefing is a proven method for engaging teamwork and by adding reflection time afterward, your group can share and build on what they learned.

Collecting data might seem like a solely analytical skill, but it is another area where creative thinking can lead to productive, unexpected and transformative results. Approaching the data collection process creatively might mean trying new techniques or sources, or simply reconsidering the how and why of your data collection processes.  

Imagine you are running a survey to measure customer happiness. You might try asking traditional survey questions, but find that your response rate is low and furthermore, your approach might be invasive and actively decrease happiness too!

If you were to approach this problem creatively, you might find that using a simplified form, asking for feedback at a different point in the customer journey, or utilizing an alternative measurement scheme delivers the data you are looking for. In many cases, thinking about the questions you are asking from a new point of view is what unlocks a better data collection process.

The key to this creative thinking skill is to try looking at the data collection process from a new, preferably customer-centric perspective while also considering why and how you are collecting data. You will likely find that by asking for input from your customers more creatively, you create space for more creative responses too!

3 Question Mingle   #hyperisland   #team   #get-to-know   An activity to support a group to get to know each other through a set of questions that they create themselves. The activity gets participants moving around and meeting each other one-on-one. It’s useful in the early stages of team development and/or for groups to reconnect with each other after a period of time apart.

3 Question Mingle is a get to know you activity that does double duty in demonstrating the power of approaching data collection creatively. By creating their own questions, a group can really think about what they want to know, how they ask questions, and how the results differ. Be sure to give it a try!

Interpretation and analysis

Interpretation skills can be varied though in a creative thinking context it means being able to successfully analyze an idea, solution, dataset, or conversation and draw effective conclusions. Great interpreters are people with a desire to listen, understand, and dig deeper in order to make their interpretation fully realised.

One of the ways creative thinking can improve interpretation is in helping us challenge assumptions or initial readings of data in order to consider other possible interpretations and perspectives.

Say your product is having a problem with losing lots of new customers shortly after signing up. You do a survey and people say that they leave because the product isn’t useful to them. Your initial interpretation of that data might be that you’re not the right fit for these customers or that the product needs new features.

If you were to apply creative thinking to the interpretation of this data, you might conduct further research and see that the product is fine, but people didn’t find the right features for them and that your onboarding process needs to be improved.

The key here is interpreting the data from various perspectives and then correlating that with other sources to form an accurate and representative interpretation, rather than going with your initial assumption . By following this process, you might also find that the way you are collecting data is flawed (perhaps not asking the right questions) or that more research and data collection is needed.

So long as you are sure to have data points and analysis to back up your findings, it pays to explore alternative interpretations so you can avoid bias and find the most accurate takeaways . 

Fishbone diagram   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   Fishbone diagrams show the causes of a specific event.

Effective interpretation and analysis isn’t possible without a thorough exploration of the problem or topic at hand. Fishbone Diagram is a simple method for not only surfacing insights but framing them in a way that allows for proper and multi-perspective analysis.

Einstein is quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In this mold, sometimes the best ideas and solutions come from fields and disciplines outside of our own. By considering how someone with a different skillset to your own would solve a problem or deploy solutions, you can often find ideas and techniques you may never have considered. 

Consider being tasked with improving employee happiness. A social media manager with a background in illustration and events management would likely try a very different approach to a sales manager who is used to a culture of incentives and bonuses. If you were trying to develop a new product, think of how a developer would approach deciding on key features versus an academic or a customer success manager? 

The important thing here is to try and use the perspective, skill set , and approach of another field or discipline to first consider and then solve a problem more fully . Where possible, try and include people from other disciplines in the process and try to avoid making assumptions.

As with all creative thinking skills, being open-minded and sourcing the expertise and opinions of others where necessary is vital when creating true innovation.

Mash-Up Innovation   #hyperisland   #innovation   #idea generation   Mash-ups is a collaborative idea generation method in which participants come up with innovative concepts by combining different elements together. In a first step, participants brainstorm around different areas, such as technologies, human needs, and existing services. In a second step, they rapidly combine elements from those areas to create new, fun and innovative concepts. Mash-ups demonstrates how fast and easy it can be to come up with innovative ideas.

Interdisciplinary thinking isn’t just for radical academics. By combining ideas from disparate fields in a fast, fun manner, Mash-Up Innovation is great for building creative thinking skills and generating results in one fell swoop!

All creative thinking skills are about reframing things in a new way of finding alternative approaches. This can often mean abandoning an existing framework and thinking outside of the box. That said , another way of applying creative thinking is by bringing rulesets, constraints, or frameworks to your approach in order to trigger deeper creative work and tap into a problem-solving mindset . 

Consider a simple task like trying to generate more customers. With free reign, there are innumerable ways to accomplish this. But what happens if you create a rule like, we cannot spend any money, or, these must be driven by social media alone. In order to accomplish your goal under these conditions, you must think more creatively and deeply, deploying more concentrated problem-solving skills than if you could try any approach you wanted. 

Alternatively, you might approach a problem with a framework that forces you to think under specific circumstances or with a rigid set of steps. Six thinking hats is a great workshop activity that asks participants to frame and reframe a problem from six different angles. While it might first seem counterintuitive, the use of rules or frameworks can create fertile ground for creative thinking and lead to more realized solutions!

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.

Not all problems are created equal. Depending on how much it directly affects you, you might see a given problem as being more or less important than your colleagues, leading to a different response and approach to solving the problem. This creative thinking skill is all about being able to switch between seeing the bigger picture while also considering how something might manifest on a smaller scale.

Think of how frustrating it can be when an executive team makes sweeping changes that affect frontline staff in a way they might not have anticipated. Micro and macro thinking means seeing both problems and potential solutions from multiple perspectives and adjusting accordingly. 

Another key aspect of applying this approach is knowing the limits of your own knowledge and involving stakeholders from all levels of an organization to inform your ideation and problem-solving process.

If you’ve never worked in support and don’t regularly talk to your support team, you might not understand how a change to helpdesk software could impact your team and your clients – remember that a big part of any change in perspective is doing the research and talking to who will be affected ! 

Stakeholder Round Robin Brainstorm   #idea generation   #brainstorming   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   #online   A divergent process to generate ideas and understanding from different perspectives.

Learning to practice micro and macro thinking often starts with first listening to and understanding the needs and perspectives of others . Especially those who have varied positions in relation to the problem, solutions, or organization you are working with. Stakeholder Round Robin Brainstorm is an effective method of surfacing insights and perspectives quickly and productively.

Of all the creative thinking skills on this list, visual thinking might be one you are most familiar with. Visual thinking is a method of processing, learning, and presenting information and concepts with visual assets such as images.

Visual thinking is often associated with creative thinking because of the consumption and creation of images at its heart. Don’t let this make you think you have to be able to draw in order to be a visual thinker.

Applying this creative thinking skill means being able to interpret visual information, present concepts in an often simple visual manner, and communicate in a way that is more universally understood.  Drawing stick people is actively encouraged!

Visual approaches to problem-solving can help foster shared understanding and help people be more succinct or creative in their ideas. Remember: if an idea is too complex to be put into pictures, perhaps it needs further refinement .

Imagie-ination   #idea generation   #gamestorming   Images have the ability to spark insights and to create new associations and possible connections. That is why pictures help generate new ideas, which is exactly the point of this exercise.

While you might be able to jump straight into direct applications of visual thinking, it can help to try an exercise where you and a group explore using images simply and engagingly. Imagie-ination helps unlock the power of visual thinking as a team while also helping generate ideas too!

Abstraction or abstract thinking is the art of taking things out of their normal context and presenting them in a radical new light . While most creative thinking skills utilise abstraction in some form, it’s worth noting that actively trying to take an idea from one context and place it in another is a creative approach all on its own.

Think of Pablo Picasso’s cubist portraits – by taking something as common as a human face and bringing abstraction to his process, he created something radically different and innovative. You can create a similar effect by recontextualizing ideas, concepts, and problems and by looking at them from different, perhaps even conflicting points of view.

Abstract thinking is often built on engaging with absurdities, paradoxes, and unexpected connections . As such, it can often be fun, wild and surprising, and is a great way to generate creative ideas even in those who might be resistant to other forms of creative thinking. Lean into the weird!

Forced Analogy   #divergent thinking   #zoom   #virtual   #remote-friendly   People compare something (e.g. themselves, their company, their team) to an object.  

Forced Analogy is a quick, fun activity you can use to promote abstract thinking. Comparing one thing to another seemingly unrelated thing asks for a creative approach to context and metaphor and can really unlock a groups divergent thinking process.

Telling stories or narrativizing a problem can help us not only see things differently but understand where we share common ground with others. Everybody tells stories – whether that’s explaining our employment history, telling colleagues about what happened at the weekend, or when creating user personas and journeys. 

Leverage this inclination to help people not only realize they are creative thinkers by nature but to help them share something of themselves too!

As a creative thinking skill, storytelling is about applying our natural proclivity for stories into new situations or thinking about how to reappraise or present material narratively . Think of the basic storytelling concept like the idea that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end – how might we bring this thinking to a tough challenge, a new product, or when solving a customer complaint?

You might even use storytelling tropes like the hero’s journey when exploring ideas or company conflicts. Whichever way you go, remember that stories are a universal element of culture and you have a rich lineage to dip into if you need a new perspective. 

Telling Our Stories   #hyperisland   #team   #teambuilding   To work effectively together team members need to build relations, show trust, and be open with each other. This method supports those things through a process of structured storytelling. Team members answer questions related to their childhood, young adulthood, and now; then weave them into a story to share with the rest of their team.

Telling Stories in a collaborative space is one of the best ways you can approach creative thinking through narrative . By doing this activity as a team, you can help a group see the benefit of applying storytelling approaches outside of more traditional forms.

How many times have you had a tough problem that you can’t seem to solve so you get frustrated and leave your desk. Then, when you’re on a walk, standing in the supermarket, or falling asleep, a solution seems to arrive out of thin air? Often, you’ll find that creating space to reflect on a problem is an effective way to find a way forward.

The trick with making reflective space work as a larger part of your working practice is knowing when to take time to reflect, building space into your regular schedule, and finding techniques that allow things to surface effectively.

This might mean going for a walk with the intention to be present in noticing the world around you and gaining insights that can help your situation. It might also mean remembering to take time to rest or simply read and give your brain something good to chew on.

I notice, I wonder   #design   #observation   #empathy   #issue analysis   Learn through careful observation. Observation and intuition are critical design tools. This exercise helps you leverage both. Find clues about the context you’re designing for that may be hidden in plain sight.

In a creative thinking context, reflection often means giving an idea time to unfurl and to resist the temptation to force it – by creating space to observe and reflect with I notice, I wonder you might see new ways of thinking emerge naturally.

How to use creative thinking skills at work? 

At SessionLab, we’ve found many of the above creative thinking skills helpful when finding better ways to collaborate , handle workplace challenges or generate new ideas . Here are just a few small examples of things we’ve done that have benefited from thinking creatively as a team.

Using creative thinking to facilitate a site redesign

Using creative thinking to improve team communication, using creative thinking to improve collaboration.

Remember that creative thinking needn’t be explosive or radical to be useful – a simple shift in mindset or perspective can be all you need to create meaningful and impactful change.

When we began working on a site-wide redesign, we had to deploy a large number of creative thinking skills to make the process smooth and effective.

When first determining how to approach the project and scope the work, we reviewed how we had worked together on large projects in the past. While we saw there was room to improve, finding the best way to proceed and make the changes we needed was no easy task.

Challenging the entire process from start to finish with a creative thinking mindset and trying to stay open to alternative methods where possible was what unlocked the process for us. By reconsidering how we were running meetings, sharing feedback, and collaborating, we were able to identify where we were going wrong and then try alternative approaches more freely.

When it came to implementing solutions, we were also sure to  stay open to experimentation while challenging our core assumptions of what would work and wouldn’t. This really helped us refine the working process and tailor it to our particular team and goals.

Another example came with finding a new approach when work stalled on a specific page. For our features page, we began by following the standard approach we had developed – writing the copy and structuring the page first before then following with illustrations and images.

In this case, our existing approach got us to an impasse : it felt difficult for our designer to be creative and find the best way to translate ideas into images if the copy had already been defined and the structure felt too rigid. What we decided to do was to reverse the workflow completely and allow the designer to create design elements before we wrote the copy and implemented too rigid a structure.  

Throughout the project, creative thinking allowed us to challenge whether the existing way we did something was the right one and gave us scope to experiment and be open when finding solutions. Not only did this help us solve the immediate problems as they arose but they helped us come up with a great new design too! 

Creative thinking can come in extremely handy when it comes to communicating. If one form of communication or working process isn’t working, approaching the discussion with a creative thinking mindset can help resolve the immediate issue and create lasting change in how we converse and work together too. 

Like many virtual teams, we faced the challenge of some meetings feeling unproductive . The issues ranged from overrunning, crosstalk, not everyone feeling heard or able to contribute, or getting lost in ancillary discussions that were not productive or necessary. In an online setting, it can be hard to keep everyone on track and for things to run smoothly without accidentally talking over one another or causing frustration. 

When it came to crosstalk, we wanted to avoid the frustration of interruption and disruption but also wanted to ensure people did not feel like they couldn’t contribute . Using the finger rules technique in a remote setting allowed people to easily show when they wanted to speak and what they wanted to discuss without disrupting the flow of the meeting.

We also found that the reason some daily meetings felt unproductive was because the meetings were for the purpose of daily updates and there didn’t always feel like there was a lot to say, thus leading to frustration or unproductive time being spent in these meetings.

In this example, we moved to a weekly format while also ensuring that we continue daily check-ins on Slack. This approach meant that we cut down on unnecessary meetings while still ensuring everyone’s needs were met .

This method is an example of creatively approaching a communication problem by thinking outside of the box and being prepared to challenge core assumptions . While we all wanted to stay informed, it really helped to reconsider the methods for staying informed and whether our current approach was the best way to achieve what we needed. It was also useful to reassess how we approached meeting agendas and goal-setting – follow the link for more on that if you’re having difficulty with unproductive meetings!

Remember that creative thinking needn’t be explosive or radical to be useful – a simple shift in mindset or perspective can be all you need to create meaningful and impactful change .

Remember that looking to others and being inspired by how they did things can be as transformative as trying to reinvent the wheel!

A final example is how we approached collaborating on creating the new design. While all projects at SessionLab feature collaboration between multiple parties, in this case we wanted to create space for everyone on the team to contribute.

We found that when trying to collectively brainstorm in a live, remote session, it became difficult for everyone to contribute and reflect on what was being shared by other members of the team effectively .

Some people had been able to prepare less than others, other people were less aware of all the circumstances of the project, or others were less able to switch gears during their working day. This led to some contributions being missed, a messier working process, and a feeling of being rushed – all of which lead to less effective outcomes than we might have hoped for.

In this case, we thought of how asynchronous work , reflection time, and some small process changes might help solve the problems we were running into. We wanted to be able to respond to what was being shared more effectively while also creating space for everyone to contribute in a way that was most productive for them.

Starting the brainstorming session in personal MURAL boards asynchronously and on our own time meant everyone was able to ideate at the time that was best for them and without any distractions . By then encouraging review and reflection on other people’s boards ahead of the main session, we were able to properly take in ideas and let them develop without feeling hurried.

This approach reduced the amount of time we actively spent working together in a meeting while improving the quality of the work . It helped people engage with the process, reduced potential frustration, and also meant we were more able to respond fully to the suggestions of others. This was a great example of how thinking creatively and learning from others can help create better outcomes and a more streamlined process. 

It’s also worth noting that reflecting on our conversation with Anja Svetina Nabergoj regarding asynchronous learning and finding inspiration there was part of what helped this process along. Remember that looking to others and being inspired by how they did things can be as transformative as trying to reinvent the wheel!

Creative workshops and meetings made easy

creative thinking methods and techniques

Whether you find that creative thinking doesn’t come naturally, if your skills need some attention, or even if you just want to try new ways of working, it can be difficult to know where to begin .

Thinking about the creative thinking skills above and considering which you might be missing or could benefit from purposeful attention is a great place to start, though there are also some concrete ways you can approach the process and improve your creative thinking abilities in a pinch. Let’s see how! 

Be present and aware of how you feel

Create space for new ideas, look to others for inspiration, throw yourself into new things, encourage creative thinking in others.

All skills get better with practice and creative thinking is no exception. Whether it’s active listening, experimentation or any other creative thinking style, it’s okay to not get it right the first time . The very act of being open to new approaches and perspectives is itself a way to improve your creative thinking skill set. However you try to implement creative thinking, know that exploration, iteration, and practice are fundamental parts of the process.

Try starting small and practice your creative thinking skills in your interpersonal relationships and collaborative projects. Take note of how it goes and try building up to larger and larger implementations of your creative thinking approaches. 

A key part of cultivating or improving any new skill is to be fully present and aware when utilizing that skill. Consider how a sculptor needs to be aware of their materials, how they handle the material and place them on the board in order to be truly successful. Being present in the moment is important for any collaborative process, but is an especially vital aspect of creative thinking.

If you find yourself frustrated, excited, engaged, or stuck, make a mental note of how you are feeling and consider how you might do things differently. Staying present and actively engaging with how a situation makes you feel before responding is one of the most effective ways of cultivating and improving your creative thinking – be sure to give it a go! 

As with many aspects of creativity, it’s not always effective to force it. Good ideas and finding new approaches can take time and an important part of the creative thinking process is creating space not only for reflection but to rest and allow things to surface. This might mean building more quiet, mindful time into your routine, reading and finding new inspiration, or simply learning to take a break. 

While this can be difficult to get into the habit of, it does get easier with time. Try blocking out reflective time in your calendar or letting others know that you are taking the time in order to make it stick and avoid interruptions. Reflective space is important and useful, and by treating it as such, you can help ensure it happens and doesn’t get discarded or forgotten about.

One of the biggest barriers to thinking creatively is simply not being open to what is in front of you. Whether it’s rushing to use an existing solution without investigating alternatives, failing to listen or be present when something new is being presented, or sticking with your existing assumptions, a failure to stay open and reserve judgment can kill creative thinking.

Try to stay open and apply creative thinking without pressure or being overly critical in order to improve those skills and let more creative approaches surface in the future. 

One of the best ways to find new perspectives and alternative ways of thinking is by looking to others. Whether it’s finding inspiration from other creative thinkers via conversation, reading and researching new sources, or simply listening and observing, looking outside of yourself is one of the most effective ways you can jolt your creative thinking. 

Try finding sources outside of your normal circles, whatever the medium. It can be very easy to get into creative bubbles that might unwittingly exclude new forms of thinking. By broadening your social, creative and critical circles , you can be exposed to all kinds of potentially inspiring or creatively engaging ways of thinking and doing.

It’s hard to create space and an opportunity for new ways of thinking if you stick to the same routines and activities. You’ll often find that trying new things and exposing yourself to new hobbies, skills and approaches can be massively engaging and exciting too.

An important aspect of creative thinking is applying the learnings from one discipline or approach to another. If a developer were to throw themselves into learning how to dance, they might learn something they can apply to their role as a developer.

An open and honest desire to explore new experiences in and outside of your working life is a vital ingredient in the creative thinking process. Try saying yes to doing new things wherever you can find them – being alive to possibility and engaging in the world is a great way of supercharging your creativity! 

Creativity is even better when shared. Whether it’s crowdsourcing new ideas, iterating together, or helping others build their creative thinking skills, sharing the experience is often a useful and generative process for all involved.

Try bringing a group together to explore thinking creatively together or run a workshop on developing creative thinking skills in the workplace. Not only will it help your participants with their own creative discovery, but it will also help you develop your own creative skills. 

Over to you

As facilitators and advocates of the power of workshops, we’re passionate about how creative thinking can improve many aspects of a group’s personal and working lives. At its heart, creative thinking is an empathic, generative act, and by bringing those concepts to the fore, we believe everyone can see better outcomes when solving problems, generating ideas or communicating with others. 

We hope we’ve given you some great examples of creative thinking at work and how you might discover and nurture your own creative thinking skills . That said, this list is by no means exhaustive and there are many more ways you might try thinking creatively. Think of this post as a jumping-off point for further exploration and creative development!

Do you have any concepts or approaches you’ve used to become a better creative thinker? Did you find any of the creative thinking methods above particularly helpful? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

creative thinking methods and techniques

Very nice information. Thanks for posting such an informative blog. Creative thinking is an unconventional thinking that looks at an issue from different perspectives. Innovative thinking is a thinking that converts / commercializes a creative idea into practical application.

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The Ultimate List of Visual Creative Thinking Techniques for Your Next Great Idea

Updated on: 10 January 2023

Great ideas don’t just occur. In order to come up with some great new idea, you need to have the right knowledge and experience, and the ideal circumstance. However, there are techniques that you can use to boost your creative thinking skills.  

In this post, we’ll look into creative thinking techniques that will help accelerate the process. You can start right away with the editable templates provided. 

What is Creative Thinking? 

Let’s start with the creative thinking definition. 

Many people associate being creative with being able to paint, sing or write, but someone who is not good at any of these things could still be a creative thinker. 

How? Because creative thinking is the process of coming up with something new; looking at a problem from a new light and finding an innovative solution or a solution that hasn’t been thought of before. Or in other words, thinking outside the box. 

Although some people are more creative than others, creative thinking can be developed with practice. It’s a skill that is indispensable to everyone whether you are still learning or working.

Creative Process

Creative ideas don’t just pop in your head. If you need to come up with innovative ideas you need to set the circumstances for it to occur or give your brain the right material to work with. Let’s understand how creative thinking works. 

According to the book The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas , there are four stages to creative thinking. 

Preparation: This is where you define the problem you want to solve or the need. Then you start gathering as much knowledge about the subject as you can. 

Incubation: In this stage, you’ll be processing the information you have gathered. Instead of consciously trying to solve the problem, you’ll let your mind wander on its own, working its way through the subject. This will lead to more creativity. Basically, your unconscious mind will be at work here. 

Illumination: This is the “Eureka” moment that really occurs when you are not actively thinking of a creative solution. You could be literally having a shower when all of a sudden you have found the answer you’ve been looking for. 

Verification : Now it’s time to see if your idea will really work out or not. In this last stage of the creative thinking process, you need to test your idea. Use your critical thinking skills to fine-tune your idea and ready it to reach the audience.

Creative Thinking Techniques

We have listed below several creative thinking techniques that you can use to come up with creative ideas faster. The templates are instantly editable; you can even collaborate with others from your team on editing them during a brainstorming session. 

1. Affinity Diagrams 

After a brainstorming session, meeting or research you end up with a load of information that needs to be sorted through and categorized. This is where the affinity diagram comes. 

The affinity diagram helps you group your data based on themes. This makes it easier to detect patterns and connections among the information you have gathered, thus allowing you to come up with new ideas or solutions. 

Don’t know how to use the affinity diagram? We’ve got you covered with this complete guide to affinity diagrams .

Affinity Diagram Template

2. Brainstorming 

Brainstorming is one of the most popular methods of idea generation. You can go about this individually or with a group of people. 

In group brainstorming, you have the ability to collect many creative ideas from people with diverse skills and experience.

There are many brainstorming techniques out there, and some handy visual brainstorming techniques are listed in this post. And refer to this resource to learn about how to carry out a successful brainstorming session step-by-step .

3. Concept Map

The concept map is a teaching and learning techniques that help visualize the connections between concepts and ideas. It helps organize thoughts and discover new relationships, ideas or concepts. 

Check out our guide to concept maps to learn about how to use it in more detail.

Concept Map Template for Creative Thinking Techniques

4. Mind Map

The mind map starts with the key concept you are brainstorming around in the center. Related ideas are connected to the center with lines. 

It helps you capture your free flow of thoughts and organize them on a canvas in a way that will later allow you to discover new connections that will let you arrive at a possible solution. 

Because it connects both text and a visual layout, it allows for a more creative style of thinking.

Mind Map Template for Creative Thinking

5. Mood Board 

A mood board – like a collage – is a collection of images, fonts, icons colors, etc. that is representative of a particular theme or style. Mood boards are also known as inspiration boards and commonly used in design projects. 

Here’s how to use a mood board .

Mood Board Template

6. SCAMPER Technique 

SCAMPER is another successful creative thinking technique that is used to spark creativity during brainstorming. SCAMPER stands for seven thinking approaches,

Learn how to generate new ideas using the SCAMPER method here.

SCAMPER Technique Template

7. Six Thinking Hats 

Each hat in the six thinking hats method represents a different perspective. It is used during meetings or brainstorming sessions to allow team members to look at possible solutions from different perspectives or thinking directions. 

Each hat represents a different thinking angle, and during the session, each member will get to put it on in turn. 

White hat – facts and information 

Red hat – feelings, intuitions, emotions, and hunches 

Balck hats – judgment, legality, morality 

Yellow hat – optimism, benefits

Green hat – new ideas, opportunities 

Blue hat – conclusions, action plans, next steps 

Refer to this resource on six thinking hats to learn about how to use it in more detail.

Six Thinking Hats Diagram

8. Storyboards 

Storyboards are a way to visually organize ideas. It’s a common tool used in video planning. Say you are planning a TV advertisement, you can start with a storyboard to graphically organize the ideas in your head. As you lay them out on a storyboard, you’d be able to quickly mold the idea in your head.

Storyboard Template

9. SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In business planning, the SWOT analysis is applied in various situations; in competitor analysis, situation analysis, strategic planning, personal evaluation, etc. 

It can be used to identify effective innovative opportunities, mitigate threats using strengths, etc.

creative thinking methods and techniques

What More Creative Thinking Techniques Do You Know? 

Here, We’ve covered most visual creative thinking techniques. Go ahead and share with us your most favorite creative thinking technique as well. 

Join over thousands of organizations that use Creately to brainstorm, plan, analyze, and execute their projects successfully.

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The 7 Best Creative Thinking Methods

Creative Thinking Methods

“Creativity has this amazing power to give you renewed enthusiasm and energy—even in the most difficult circumstances.” – Warren Berger

“We need more creative ideas” is the most commonly used phrase used in brainstorming sessions. 

As per research , Creativity is one of the top 5 in-demand skills for 2022. As per Matt Adams, Portfolio Director, IDEO, the world needs creativity because problems aren’t getting simpler. 

Most of us believe that creativity is an inborn skill – there are creative people and non-creative people. This is a myth. Creativity is not an intrinsic trait. You can learn to be creative and you can develop creativity through practice.

So, What is Creativity?

“Creativity is the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.” – Britanica

Creativity is a mechanism to do things in different and new ways. If a thing, either physical or intangible, is new, useful, and inspiring, then we term it as Creative.

Creativity is an output or idea that is new and can lead to exponential growth for businesses. There are processes and methods that you can apply to produce a creative output. 

In this article, we will cover highly useful methods to extract creative outputs.

Before we start, we want to highlight a key aspect of creativity . To get the maximum out of any creative thinking method, you need to prepare your mind for creativity. Have an open mind to all ideas and do not shut down any idea at the start. Also, creativity methods lead to new perspectives, so don’t let your pre-existing beliefs block the flow of ideas. 

Once you have attained a creative mindset, you can use the following creative thinking methods to derive creative output. 

Top Creative Thinking Methods

Research on the topic.

As we discussed earlier, creativity is an output. Every output needs some input. One of the biggest inputs for creativity is your knowledge of the topic for which you are trying to solve a problem.

Before working and exploring creative ideas, you need to do research and educate yourself on that topic. Do thorough research on the topic, gain expertise, and then work on the problem. You will be equipped to inspect the problem through various lenses. 

Explore a high volume of ideas

To find a new idea, go beyond the first 2 to 3 ideas that pop into your mind. Stretch your mind to new territories and spaces. The first 2-3 ideas are more likely to be obvious ideas, and not highly creative. 

Set a target of at least 10 ideas for any problem to stretch your mind to explore new channels and perspective.

If you set a goal to find at least 10 or 20 ideas, then you will make your brain work and explore different ways to solve the problem. And end up exploring new perspectives and gaining unique ideas. 

Find Alternative Mediums to your problem space

One of the simplest forms of creativity is to take inspiration from solutions outside your space and use it in your space.

A regular or common practice in one industry or area can become a creative practice in your industry or area.

The most rudimentary example is how business leaders take inspiration from sports managers and coaches to motivate their teams and increase their productivity.

Similarly, you can explore alternative channels. If you are seeking a new B2B marketing idea, then explore B2C marketing ideas and then tweak them to your context. Or if you are seeking a growth strategy for a Fintech business, maybe you can explore growth strategies in other industries like e-commerce.  

Isolate Yourself Into Flow State

Isolation is a necessary component of Creativity and Flow State enhances it.

Flow state not only increases your productivity but also increases your creative thinking.

To solve a problem creatively, you need to hyper-focus on the problem and dedicate a lot of time to it. For this, you need to tap into the flow state and explore ideas.

“Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing Jazz.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

To tap into the flow state, set a focussed time of 60 – 90 mins. Make sure you turn off all the distractions for that duration and focus only on the problem you are solving.

Usually, it takes the first 15-20 mins of thinking of a single problem to reach a mental state where ideas and productivity keep flowing.

You may not achieve a creative output in the first flow state, tap into the flow state multiple times until you have a good amount of ideas that satisfy you.

Share and Collaborate

Isolation is critical to creativity, but even collaboration is important. 

With isolation, you improve your understanding of the problem and build multiple ideas. However, creativity needs further perspectives; it needs the fusion of multiple ideas from various folks. 

Collaboration post isolation is where the creative magic happens .

Once you have a set of ideas, schedule a meeting and collaborate with other members of the team.

It’s ideal if everyone from the team has isolated in the flow state and come up with a list of ideas. Now, collaborate and share each other’s ideas in the forum. You may notice that by combining the ideas of different individuals, you may end up with your killer creative idea. 

To make this work, give equal opportunity to everyone to express their ideas. Follow all the best practices to conduct a brainstorming session .

Leave with a Hook 

One of the practices that Hemingway used is to finish his writing session in the middle of a sentence. 

With this, his brain used to subconsciously think about the story and the book. 

Similarly, while working on creative solutions, Take a break in the middle of your work. You should leave with a hook. 

It helps in two ways – one, once you are back you directly jump into finding solutions and second even while away your mind keeps wandering into problems and sub-consciously working to find solutions. 

You can apply this during brainstorming and group meetings as well. Leave the room for a break by throwing a question, that question will keep wandering in the mind of every attendee during the break and it may be discussed casually within sub-groups. 

Switch Between Divergent and Convergent Thinking 

While finding creative solutions, you need to explore a number of solutions. You have to cover and think through multiple perspectives and channels briefly. 

However, you also need to deeply explore and contemplate each idea. Sometimes, an element of the idea can be part of the final idea. Diving deep into an idea can also lead you to new ideas. 

This process of covering the topic from a wide scope and then narrowing it down to a single solution is called divergent and convergent thinking . This will lead to a well-thought-out solution. 

Our greatest tool to solve problems and gain business growth is creativity. Creative solutions will help your business deliver higher value and make the world better. It will also keep you ahead in a highly competitive environment. 

Do share if you have any creative method that helped you a lot. 

About Idea Toasters

Idea Toasters is a platform where we share ideas and practices to boost innovation and creativity. Our goal is to build the science of innovation and creativity.

Avishek Kataria

Ex-entrepreneur and growth marketer. Avishek’s why is to work on products that evolve a certain process. Achieved significant growth for a SAAS product and e-commerce product. Currently, simplifying data analysis and database management at Hevo Data.

6 thoughts on “The 7 Best Creative Thinking Methods”

creative thinking methods and techniques

Very well written and very unique insights

Interesting thought process behind this!

Great Ideas. I am from design field and felt I lacked creativity. These methods are really helpful.

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Lesson 5: The Four Most Powerful Types of Creative Thinking

The 21st Century Creative Foundation Course

Considering I’m a creative coach, some people are surprised to learn I’m a little sceptical about creative thinking techniques.

For one thing, there’s a lot more to creativity than thinking. It’s possible to sit around having lots of creative thoughts, but without actually making anything of them. But if you start making something, creative ideas seem to emerge naturally out of the process. So if I had to choose, I’d say creative doing beats creative thinking .

And for another thing, a lot of ‘creative thinking techniques’ leave me cold. Brainstorming , lateral thinking and thinking outside the box have always felt a bit corporate and contrived to me. I’ve never really used them myself, and after working with hundreds of artists and creatives over the last years, I’ve come across plenty of other creative professionals who don’t use them. I don’t think you can reduce creative thinking to a set of techniques. And I don’t think the process is as conscious and deliberate as these approaches imply.

Having said that, here are four types of creative thinking that I use myself and which I know for a fact are used extensively by high-level creators. Only one of them (reframing) is under conscious control. Another (mind mapping) works via associative rather than rational thinking. And the other two require us to let go of our logical, analytical mind and open up to whatever inspiration visits us from the unconscious mind.

The text below introduces the four types of creative thinking, and the worksheet will show you how to apply the techniques to your own work.

1. Reframing

Man holding picture frame containing an image of the man holding a picture frame... ad infinitum

Image by stuartpilbrow

Reframing opens up creative possibilities by changing our interpretation of an event, situation, behaviour, person or object.

Think about a time when you changed your opinion of somebody. Maybe you saw them as ‘difficult’ or ‘unpleasant’ because of the way they behaved towards you; only to discover a reason for that behaviour that made you feel sympathetic towards them. So you ended up with an image of them as ‘struggling’ or ‘dealing with problems’ rather than bad.

Or how about a time when you were pleased to buy something at a very low price, only to be disappointed when it broke the first time you used it? In your mind, it went from being a ‘bargain’ to ‘cheap rubbish’.

Or what about a time when you experienced a big disappointment, only to discover an opportunity which emerged from it? As the old saying goes, ‘when one door closes, another opens’.

All of these are examples of reframes , since the essential nature of the person, object or event didn’t change — only your perception of them. When you exchanged an old frame for a new one, things looked very different.

Jokes depend on reframing for their humour. The punchline is the moment when one frame is substituted for another, wildly incongruous or inappropriate frame. For example, when Homer Simpson says “Maybe, just once, someone will call me ‘Sir’ without adding, ‘You’re making a scene'”, it’s funny because of Homer’s swift transition from respected gentleman (high status frame) to embarrassing troublemaker (low status frame).

I first came across reframing when I trained as a psychotherapist. As a therapist, I met lots of clients who were unhappy for good reasons, but I also discovered that many of them were making themselves even more miserable with the interpretations (frames) they put around their life events. Part of my job was to offer them new frames that fitted the facts just as well, but allowed them to feel better about themselves and find creative solutions to the problems they faced.

For example, a single mother feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of keeping down a job and taking good care of her children could cheer up considerably when I suggested that she wasn’t a ‘bad mother’ (negative frame) but ‘coping very well in difficult circumstances’ (positive frame).

Many outstanding creators make extensive use of reframing, finding new possibilities where others see obstacles. As advertising Creative Director Ernie Schenck puts it: “You see a wall, Houdini saw an opening.” ( The Houdini Solution )

What reframing does to your brain

In his excellent book Your Brain at Work , David Rock explains the powerful impact reframing — which he calls reappraisal — can have on your brain, quoting neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner:

Our emotional responses ultimately flow out of our appraisals of the world [i.e. frames], and if we can shift those appraisals, we shift our emotional responses. (Kevin Ochsner, quoted in Your Brain at Work by David Rock)

So reframing isn’t just an intellectual exercise – it changes the way we feel, which in turn changes our capacity for action. Which makes it a powerful creative tool for changing our own lives and influencing other people.

Creative frames of reference

Here are some frames to help you generate creative solutions. Next time you’re facing a creative challenge or are stuck on a problem, run through this list and ask yourself the questions. Once you’ve done this a few times, you should get into the habit of asking yourself these questions, and making creative use of reframing.

2. Mind mapping

Mind map drawn in different colours

Image by Philippe Boukobza

When you make notes or draft ideas in conventional linear form, using sentences or bullet points that follow on from each other in a sequence, it’s easy to get stuck because you are trying to do two things at once: (1) get the ideas down on paper and (2) arrange them into a logical sequence.

Mind mapping sidesteps this problem by allowing you to write ideas down in an associative, organic pattern, starting with a key concept in the centre of the page, and radiating out in all directions, using lines to connect related ideas. It’s easier to ‘splurge’ ideas onto the page without having to arrange them all neatly in sequence. And yet an order or pattern does emerge, in the lines connecting related ideas together in clusters.

Because it involves both words and a visual layout, it has been claimed that mind mapping engages both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, leading to a more holistic and imaginative style of thinking. A mind map can also aid learning by showing the relationships between different concepts and making them easier to memorize.

Visual approaches to generating and organising ideas have been used for centuries, and some pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are often cited as the inspiration for modern mind maps. Tony Buzan is the leading authority on mind mapping. Among his tips for getting the most out of the technique are:

For more tips on mind mapping, as well as books and software tools, visit Tony Buzan’s website .


The word insight has several different meanings, but in the context of creative thinking it means an idea that appears in the mind as if from nowhere, with no immediately preceding conscious thought or effort. It’s the proverbial ‘Aha!’ or ‘Eureka!’ moment, when an idea pops into your mind out of the blue.

There are many accounts of creative breakthroughs made through insight, from Archimedes in the bath tub onwards. All of them follow the same basic pattern:

The neuroscience of insight

Recent research by neuroscientists has validated the subjective descriptions given by creators. It has also thrown up some interesting discoveries.

Although it may look (and even feel) as though you are doing nothing in the moments before an insight emerges, brain scans have shown that your brain is actually working harder than when you are trying to reason through a problem with ‘hard’ thinking:

These sudden insights, they found, are the culmination of an intense and complex series of brain states that require more neural resources than methodical reasoning. People who solve problems through insight generate different patterns of brain waves than those who solve problems analytically. “Your brain is really working quite hard before this moment of insight,” says psychologist Mark Wheeler at the University of Pittsburgh. “There is a lot going on behind the scenes.” ( A Wandering Mind Heads Towards Insight by Robert Lee Hotz)

So if anyone accuses you of being idle next time they see you staring out the window or strolling in the park, point them to the research!

Neuroscience has also revealed that the right hemisphere of the brain — long associated with holistic thinking, as opposed to the more logical left hemisphere) — is strongly involved in the production of insights. Another finding is that you are more likely to have an insight when you feel happier than when you feel anxious. So maybe suffering for your art isn’t such a good idea after all!

According to David Rock, self-awareness is a key to unlock insight. It’s important to recognise when you get stuck on a problem and instead of trying to push through it by working harder, deliberately slow down, calm your mind and allow your thoughts to wander. Rock also points out that every insight comes with a burst of energy and enthusiasm that helps you put it into action.

How to have an insight

As well as being clear, practical and a charming relic of the classic age of advertising, Young’s book has the added virtue of being short and to the point (48 pages).

A word of warning: don’t let incubation become an excuse for laziness! Read my article on the difference between incubation and procrastination if you want to wipe out that particular excuse. 🙂

4. Creative flow

creative thinking methods and techniques

You know that feeling you get when you’re completely absorbed in your work and the outside world seems to melt away? When everything seems to fall into place, and whatever you’re working with — ideas, words, notes, colours or whatever — start to flow easily and naturally? When you feel both excited and calm, caught up in the sheer pleasure of creation?

I have some good news for you. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmahalyi has studied this state — which he calls creative flow — and concluded that it is very highly correlated with outstanding creative performance . In other words, it doesn’t just feel good — it’s a sign that you’re working at your best, producing high-quality work.

Csikszentmahalyi has described nine essential characteristics of flow:

Worksheet: Creative Thinking (PDF Format)

Worksheet: Creative Thinking (MS Word Format)

Podcast episodes

21st Century Creative logo

The following episodes of The 21st Century Creative Podcast touch on the themes of today’s lesson:

The Floatation Tank – a Short Cut to Your Superpower? with Nick Dunin

Other resources

Written by me, unless otherwise indicated

Creative Thinking

Roger von Oech’s blog

Creativethinking.net – Michael Michalko’s website, featuring lots of free tools and techniques.

Is Lateral Thinking Necessary for Creativity?

Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time?

Are You Trapped in Black-and-White Thinking? (Includes a cool optical illusion.)

Why Thinking Outside the Box Doesn’t Work

Spark Your Creativity By Thinking INSIDE the Box

Creative Constraints: How to Use Them and When to Lose Them

Your Brain at Work by David Rock. Chapter 8 covers the neuroscience of reframing (called ‘reappraisal’ in the book).

2. Mind Mapping

Tony Buzan’s website

What’s the Difference Between Incubation and Procrastination?

Why Thinking Is Overrated

A Wandering Mind Heads Towards Insight by Robert Lee Hotz

Your Brain at Work by David Rock. Chapter 6 covers the neuroscience of insight.

4. Creative Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Does Creativity Make You Happy?

Is Writing Fun? by Steven Pressfield

Tune in next week …

… when we’ll look at what you can do if you experience that most embarrassing of problems for a creative professional — a creative block.

About The 21st Century Creative

This lesson is part of The 21st Century Creative Foundation Course , an in-depth free course about how to succeed as a creative professional. If you landed on this page from elsewhere, you can get the whole course delivered to you for free by signing up here .

Mark McGuinness

The course is taught by Mark McGuinness – award-winning poet , creative coach , author of several books for creatives , and host of The 21st Century Creative podcast

Copyright © Mark McGuinness 2010-2019


5 Ways to Improve Your Creative Thinking


By Rafis Abazov

5 Ways to Improve Your Creative Thinking main image

Summer is the time for internships and summer jobs for many students, and it is also a great time to work on your creative thinking and innovation skills so you’ll be in good shape to get that dream job after graduation. 

Everyone says that modern companies – including those which are most popular to work for – highly value innovative thinking and creativity. The problem is, how can you be creative without failing, looking stupid or repeating what others have already suggested a hundred times?

For last few years I have been talking to various startups and have heard many interesting recipes for innovation. Here are six ways to improve your own creative thinking and innovation skills…

1. Create your own “Three Ifs”

Many good innovators take an existing object and ask clever questions to twist the very concept of it and make it new. Steve Jobs didn’t start with the idea of a smartphone. He just took an existing cell phone and asked a very simple question: how can we improve it to make it better – or the best?

Let’s be clear about this – there are no universal recipes for innovation, and each person should develop her or his own approach depending on specialty, interest, type of thinking, or even the type of team s/he is participating in.

That said, I usually suggest my students build creative thinking around three “ifs”:

(1) What would happen if I change it (the object/ system/ social relationship, etc)?  (2) What would I change or improve about this object if I wanted to use it in 10 years? (3) What would I do if I had a one-million-dollar investment to improve it?

These questions can become powerful tools that can help you to think differently. It is important to exercise these skills by repeatedly using the “three ifs” formula (or designing your own set of questions) about all sorts of things. And many new ideas will pop up.

For example, for several semesters I kept asking my students, let us take a bicycle, think about it and ask the “three if” questions, so we can come up with a new idea. Initially the students strongly resisted and were very skeptical. However, after several rounds of discussions and brainstorming they began to come up with many new creative ideas. We narrowed down those innovations into small course projects and my students’ teams won several cash awards to implement their creative ideas.

2. Practice dreaming

The greatest paradox is that creative thinking is not necessarily the product of IQ or enlightenment via the proverbial apple falling on your head. It is a matter of regularly training your imagination, practicing your powers of observation and dreaming, big or small. It sounds so simple, and yet in this era of information overload and highly charged urban life, this important element is often missing from our everyday lives.

All too often we stay focused on the main task at hand, devoting our mental powers to routine actions (including Twitter and SMS – well, I am sometimes guilty of this too), so that at the end of the day the most creative idea we can come up with is just to finally take a break in front of the TV or computer screen. Sound familiar? 

Whatever you’re doing – whether it’s work or leisure – practice spending time applying the “three ifs” formula to anything you see or imagine. This will help you get into the habit of making space in your mind for dreaming – essential for creative thinking and innovation.

3. Make time for cohesive creative thinking

Every textbook on creativity affirms to the importance of setting aside clearly defined time for creative thinking and innovation. For example, Google asks its teams to allocate at least 20% of their time to creative thinking or new projects.  But often, even if we show up ready to innovate, still something doesn’t work and fresh ideas fail to pop up like popcorn. There are two reasons for this stalemate. The first is that we don’t practice dreaming, and the second is we don’t practice focusing on cohesive ideas.

Therefore, the next rule of creative thinking is very simple: allocate time – it might be an hour per day or per week – in which to exercise creative thinking about something specific. A colleague told me that when he was a student many years ago he started musing about mobile phones – what they would be in 10 and 20 years’ time. Already at college his essays on this topic won much praise, and after college he got a cool job designing apps for phones to make them much smarter and attractive for “millennials”.

4. Learn to pitch your ideas (in an elevator)

There is simple truth in the fact that Steve Jobs of Apple was great at exploring and explaining innovations based on existing products – laptops, cell phones, music players. He didn’t invent those products, but he made them better and he was great at explaining why his version was superior to other competing goods.

On many occasions I hear from my students, “But I had that idea first” or “I proposed something like that just recently and nobody listened to me.” In this situation I always highlight the bottom line – probably you did have a wonderful idea, but you didn’t express yourself clearly and excitingly enough to grab people’s attention, or help others to grasp the nature of your innovation or project.

There is an old saying, “If you cannot express your idea in three sentences – you don’t have an idea!” One of the most important innovation skills is the ability to present a very short and clear description of a new idea (two to three sentences – like shouting through the closing door of an elevator) and to make a short presentation (two to three minutes – what is called an “elevator pitch”). Like any other skill, the ability to articulate in this way can only come through much practice.

5. Bounce ideas off others

Even a great innovator needs people around her or him to discuss – or “bounce” – new creative ideas and innovations. What do the major innovative ideas of our time have in common, from Microsoft (well, when it was young) to Google? All of them were created by teams of people who stayed together to conceive the idea, plan their innovative projects, take them to investors and the public, and most importantly jointly brainstorm those innovations within the team – bouncing ideas, questions and improvements until the product was perfected to become the next multi-billion dollar “eureka.”

Therefore, a final important asset to add to your innovation skillset, is the ability to be a valuable team player, capable of bouncing ideas to the next level. For some young people this is very natural, while for others it does not come so easily to be a team player. But it is never too late to train yourself in this mode of interacting.

This article was originally published in August 2015 . It was last updated in October 2022

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Rafis image

Dr Rafis Abazov is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he also manages a joint program with Earth Institute of Columbia University (New York, USA). He has written 10 books, including The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and has regularly contributed op-eds to The New York Times. Mr Abazov enjoys collecting rare books on British exploration of Central Asia and reading travelogues on Central Asia and the Middle East by Eugene Schuyler, Vladimir Bartold and Lord George Curzon. He has also authored photo exhibitions about his trips to Central Asian republics, Turkey and Afghanistan. 

Contact info: Office 1400 Rectorat, 71 Al Farabi Ave., Al Farabi KazNU, Almaty, 050040, Kazakhstan

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creative thinking methods and techniques

creative thinking methods and techniques

Creative thinking techniques: Stimulate the mind to be productive

It is undeniable that in a labor market constantly more funneled and competitive, to stand out it’s no longer enough for you to be just professionally competent.

Companies seek out several differentials when hiring, especially for high-ranking positions such as board and management, and one of the most sought after differentials is creativity.

But what does it mean to be creative?

There is an erroneous tendency of people to associate unique creativity exclusively with intelligence, like inspirations that appear almost like an epiphany.

It is true that many of humanity’s great ideas have come at times like this, but you can be sure that the people who had gifted minds also had trained minds, prepared for the formation of insights. And how do we qualify the mind and prepare it to receive great ideas?

Experts say that with the right creative thinking techniques it is entirely possible to increase the inventiveness of the human mind, forcing your brain to leave its comfort zone and generate thoughts in different ways and patterns.

Do you want to be an innovative minded professional and be more productive and dynamic?

Check out a selection of six of the most functional and used creative thinking techniques in the world, which have helped many people and will certainly help you too.

See also:  Executive Coaching is one of the most efficient methods for developing a high-performance business. Find out what it is and assess whether your business needs a coaching course.

Top 6 of the best and most practical creative thinking techniques

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creative thinking methods and techniques

Sophie Roberts

8 Creative Thinking Techniques and The Tools To Use

17th Feb 2022 Content Marketing Blog 13 minutes to read

Beginning your creative content writing work with full gusto only to find yourself stuck after the first sentence is infuriating, but what’s worse is staring at a blank page for what seems like an eternity, willing good content ideas to appear from somewhere.

Even if you have a designated topic, it can often be seemingly impossible to think of anything worthwhile to say about it.

Sadly, much to everyone’s disappointment, your work isn’t going to write itself. Creating successful creative content is hard work

For people who create content every day, it can be difficult to constantly come up with new ideas. As an SEO, digital PR and content marketing agency , we at Koozai understand this too. Luckily, if you’ve hit that creative wall, there are several techniques you can execute to get those creative juices flowing again.

Below are eight of the Koozai team’s favourite creative problem solving techniques. These don’t just apply to content creation either, they can be used in all aspects of life.

1.    Mind Mapping/Brainstorming

One of the timeless classics is mind mapping or brainstorming, which is the little black dress of idea generation; it never goes out of fashion. It almost feels wrong to walk into an agency and not see some form of mind map on a whiteboard somewhere.

The key to mind mapping is to take note of every idea that comes up. Don’t neglect anything, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Save the critical selection process for later. Generate as many ideas as possible; the more you jot down, the bigger chance of finding that golden ticket idea.

The end result will be much easier to visualise, compared to a static list.

When it comes to a brainstorm – the more brains, the more ideas! But it can be hard to manage larger groups of people without going off-piste and wasting time. This is where the Charette Procedure comes into play as a super-useful way to manage more brains. This approach works by organising your attendees into smaller groups, and then assigning a topic to each of those groups. You can then switch the topics and collate all the ideas at the end. This approach can also help shy members of the group pitch in, as they’re not in a room with 20 (or more) other people.

2.    The Checklist

Young children are amazingly creative. Their curiosity, imagination and thirst for knowledge seem boundless. They ask questions about everything because practically everything is new to them. If you’ve ever played the ‘Why?’ game with a kid, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about*. It’s infuriating, yet surprisingly enlightening.

As we get older, we tend to stop asking so many questions. We accept a lot more, because it’s all been explained to us before. Perhaps it’s because of this, that adults are stereotypically perceived as having very little imagination.

Maybe if we asked more questions, our content might be a little bit more imaginative. This is where the checklist technique can help. This is essentially a list of questions that you should ask yourself before beginning your work.

Alex Osborn, who is often coined as the father of brainstorming, established around 75 creative questions to help encourage ideas in his fantastic book, Applied Imagination . It’s well worth a read if you can get hold of it, but to give you a head start, there are six universal questions that can be asked:

Ask yourself these questions (in some form) every time you create content, and chances are you’ll come up with some pretty interesting answers. At the very least it will give you more in-depth information about your initial idea, before establishing if it’s worth using in your content strategy.

This is a simple but effective method to use if you get stuck for ideas and if you are struggling to remember the questions, just repeat the original concept from Rudyard Kipling’s – The Elephant Child:

“I Keep six honest serving-men:

(They taught me all I knew)

Their names are What and Where and When

And How and Why and Who”.

3.    Six Thinking Hats

(Disclaimer: This is a technique that could prove potentially confusing to all the SEOs out there, as a few may be a bit weary at the prospect of wearing a black hat)

Developed by Edward de Bono in the early 80s, this popular technique is now used by businesses all over the world. They involve putting on a selection of metaphorical hats when it comes to making a decision. Each hat represents a different direction of thinking.

Space Dog

This method can be used in a group or on your own, and you may find yourself ‘wearing’ more than one hat at once (Of course if you’re really bored you could always physically make the hats for instant entertainment!). You can use the hats to take the ego out of the equation. They let you think and decide on topics in a rational yet creative style.

4.    Lateral Thinking

Another term coined by Dr. de Bono , involves looking at your situation in a different way. The simplest answer is not always right. We solve most problems in a linear fashion, i.e. if something happens it must have been… because of….

We take a step-by-step approach to finding our answers. De Bono encouraged others to look at their situation differently, to step sideways for a second if you will. This allows people to re-examine their predicament from a much more creative point of view.

Say for example you have a client who sells tractors. If you were thinking in a linear fashion, you may feel the need to create content about how great tractors are because you need to sell tractors. Thinking about things laterally though opens up a world of possibilities. Try looking at the bigger picture.

Tractors are a key component of farming, farming produces food and resources. Farms also house animals. A popular children’s rhyme about farm animals is Old McDonald, you may wonder how that rhyme came to be. Why not create creative content around the origin of that rhyme?

That’s just a (very) basic example, but you can clearly see how lateral thinking can be used to help inspire you.

5.    Random Word Generation

I love this technique. Simply pick two random words and try and tie your content to it in the most imaginative way possible. Simple as that.

The real fun part is how you choose to come up with the words. You could use an online generator ; you could flick through a dictionary; or you could write words on a bunch of plastic balls, throw them into the air, and then choose the words on the first two balls you catch. Have fun.

6.    Word Association

Similar to random word association, this method is a little more on the creative side of the spectrum. However, it does allow you to uncover new connections and insights that you wouldn’t normally think of.

Get started by choosing a word that’s associated with your business. Next, think of as many words associated with the initial word and see if you can make a connection between them that fits in with what your business offers.

It can sometimes be a little tricky to make the connection between the words you’ve selected, but after a few attempts, the ideas should start to flow.

So for example you might have made the connection between technology, to hardware, to Apple (brand), to fruit. These associated words can be the inspiration for potential ideas, so take the time to mind map ideas based on such associated words.

You may reject a high number of ideas with this method, although allowing the brain to think less logically can in contrast produce great results.

7.    Picture Association

If you’re truly stuck for ideas, perform an image search on your topic of choice, pick a random photo. Work backwards from the picture, developing a story around how the photo was taken.

As the old adage states: “A picture is worth a thousand words”, so why not use images to your advantage in order to come up with your content ideas?

This is another simple yet effective method that allows you to think more visually and creatively, compared to writing lists. Think about what the images convey and see if you can work these ideas into your content.

For example, if you see a picture of a dog looking up at the night sky, ask yourself what it could be thinking. Is it a stargazing dog? Does that dog secretly long to be an astronaut? Perhaps a story about a space dog would be awesome! In fact, a space dog would make a great mascot for any business so we could look at the best business mascots. So on and so forth.

Space Dog

It might sound different from what you’ve tried before, but it could be the winning ticket to finding that killer content idea.

8.    Change Perspective

This can often be hard to do but try putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Sometimes you can get too attached to your own work, I know I always do it. You may be too close to notice that there are faults visible from afar.

Share your ideas with others and get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work. Encourage constructive criticism, you don’t have to take it all on board, but it may offer up some seriously beneficial observations.

As the world of work changed considerably when Covid19 hit we all had to find additional ways of coming up with creative content ideas and so we’ve popped in a few bonus extras from the team

Get up and go out.

People underestimate the value of being bored. If you work around screens all day it can often prove both relaxing and rewarding to just get up and walk about for a bit. Let your mind wander instead of focussing on a task so hard it hurts.

Take a walk around your local green space, indulge yourself in your own personal contemplation montage as you skim rocks across a pond. Let the miracle of nature, and that brief moment of what is hopefully peace and quiet, inspire and energise you.

Similarly, many believe that the practice of meditation, clearing their mind of all thoughts and allowing themselves to be at peace, is a fantastic method to help spur creativity. Although I’ve never personally tried it, I can see how people might find it rewarding.

Reframing works by changing an interpretation in order to see something in a different way or ‘frame’. Whether it’s a behaviour, object, situation, event or anything else you want to focus on, use the below questions to determine new interpretations:

Key Dates, Events and Seasonality

List all of the key dates and events throughout the year specific to your industry that are worth creating content around. You may want to start adding these to a calendar, so you can see them at a glance.

Come up with a second list of brainstorming ideas around any products or services that you could push at different times of the year to reflect trends in seasonality.

Once you’re done, it’s worth seeing if you can combine any of the key dates and events with seasonality trends to form the basis of your content ideas.

Creative Content Problems and Solutions

Instead of thinking of new ideas from scratch, use your most valuable business asset to your advantage – your customers.

How do you achieve creative content ideas with the help of your customers? Simple – all you need to do is ask or keep a record of all the problems/questions they’ve had previously regarding your products and services. You can even brainstorm some of these from past experiences or by putting yourself in the customers’ shoes and looking at the potential issues from their perspective.

Once you’re done, aim to offer solutions to each individual problem within the content that you create. One example of this method for a technology company could be as follows:

Problem: Customers don’t know if the company’s software works on their device

Solution: Create an Infographic or blog post that details which software is compatible with which device

Idee Konzept7. The 6-5-3 Method

This concept is built around having six people in a group spending five minutes to come up with three ideas on a piece of paper. However, this can be altered, depending on the number of people in your team and the time you wish to dedicate to your idea creation.

After the time is up, the paper is passed to the person on your right and the process is repeated again in the designated time until the first piece of paper you wrote on comes back to you.

Having to think creatively under pressure is an excellent way to detail all of the initial ideas that come to you, no matter how far-fetched and imaginative they seem. It’s also a great one to do if your team are remote workers – you don’t all need to be in the same room, you can use virtual post-it notes or Slack to ‘pass’ the piece of paper to one another.

When you end up with the same piece of paper, take a look at everyone’s ideas collectively and select the best ones to run with.

Let’s Get Tooled Up

Remember that when it comes to conjuring ideas, you’re limited only by your imagination. Don’t hold back either, even the worst of ideas may have some use. The more ideas you generate, the bigger your chances of finding the right solution.

If your idea pool is somehow still running dry after trying all of these techniques, then there are also plenty of online tools to help inspire you.

Übersuggest shows you the most popular keywords related to your search query, providing fantastic inspiration for topics to cover.

Google Trends will show you up-to-date information on what people are searching for, and for an awesome visualisation of what the world is searching for, check this out .

Portent’s Content Idea Generator will generate random titles around your content in order to inspire you. It can generate some pretty out-there ideas as well:

Portent Content Generator

Content Strategy Generator from SEO Gadget is a really invaluable tool to have in your arsenal, as it gives you tons of information related to your relevant keywords.

With these tools, and the above techniques, you should be unstoppable when it comes to coming up with ideas.

If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, and you’re struggling to end your article, you could always bow out Sopranos style and just finish the content mid…

…only kidding.

Do you use a particular technique to generate content ideas? Are there any of the ideas above that you particularly favour, or any that you hadn’t heard of before? Let me know your thoughts in comments below.

*The Why Game: Begin by asking why something is the way it is, then proceeding to further ask “Why?” after every answer your colleague gives. “Because it is!” is not an acceptable answer, no matter how loud it is screamed at you.

If you need help with your own content ideation, speak to Koozai today to see how we can help, and make sure to check out our free whitepaper or our Content Marketing Training Course

Image Credits:

Thinking Women from Bigstock Portent Content Idea Generator from Portent Six Hats by Koozai Space Dog by Koozai

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creative thinking methods and techniques

As Managing Director, Sophie ensures a smooth-running ship at Koozai HQ and oversees digital marketing strategy across all our clients. A seasoned marketer with over 28 years’ experience, Sophie has delivered hundreds of effective campaigns and marketing solutions for leading brands including Golden Wonder, Airfix & Humbrol, and Victorinox Swiss Army Knives. A big foodie thanks to her background in the hospitality industry, and a self-confessed geek, Sophie treats every day like a school day. Sophie is business driven and solution focused. She loves to learn and prides herself on being able to make digital simple. Providing digital solutions to your business issues is what motivates her.


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Arena Animation 4th August 2017

Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for more tools for creativity.

Reply to this comment

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Riannah 3rd March 2016

I loved this post. I especially love the idea of the 6 thinking hats. When coming up with content I try to brainstorm using various techniques to map out my ideas.

creative thinking methods and techniques

Harry Gardiner 2nd August 2013

Thanks Maddie, glad you enjoyed the post.

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Maddie Rose 31st July 2013

Great ideas Harry, found this very useful so thanks!

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Chloe Williamson 30th July 2013

Some really great ideas here, I’ll definitely consider using them in the future! The six hats technique reminds me a lot of the Charette Procedure, it’s well worth looking into if you haven’t already.

creative thinking methods and techniques

Harry Gardiner 31st July 2013

Hey Chloe, Thanks I’m glad you like the ideas, they really do come in handy. I hadn’t heard of the Charette Procedure until now, but from what I can gather from some quick research it’s essentially a huge brainstorming session with loads of people organised into groups? It sounds like a really interesting way to organise large scale discussions, and generate loads of ideas, thanks for the tip.

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Stephen Kenwright 19th July 2013

I like this a lot Harry, really useful. I tend to literally just sit and hammer out some ideas, and then do some word association, so I’m always willing to try more techniques.

My favourite is to think of a problem the product I’m working with might solve, and then search Twitter. Often people use it to vent frustration with content they just can’t find.

Harry Gardiner 22nd July 2013

Thanks Stephen, I hope these help. Twitter is an invaluable tool when it comes to idea generation. It’s great for gaging public opinion and finding random suggestions for content.

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Thad James 18th July 2013

These are great ways to awaken the creative processes! Mind mapping is very powerful and best used when all electronic distractions are turned off.

I often get inspiration from the children I entertain. Their questions are wonderful and imaginative.

Thanks for giving us more tools for creativity.

Harry Gardiner 18th July 2013

Hi Thad, That’s a great idea about turning devices off when mind mapping. Relying solely on what your brain can bring to the table is bound to generate some really interesting ideas.

You must have some enthralling stories about the random questions that children ask. Glad you liked the article.

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Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing 16th July 2013

I’m a big fan of “get up and go out.” Unplugging from your desk for a few minutes can really help recharge your batteries in hopes of finding new inspiration for content and other marketing ideas. In fact, some of our best blog post ideas come from casual conversations held around the water cooler.

It’s so true, just letting your mind wander for a moment can generate some wonderful ideas. Many of these techniques work incredibly well together, for example getting up and going out whilst also discussing topics with others, or changing your perspective, can bring about fantastic ideas as well.

What do you think?

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Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success

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Financial aid available

About this Course

In today’s ever-growing and changing world, being able to think creatively and innovatively are essential skills. It can sometimes be challenging to step back and reflect in an environment which is fast paced or when you are required to assimilate large amounts of information. Making sense of or communicating new ideas in an innovative and engaging way, approaching problems from fresh angles, and producing novel solutions are all traits which are highly sought after by employers.

This course will equip you with a ‘tool-box’, introducing you to a selection of behaviours and techniques that will augment your innate creativity. Some of the tools are suited to use on your own and others work well for a group, enabling you to leverage the power of several minds. You can pick and choose which of these tools or techniques suit your needs and interests, focusing on some or all of the selected approaches and in the order that fits best for you. The practical approach of this course enables you to acquire an essential skill-set for generating ideas, with plenty of: - Fun e-tivities and exercises; - Practical lectures and tips; - Video representations of the techniques in action. By the end of this course you should be able to: - Pick a type of brainstorming you think will be useful to apply to a challenge - Use alphabet brainstorming in tackling a challenge - Use grid brainstorming in tackling a challenge - Use a morphological chart to synthesise a solution to a challenge - Use the TRIZ contradiction matrix to identify recommended inventive principles - Apply SCAMPER to a range of challenges The greatest innovators aren’t necessarily the people who have the most original idea. Often, they are people- or teams- that have harnessed their creativity to develop a new perspective or more effective way of communicating an idea. You can train your imagination to seize opportunities, break away from routine and habit, and tap into your natural creativity. Join this course and a community of practitioners in CREATIVITY!

Could your company benefit from training employees on in-demand skills?

What you will learn

Understand what creative thinking techniques are

Comprehend their importance in tackling global challenges as well as in everyday problem-solving scenarios

Select and apply the appropriate technique based on the opportunity to seize or the problem to tackle

Skills you will gain


Peter Childs


Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a world top ten university with an international reputation for excellence in science, engineering, medicine and business. located in the heart of London. Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

Imperial students benefit from a world-leading, inclusive educational experience, rooted in the College’s world-leading research. Our online courses are designed to promote interactivity, learning and the development of core skills, through the use of cutting-edge digital technology.

See how employees at top companies are mastering in-demand skills

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course

Introduction to the principles of creativity.

In the first week, we focus on the basic principles of creativity and highlight its importance in tackling global challenges. Creativity is explored and applied at two different levels, lower and higher-level creativity.

Creativity Tools

In this week, we will look at how we can augment our creativity using different methods of Brainstorming, a creativity approach that aids the generation of ideas in solving a stated problem. We particularly focus on the application of brainstorming tools in group activities, with the aim of enabling you to understand, evaluate and apply different types of brainstorming techniques in your own context.

Thinking Styles

There are many thinking styles which can be helpful in creativity. We will focus on the principles as well as application of a variety of thinking approaches that can be used at both at an individual level and in a group, under various professional and personal situations, allowing you to develop competency and accelerate proficiency in the use of some different thinking styles.

Morphological Analysis

You will become familiar with the Principles of Morphological Analysis and learn how to apply it in various life scenarios, from design to developing movie plot-lines, whilst developing a more systematic approach to idea generation.

TRIZ - the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

In week 5, we continue to enhance your fluency, flexibility and originality of idea generation by introducing you to another creativity tool called the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ). We will particularly focus on application of TRIZ and the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix and how it can be used in problem, both at an individual and in group level.

This week, we will introduce you to the final creativity tool in the course and its importance in generation of ideas and improvement of the existing ones; SCAMPER.

You will become familiar with the concepts of SCAMPER and gain proficiency in its application in various unusual, personal or professional situations, whilst inspiring related ideas.

Using the Tools in Combination

Now that you have mastered a wide range of creativity tools and developed competency in their application over a wide range of situations and domains, we will wrap up by asking you to use these tool in combinations and apply these in context and scenarios that are also related to your own discipline or context. This will help you reinforce the concepts that you have learnt so far and enable you to use the creativity tools freely in problem solving and idea generation.


Really enjoyed this. I've completed some Creativity courses before, however I learnt lots of new tools and techniques that I will actually be able to use both at home and at work. Thank you.

Amazing to find out that I have been using the Six thinking Hats tool all my adult life and I wasn't even aware of its existence! As an Event Manager, I would definitely be applying many of the tools.

I enjoyed this course right from the start. The videos are relatable and exciting as so were the reading exercises to get a better knowledge of how to think and easy, fast steps to get to those ideas.

An excellent course which got me to think on many different plains, specially when using the tools on issues and topics that I didn't think needed creative thinking skills. Would recommend it.

Frequently Asked Questions

When will I have access to the lectures and assignments?

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The course may not offer an audit option. You can try a Free Trial instead, or apply for Financial Aid.

The course may offer 'Full Course, No Certificate' instead. This option lets you see all course materials, submit required assessments, and get a final grade. This also means that you will not be able to purchase a Certificate experience.

What will I get if I purchase the Certificate?

When you purchase a Certificate you get access to all course materials, including graded assignments. Upon completing the course, your electronic Certificate will be added to your Accomplishments page - from there, you can print your Certificate or add it to your LinkedIn profile. If you only want to read and view the course content, you can audit the course for free.

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Yes. In select learning programs, you can apply for financial aid or a scholarship if you can’t afford the enrollment fee. If fin aid or scholarship is available for your learning program selection, you’ll find a link to apply on the description page.

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Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Creativity, innovation, and invention are key concepts for your entrepreneurial journey. Fostering creativity and innovation will add essential tools to your entrepreneurial toolkit. In this chapter, first you’ll learn about a few practical tools that can assist you in your efforts to create and innovate. Then, we’ll define and distinguish creativity, innovation, and invention, and note the differences between pioneering and incremental innovation. Finally, we’ll cover models and processes for developing creativity, innovation, and inventiveness. The science, study, and practice of creativity and design thinking are constantly evolving. Staying on top of well-documented, successful approaches can give you a competitive advantage and may remind you that entrepreneurship can be fun, exciting, and refreshing, as long as you keep your creative spirit alive and in constant motion.

Creative Problem-Solving Methods

Creative thinking can take various forms ( Figure 4.2 ). This section focuses on a few creative thinking exercises that have proven useful for entrepreneurs. After discussing ideation practices that you can try, we conclude with a discussion of an in-depth innovation exercise that can help you develop a habit of turning creative ideas into innovative products and services. In this section, outcomes are vital.

Two people walking down a sidewalk together.

Three ideation practices are discussed here. Several others are offered in links at the end of this section. The first ideation practice comes from Stanford’s Design School. 2 The objective is to generate as many ideas as possible and start to develop some of those ideas. This practice is the quintessential design thinking practice, or human-centric design thinking exercise, and it consists of five parts: accessing and expressing empathy, defining the problem, ideating solutions (brainstorming), prototyping, and testing ( Figure 4.3 ). Empathy is the human ability to feel what other humans are feeling, which in the context of creativity, innovation, and invention is essential to beginning a process of human-centric design. Practicing empathy enables us to relate to people and see the problem through the eyes and feelings of those who experience it. By expressing empathy, you can begin to understand many facets of a problem and start to think about all of the forces you will need to bring to bear on it. From empathy comes the ability to proceed to the second step, defining the problem. Defining the problem must be based on honest, rational, and emotional observation for human-centric design to work. Third in the process is brainstorming solutions. The other two ideation exercises or practices in this section delve more deeply into brainstorming (also discussed in Problem Solving and Need Recognition Techniques ), what it means, and how you can brainstorm creatively beyond the basic whiteboard scribbling in almost every organization. Designing for other people means building a prototype—the fourth step—and to test it. Once you apply this process to developing a product or service, you need to return to the empathetic mindset to examine whether you have reached a viable solution and, thus, an opportunity.

Human-centric design consists of empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Link to Learning

Watch this video on human-centered design for more information, including an explanation of the phases involved.

To delve more deeply into ideation as a practice, we introduce here the Six Thinking Hats method ( Figure 4.4 ). 3 There are different versions of this ideation game, but all of them are quite useful for encouraging thought by limiting the mindset of those involved in the game. Being encouraged to embody one mode of thinking frees you from considering other aspects of a problem that can limit creativity when you are looking for a solution. The six hats are:

Cartoon of figures wearing different colored hats: White is research, red is emotions, black is logic, yellow is encouragement, green is creativity, and blue is enforcement.

You can apply the Six Thinking Hats exercise to force structure on a discussion where, without it, several members of the group might try to wear several hats each. This game is not always easy to implement. If members cannot follow the rules, the process breaks down. When it works best, the Blue Hat maintains control and keeps the practice moving quickly. What you and your group should experience is a peculiar freedom arising from the imposition of limitations. By being responsible for only one mode of thinking, each participant can fully advocate for that point of view and can think deeply about that particular aspect of the solution. Thus, the group can be deeply creative, deeply logical, deeply optimistic, and deeply critical. This practice is meant to move entire groups past surface-level solutions. If you practice this exercise well, the challenges of implementing it are well worth the effort. It gives you the opportunity to vet ideas thoroughly while keeping many personality clashes at bay. If the participants stay in character, they can be accused only of acting in the best interests of their hat.

Your instructor may have your group members try different hats in different ideation exercises so you all can more fully develop each mindset. 4 This exercise forces you out of your most comfortable modes of thinking. You and your classmates can recognize in each other skills that you may not have realized you possess.

The third ideation practice is quite simple. If stagnant thinking has begun to dominate an ongoing discussion, it can be helpful to inject an ideation framework. This is the “ statement starters ” method. 5 Ask, “How might we ________?” or “What if we ________?” in order to open up new possibilities when you seem to have reached the limits of creativity. This method is more than simply asking “Why not?” because it seeks to uncover how a problem might be solved. For entrepreneurs, the simplest form of framing a problem in the form of a question can be eye opening. It assumes open possibilities, invites participation, and demands focus. Statement starters assume that, at least, there might be a solution to every problem. Ideation is about starting down new paths. This mode of thought applies to social problems as well as consumer pain points (discussed later). Creating a list of statement starters can help entrepreneurs examine different possibilities by simply adopting different points of view when asking questions. For example, the question, “How might we keep rivers clean?” is similar to the question, “How might we prevent animal waste runoff from entering our city’s waterways?” but the implications of each question are different for different stakeholders. Recall that stakeholders are individuals who have a vital interest in the business or organization. Statement starters almost always lead to a discussion of stakeholders and how they might be involved in finding solutions, offering support, and perhaps one day purchasing or contributing to dynamic, disruptive inventions or changes in social practice.

Are you curious about ways to improve your ability to think creatively? Consider trying out some of the creative thinking exercises provided at this site.

Matching Innovation Methods to Circumstances

Searching for innovation methods will often reveal many of the same, or similar, creativity exercises as we’ve just discussed. To go beyond ideation exercises, we will conclude with a foundation of thinking that can help when you are tackling all sorts of innovation problems. Simply put, open innovation involves searching for and finding solutions outside of the organizational structure. Open innovation is somewhat difficult to pin down. The educator and author Henry Chesbrough was one of the first to define it: “Open innovation is ‘the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.’” 6 In other words, firms built on a structure of open innovation look beyond their own research and development capabilities to solve problems. This outlook can guide all sorts of product and service development processes. Open innovation models also allow innovations to be shared widely so that they can seed other innovations outside the original firm or institution.

Open innovation takes an optimistic view of sharing information and ideas across a society connected by instantaneous communication networks. It is also a shift from the classic research and development model. In a sense, you allow others to solve problems in your business, startup, or social entrepreneurship project. In this reciprocal world, you are open to the reality that information is difficult to keep under wraps. You may seek patents for your intellectual property, particularly in fixed product or service practice form, but you should expect, or even encourage, the widespread circulation of key elements of your solutions. This makes sense: If, as an entrepreneur or an innovative corporation, you are going to look beyond your own ideation, research, and development capabilities for solutions, you must expect that others will look to your solutions for ideas to borrow.

The open innovation model is far easier to describe in idealistic terms than it is to put into practice without ethical consequences. Unfortunately, industrial and corporate espionage, theft of intellectual property, and lawsuits are commonplace. Nevertheless, inspiration in innovation can come from myriad sources when constant streams of information are available to anyone with a high-speed data connection. Open innovation is a simple but essential framework for future innovation and for managing, even possibly guiding, disruption in an industry as discussed previously (i.e., disruptive innovation). Table 4.1 provides some examples of companies using disruptive technology.

Another element of the open innovation model is the connection between academic research and practical solutions. Reciprocal influence between academia, which often moves slowly, and leading corporate and entrepreneurial forces, which often focus too narrowly on short-term gains, could offer the balance this rapidly changing world needs. If you can manage to plug into the exchange of ideas between longstanding institutions and disruptive technological innovators, you may be positioned to effect positive change on society and to develop products that are received as useful and elegant, wildly new and creative, and essential to the human experience at the same time.

Staying on Top of Emerging Practices

Consider searching for ideation and innovation practice links using a web browser and comparing those results to what you can find in the academic literature via Google Scholar or other academic databases. To adopt a truly open innovation mindset, it is essential to leave yourself open to all sorts of influences, even if it demands time and much cognitive energy. The financial, social, and personal rewards may be great.

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Creative thinking skills: definition and examples

Content writer

Creative thinking skills: definition and examples

When was the last time you came up with something truly new and original? Exercising your  creative thinking skills  is a critical part of life, no matter the field you work on. 

For those that consider creativity and innovation to be gifts of nature, it is important to understand it is a skill that can be improved with the right training. Not only that but you can also  make use of certain techniques to create innovative solutions  steadily.

It is also important to break the myth that creativity is fully dependent on a mystical source of inspiration. Instead, it is the byproduct of consuming all kinds of content, being able to relate to different pieces of media, and deconstruct issues to come to the appropriate answers. The proper creative thinking makes this easier.

In this post, you will find out more about:

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What is creative thinking?

Creative thinking refers to using abilities and soft skills to come up with new solutions to problems. Creative thinking skills are techniques used to look at the issue from different and creative angles, using the right tools to assess it and develop a plan.

The focus on creativity and innovation is important because most problems might require  approaches that have never been created or tried before . It is a highly valued skill to have individually and one that businesses should always aspire to have among their ranks. After all, the word creativity means a phenomenon where something new is created.

Creative thinking is a skill and, like any other, it needs constant exercise to stay sharp. You need to regularly expose yourself to situations in which a new idea is needed and surround yourself with like-minded people to achieve this goal.

Such a process is made easier with the use of certain techniques. They help get you on the right mindset and  provide the basic structure to reach new ideas  on demand.

In the video below, the Italian professor Giovanni Corazza talks about how science can be used to generate creative ideas on people. Check it out:

Creative thinking techniques

As you have just learned, creative thinking can be triggered by some widely used techniques. These are effective methods to  help you come up with new ideas , test them under new environments, and count on other people’s input to make them even more innovative.

Some of the best examples of creative thinking skills may include: lateral-thinking, visual reading, out-of-the-box thinking, copywriting, artistic creativity, problem-solving, analytical mind, and divergent thinking.

Here are the best creative thinking techniques you can use.


This technique can be very useful in small or large-scale problems that require a creative solution. The main goal is to form a group of people and throw around ideas without interference.

The general idea of brainstorming is that, by having an  excess of creative potential solutions , it gets easier to reach one with the highest level of quality.

Brainstorming has several advantages that can help you exercise your creative thinking skills. For starters, it does not require a rigid structure to function, being very informal. However,  it can be facilitated by professional guidance . Also, the people involved do not even need to be together at the same time, as you can use a virtual setting or put ideas into a shared document.

For it to work well, all participants must be aware of the problem that requires a creative solution and are familiar with how brainstorming works. In the end, do not forget to register all the ideas through proper documentation.

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Lateral thinking

Sometimes, the answer to a problem is not in front of it, but besides it. That is the general idea of lateral thinking, which is a great way to exercise your creative soft skills and come up with innovative plans.

Lateral thinking involves looking in  less obvious areas and lines of reasoning . It can work well if you and your partners try to put yourselves under different perspectives or reverse the problem to look at it differently.

For instance, the direct solution to a loss of sales online would be to put up more ads and promotions. However, lateral thinking might reach alternative paths, like using  e-mail marketing  to reach customers that have not bought from you in a while.

This can be extrapolated further, even using absurd lines of thinking to get your creative juices flowing. The most important aspect of this process is to  go where you would not usually choose to go .

Mind mapping

The process of mind mapping helps you connect ideas you never imagined could be combined. Because of that, it might help you reach appropriate solutions while using creative thinking skills.

A mind map is a chart where you input ideas and connect them. It can have possible solutions to a problem, its immediate consequences, and be the best course of action to deal with them. Alternatively, your mind map can serve as  a way to see a bigger picture regarding what you are trying to do .

Mind mapping can even be done individually. Sometimes, you may already have all the ideas you need but it is required to put them to paper. Creating a mind map helps to organize them and naturally reach conclusions.

Also, since a mind map is essentially an  infographic , those who were not part of the process can easily understand it. Therefore, it serves as a valid piece of documentation.

Examples of creativity skills

Besides these creative thinking techniques we presented in this chapter, there are several skills you’ll need to develop to enjoy the advantages of the techniques. Some of the creativity skills may include:

What are the main benefits of creative thinking?

Developing your creative thinking skills is highly beneficial for any field of work. After all, every area needs people that can come up with the best solutions to the everyday problems that arise and  creativity is critical  to do that.

You can experience advantages such as these by developing creative thinking skills:

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How to develop creative thinking skills?

Now that you know exactly what creative thinking skills are, the next step in this process involves learning how to work on them. After all,  stagnation can be the biggest threat to your creativity , as it requires constant stimulation.

Check out below the best ways to develop creative thinking skills for yourself.

Consume different kinds of content

Your creative thinking can be heavily benefited if you diversify the kind of content you consume in your daily life. After all, the information we absorb can be combined, remixed, and repurposed in several ways to provide solutions. However, this becomes impossible if there is no variety.

To do that, you can  make use of the internet’s vast selection of content types . Try to visit different blogs, YouTube channels, and social media profiles you are not used to — preferably those that deal with topics you do not usually consume.

This also works if you try to vary the forms as well as the content. This means engaging with different types of media, like text,  videos , audio, and even more specific ones like e-books, podcasts, infographics, and others.

Keep up with the trends

Much of your creative thinking can be influenced by the trends that are influencing the market right now and the ones that are  coming up in the future .

Keeping up with the trends is not just about consuming all kinds of news related to your field. It is also necessary to develop a keen eye to distinguish what has the creative potential to get viral or not. This ability will be essential to the success of your strategies in marketing.

Being able to predict trends does not require a crystal ball. Instead, you need to understand how your business segment operates and  where the innovation comes from . Having a problem-solving stance is critical for coming up with creative and original ideas.

Try to create something every day

When someone wants to lose weight, they come up with an exercise plan that requires a daily effort as commitment. The same concept applies to the workout of your creative thinking and technical skills required to stay sharp.

So, with that goal in mind, make sure to try to create something new daily. It does not have to be something large or significant, just anything new that derives from  all the new references you are absorbing .

Such creations might also serve as solutions to everyday problems you or your community face. The most important part of this process is creating a habit of coming up with new things so it begins to come naturally to you.

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Build a network for creativity

Get help from others to keep your creative thinking and technical skills in constant development. You can build a network of people with the same goals and put all these tips in action as a group.

Interacting with your peers is a great way to  exercise your creativity . It is even better when these people are also creatively-oriented and contributes to coming up with original ideas as a network. Try to come up with group projects to create a solution to a common problem or innovate on a certain aspect of work.

Be careful not to surround yourself with people that think and create exactly like you. Seek as much diversity as you can while creating this network, since all this variety can be highly beneficial to everyone’s ideas.

Realizing  creative thinking skills  require constant training is the first step in improving how you come up with new ideas. People who are experienced in this craft can improve every field of expertise. Consider the tips in this article and begin a process of self-improvement focused on honing your creative thinking skills.

Speaking of improvements, how about learning more about how to evaluate your results? Check out this post on the  14 most important metrics to measure content performance .

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What is creative thinking and why does it matter?

creative thinking methods and techniques

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What is creative thinking?

Types of creative thinking, why is creative thinking important, how creative thinking works, what are some examples of creative thinking, the benefits of creative thinking, how to make your thinking process more creative, start fostering your creative thinking skills.

Few things feel better than a stroke of creative genius. A new creative idea can make you feel brilliant and unstoppable.

But, when the great ideas stop flowing, it’s easy to get discouraged and declare that you’re just not a creative thinker.

Many people believe that creative thinking is something that strikes at random. In reality, there are many ways to use creative problem-solving every day, even if you don’t think you have innate creativity. While thinking creatively isn’t difficult, it does take practice. 

Building your creative skills is the key to innovation. But where do you start?

In this article, we’ll cover what creative thinking is, how it works, and how to strengthen your creative skill.


Creative thinking may feel like a superpower reserved only for a “creative person.” Thankfully, creative geniuses aren’t the only ones who can have innovative ideas. 

At its core, creative thinking is intentionally gaining new insights and different ideas through existing information.

Often, creative thought involves tapping into different styles of thinking and examining information from different viewpoints to see new patterns. Anyone can foster a creative mind with some practice!

how much time employees have to think creatively and discuss new ideas

Using a wide variety of brainstorming strategies can help you discover new solutions for issues in every area of your life, including at work.

In fact, 61% of employees say they’re expected to come up with creative ideas or new ways to do things at work. But, with only 30% of employees saying they’re given time to think or discuss new ideas daily, it’s becoming increasingly important to develop our creative thinking muscles.

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Fostering creative thinking starts with changing your perspective. Learning new and different styles of thinking can help give birth to powerful idea generation. 

Aesthetic thinking, divergent thinking, lateral thinking, convergent thinking, and inspirational thinking are five types of innovative thinking to get the ball rolling.

types of creative thinking

( Image source )

Divergent and convergent thinking are the most common ways to foster more creative thought. 

Divergent thinking is like a traditional brainstorming session, where you come up with as many possible solutions as your imagination will allow. 

Meanwhile, convergent thinking takes a more logical approach, encouraging you to gather facts and discover the most common solution to a problem. These strategies are frequently used together to conjure new creative solutions.

Inspirational thinking focuses on imagining the best-case scenarios to find a new way to solve a problem, while lateral thinking involves letting ideas flow in a step-by-step format. 

Aesthetic thinking focuses on reframing the problem to see its inherent beauty and value, like looking at a painting.

It’s easy to get stuck in the same thought patterns, especially at work. However, those thought patterns may be hampering your innovation and keeping you stuck in routines that don’t serve you. 

Creative thinking shows us that there are many solutions to any problem, and developing your creative thinking skills helps you recognize innovative solutions more quickly. 

Plus, creativity was the most sought-after soft skill in 2020, so strengthening your creativity skills can set you apart at work, too.

Alongside critical thinking and focus , creative thinking is crucial to help recognize patterns that may not be obvious at first glance. Thinking creatively makes you a better problem-solver, which has far-reaching benefits in both your work and personal life.

Expressive, creative thinking helps us challenge our own assumptions, discover new things about ourselves and our perspective, stay mentally sharp, and even be more optimistic .

Many business leaders see creativity and innovation as something unpredictable, with 53% of businesses reporting that innovation occurs by chance. However, with the right tools, you can tap into creative thinking whenever you want.

how creative thinking works

There are many ways to get your creative juices flowing, and practicing creative thinking strategies can help you think outside the box more readily and more often. 

Creative thinking works by igniting our curiosity. Getting curious about a problem looks different for various industries.

A go-to example for creative thinking may be the advertising executive coming up with creative campaigns by brainstorming with divergent thinking. However, that’s far from the only way to use creative thinking. 

In STEM industries like biomedicine, stimulating creativity by asking open-ended questions and creating fictional scenarios helps professionals find innovative solutions to health problems. 

These questions encourage medical professionals to experiment and discover new ways of solving a persistent problem. 

Through creative thinking, professionals in any field can discover unique answers to pressing problems.

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Creative thinking is valuable in many situations, not just traditionally creative industries. Whether you’re solving a problem, organizing your calendar, or at an impasse with your team, creative thinking can come in handy.

One way creative thinking is valuable is for identifying the right problem . 

Using divergent thinking strategies can help you examine a problem from every angle and identify the true root of the issue. 

Once you’ve found the root problem, you can use lateral thinking or convergent thinking to discover new solutions that may not have been available to you before.

Adding constraints , like a timeline or budget for your project, can also help you guide a creative thinking session. 

For example, you could brainstorm how you'd handle a particular problem if your existing budget was cut in half. Constraints can help spur unique ideas you may have missed.

Creative thinking doesn’t just make you a better employee; it also makes you a better parent, student, and leader, too. By developing your creative thinking skills, the benefits of thinking creatively can show up throughout your daily life.

benefits of creative thinking

Here are a few major benefits of creative thinking.

Improved problem-solving capabilities

We don’t just solve problems at work, and we shouldn’t only use our creative thinking skills at work, either! Developing your creative thinking abilities can help you solve a wide variety of problems faster. 

As your mind becomes more accustomed to using different thought techniques, you’ll quickly recognize patterns that you might not have before.

Stronger interpersonal connections

Creative thinking can help you communicate your ideas more clearly, which leads to better conversations and relationships with your friends, family, and coworkers. 

Plus, many creative thinking methods work best when they’re done in a group. Developing new ideas together can strengthen bonds and help you combine ideas to create something truly innovative.

Heightened productivity

It may seem like creative thinking is a time-consuming distraction from your work, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

When we get stuck in thought patterns, it’s easy to get frustrated when something isn’t working correctly. That frustration can cause our productivity to plummet. 

Taking a moment and engaging in a creative thinking strategy can renew your motivation, reinvigorate your passion, and help you find new solutions when you’re stuck. 

Higher self-awareness

Creative thinking allows you to try on perspectives that you may not have considered before. 

As you’re exploring new perspectives, you may discover something about your own assumptions, viewpoints, or biases that you never noticed. 

Challenging your traditional way of thinking can offer higher self-awareness and build your emotional intelligence. With creative thinking, you strengthen your ability to reframe your perspective and harness a growth mindset.

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Find out how

Now that we see how important creative thinking skills are, building our creative capabilities is the next step to reap the benefits. 

There are many ways to encourage more creative thinking in your daily life. While practicing different thinking strategies and brainstorming with your team at work help to develop these skills, they’re far from the only way to foster a more creative thought process. 

One powerful way to get your creativity flowing is to meet new people, especially if they’re in the arts or in a different industry from you. Sharing your interests and listening to others can inspire you to view the world differently. 

Practicing boredom can help you develop your creativity, too. Allowing yourself to become bored and seeing what pulls your interest can help you practice letting your curiosity lead the way. 

Another tactic is to ask questions about everything that piques your interest, and come up with possible answers before you look up the actual answer.

developing creativity within company walls

Coaching can also help you hone your creative thinking. 

In fact, 71% of employers see managerial coaching as helpful for creative development. When you’re feeling distracted or uninspired, coaching can refocus your attention and help you get curious about your experience.

Breaking away from your normal routine and trying something new is the key to fostering creative thinking in your daily life.


Stay up to date with new resources and insights.

Thinking more creatively can take effort, but a little practice can offer a ton of benefits. Honing your skills to recognize patterns and find solutions shifts your perspective and offers a new vantage point for you to explore. 

Not only can creative thinking improve your performance at work, but it can also improve every other area of your life too. 

Coaching is a powerful tool to help foster your creativity skills. Are you ready to become more innovative? 

Start working with a dedicated coach today to develop your own creative thinking skills.

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

Why creativity isn't just for creatives and how to find it anywhere, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, uncover the best talent with these 10 creative interview questions, entrepreneurial mindset: what is it & how to think like an entrepreneur, 37 innovation and creativity appraisal comments, learn how to be your own best ally for reaching your goals, has social conditioning been holding women back from leadership roles, how hr can support effective manager coaching, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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Creative problem solving: basics, techniques, activities

Why is creative problem solving so important.

Problem-solving is a part of almost every person's daily life at home and in the workplace. Creative problem solving helps us understand our environment, identify the things we want or need to change, and find a solution to improve the environment's performance.

Creative problem solving is essential for individuals and organizations because it helps us control what's happening in our environment.

Humans have learned to observe the environment and identify risks that may lead to specific outcomes in the future. Anticipating is helpful not only for fixing broken things but also for influencing the performance of items.

Creative problem solving is not just about fixing broken things; it's about innovating and creating something new. Observing and analyzing the environment, we identify opportunities for new ideas that will improve our environment in the future.

The 7-step creative problem-solving process

The creative problem-solving process usually consists of seven steps.

1. Define the problem.

The very first step in the CPS process is understanding the problem itself. You may think that it's the most natural step, but sometimes what we consider a problem is not a problem. We are very often mistaken about the real issue and misunderstood them. You need to analyze the situation. Otherwise, the wrong question will bring your CPS process in the wrong direction. Take the time to understand the problem and clear up any doubts or confusion.

2. Research the problem.

Once you identify the problem, you need to gather all possible data to find the best workable solution. Use various data sources for research. Start with collecting data from search engines, but don't forget about traditional sources like libraries. You can also ask your friends or colleagues who can share additional thoughts on your issue. Asking questions on forums is a good option, too.

3. Make challenge questions.

After you've researched the problem and collected all the necessary details about it, formulate challenge questions. They should encourage you to generate ideas and be short and focused only on one issue. You may start your challenge questions with "How might I…?" or "In what way could I…?" Then try to answer them.

4. Generate ideas.

Now you are ready to brainstorm ideas. Here it is the stage where the creativity starts. You must note each idea you brainstorm, even if it seems crazy, not inefficient from your first point of view. You can fix your thoughts on a sheet of paper or use any up-to-date tools developed for these needs.

5. Test and review the ideas.

Then you need to evaluate your ideas and choose the one you believe is the perfect solution. Think whether the possible solutions are workable and implementing them will solve the problem. If the result doesn't fix the issue, test the next idea. Repeat your tests until the best solution is found.

6. Create an action plan.

Once you've found the perfect solution, you need to work out the implementation steps. Think about what you need to implement the solution and how it will take.

7. Implement the plan.

Now it's time to implement your solution and resolve the issue.

Top 5 Easy creative thinking techniques to use at work

1. brainstorming.

Brainstorming is one of the most glaring CPS techniques, and it's beneficial. You can practice it in a group or individually.

Define the problem you need to resolve and take notes of every idea you generate. Don't judge your thoughts, even if you think they are strange. After you create a list of ideas, let your colleagues vote for the best idea.

2. Drawing techniques

It's very convenient to visualize concepts and ideas by drawing techniques such as mind mapping or creating concept maps. They are used for organizing thoughts and building connections between ideas. These techniques have a lot in common, but still, they have some differences.

When starting a mind map, you need to put the key concept in the center and add new connections. You can discover as many joints as you can.

Concept maps represent the structure of knowledge stored in our minds about a particular topic. One of the key characteristics of a concept map is its hierarchical structure, which means placing specific concepts under more general ones.

3. SWOT Analysis

The SWOT technique is used during the strategic planning stage before the actual brainstorming of ideas. It helps you identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your project, idea, or business. Once you analyze these characteristics, you are ready to generate possible solutions to your problem.

4. Random words

This technique is one of the simplest to use for generating ideas. It's often applied by people who need to create a new product, for example. You need to prepare a list of random words, expressions, or stories and put them on the desk or board or write them down on a large sheet of paper.

Once you have a list of random words, you should think of associations with them and analyze how they work with the problem. Since our brain is good at making connections, the associations will stimulate brainstorming of new ideas.

5. Storyboarding

This CPS method is popular because it tells a story visually. This technique is based on a step-creation process. Follow this instruction to see the storyboarding process in progress:

7 Ways to improve your creative problem-solving skills

1. play brain games.

It's considered that brain games are an excellent way to stimulate human brain function. They develop a lot of thinking skills that are crucial for creative problem-solving.

You can solve puzzles or play math games, for example. These activities will bring you many benefits, including strong logical, critical, and analytical thinking skills.

If you are keen on playing fun math games and solving complicated logic tasks, try LogicLike online.

We created 3500+ puzzles, mathematical games, and brain exercises. Our website and mobile app, developed for adults and kids, help to make pastime more productive just in one place.

2. Practice asking questions

Reasoning stimulates you to generate new ideas and solutions. To make the CPS process more accessible, ask questions about different things. By developing curiosity, you get more information that broadens your background. The more you know about a specific topic, the more solutions you will be able to generate. Make it your useful habit to ask questions. You can research on your own. Alternatively, you can ask someone who is an expert in the field. Anyway, this will help you improve your CPS skills.

3. Challenge yourself with new opportunities

After you've gained a certain level of creativity, you shouldn't stop developing your skills. Try something new, and don't be afraid of challenging yourself with more complicated methods and techniques. Don't use the same tools and solutions for similar problems. Learn from your experience and make another step to move to the next level.

4. Master your expertise

If you want to keep on generating creative ideas, you need to master your skills in the industry you are working in. The better you understand your industry vertical, the more comfortable you identify problems, find connections between them, and create actionable solutions.

Once you are satisfied with your professional life, you shouldn't stop learning new things and get additional knowledge in your field. It's vital if you want to be creative both in professional and daily life. Broaden your background to brainstorm more innovative solutions.

5. Develop persistence

If you understand why you go through this CPS challenge and why you need to come up with a resolution to your problem, you are more motivated to go through the obstacles you face. By doing this, you develop persistence that enables you to move forward toward a goal.

Practice persistence in daily routine or at work. For example, you can minimize the time you need to implement your action plan. Alternatively, some problems require a long-term period to accomplish a goal. That's why you need to follow the steps or try different solutions until you find what works for solving your problem. Don't forget about the reason why you need to find a solution to motivate yourself to be persistent.

6. Improve emotional intelligence

Empathy is a critical element of emotional intelligence. It means that you can view the issues from the perspective of other people. By practicing compassion, you can understand your colleagues that work on the project together with you. Understanding will help you implement the solutions that are beneficial for you and others.

7. Use a thinking strategy

You are mistaken if you think that creative thinking is an unstructured process. Any thinking process is a multi-step procedure, and creative thinking isn't an exclusion. Always follow a particular strategy framework while finding a solution. It will make your thinking activity more efficient and result-oriented.

Develop your logic and mathematical skills. 3500+ fun math problems and brain games with answers and explanations.

Creative Thinking Techniques

You’ll remember the five creative methods we discussed in the  Introduction to Creative Thinking:   evolution, synthesis, revolution, reapplication, changing direction . Many classic creative thinking techniques make use of one or more of these methods. Note in this section that the goal is to produce a good quantity and a good quality of new ideas and solutions so that the best ones may be chosen. Exactly how those ideas are generated is less important than the ideas themselves. Remember,  the goal is more important than the path.


Alex Osborn, advertising writer of the fifties and sixties, has contributed many very powerful creative thinking techniques. Brainstorming is probably the best known and certainly one of the most powerful. For a fuller treatment, see his book,  Applied Imagination .

Brainstorming is an idea generating technique. Its main goals are (1) to break us out of our habit-bound thinking and (2) to produce a set of ideas from which we can choose. (No one wants to have a choice of only one product when buying laundry detergent or cars, so why have a choice of only one solution when working on a problem?)

Basic Guidelines for Brainstorming

Brainstorming is useful for attacking specific (rather than general) problems and where a collection of good, fresh, new ideas (rather than judgment or decision analysis) are needed.

For example, a specific problem like how to mark the content of pipes (water, steam, etc.) would lend itself to brainstorming much better than a general problem like how the educational system can be improved. Note, though, that even general problems can be submitted to brainstorming with success.

Brainstorming can take place either individually or in a group of two to ten, with four to seven being ideal. (Alex Osborn, brainstorming’s inventor, recommends an ideal group size of twelve, though this has proven to be a bit unwieldy.) The best results are obtained when the following guidelines are observed:

1. Suspend judgment.  This is the most important rule, and probably the most difficult to follow. Under this rule, when ideas are brought forth, no critical comments are allowed. All ideas are written down. Evaluation is to be reserved for later. This can be a challenge because we have been trained to be so instantly analytic, practical, convergent in our thinking that this step is very difficult to observe, but it is crucial. To create and criticize at the same time is like watering and pouring weed killer onto seedlings at the same time.

2. Think freely.  Freewheeling, wild thoughts are fine. Impossible and unthinkable ideas are fine. In fact, in every session, there should be several ideas so bizarre that they make the group laugh. Remember that practical ideas very often come from silly, impractical, impossible ones. By permitting yourself to think outside the boundaries of ordinary, normal thought, brilliant new solutions can arise. Some “wild” ideas turn out to be practical, too.

For example, when the subway was being dug under Victoria station in London, water began seeping in. What are the ways to remedy this? Pumps, steel or concrete liners? The solution: freeze it. Horizontal holes were drilled into the wet soil and liquid nitrogen was pumped in, freezing the water until the tunnel could be dug and cemented.

We’ve already talked about gold plating electrical contacts. In another example, it’s a fact that electric generators can produce more power if the windings can be kept cool. How would you cool them? Fans, air conditioned rooms? How about a wild idea? Make the electric windings out of copper pipe instead of wire and pump helium through them. That is what’s actually done in some plants, doubling the output of the generators.

3. Tag on.  Improve, modify, build on the ideas of others. What’s good about the idea just suggested? How can it be made to work? What changes would make it better or even wilder? This is sometimes called piggybacking, hitchhiking, or ping ponging. Use another’s idea as stimulation for your own improvement or variation. As we noted earlier, changing just one aspect of an unworkable solution can sometimes make it a great solution.

Example problem: How can we get more students at our school? Brainstorm idea: Pay them to come here. That sounds unworkable, but what about modifying it? Pay them with something other than money–like an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual reward or even a practical value-added reward like better networking or job contacts?

4. Quantity of ideas is important.  Concentrate on generating a large stock of ideas so that later on they can be sifted through. There are two reasons for desiring a large quantity. First, the obvious, usual, stale, unworkable ideas seem to come to mind first, so that the first, say, 20 or 25 ideas are probably not going to be fresh and creative. Second, the larger your list of possibilities, the more you will have to choose from, adapt, or combine. Some brainstormers aim for a fixed number, like 50 or 100 ideas before quitting the session.

Practical Methodology

1. Choose a recorder.  Someone must be put in charge of writing down all the ideas. Preferably, the ideas should be written on a board or butcher papered walls so that the whole brainstorming group can see them. Lacking this, ideas should be put down on paper. In an ideal session, the recorder should be a non participant in the brainstorming session, since it’s hard to be thoughtful and creative and write down everything at the same time. But in small sessions, the recorder is usually a participant, too.

For a one-person brainstorming session, using an idea map on a large piece of paper is useful. Butcher paper on the walls is good, too. (Large writing helps keep your ideas in front of you. In fact, some people have said that using 11 by 17 inch paper instead of 8.5 by 11 inch increases their creativity. Why not try it?)

2. Organize the chaos.  For groups of more than three or four, have a moderator to choose who will offer an idea next, so that several people don’t speak at once. The moderator should prefer those with ideas that tag onto previous ideas, then those with new ideas. If necessary the moderator will also remind members of the group not to inject evaluation into the session (in case a member tsks, sneers, says, “Oh, come on,” and so forth).

3. Keep the session relaxed and playful.  The creative juices flow best when participants are relaxed and enjoying themselves and feeling free to be silly or playful. Eat popcorn or pizza or ice cream or make paper airplanes or doodles while you work, even if the problem itself is deadly serious like cancer or child abuse. Don’t keep reminding everyone that “this is a serious problem” or “that was a tasteless joke.”

As an aid to relaxation and a stimulation to creativity, it is often useful to begin with a ten-minute warm-up session, where an imaginary problem is tackled. Thinking about the imaginary problem loosens people up and puts them into a playful mood. Then the real problem at hand can be turned to. Some imaginary problem topics might include these:

4. Limit the session.  A typical session should be limited to about fifteen or twenty minutes. Longer than that tends to become dragging. You should probably not go beyond thirty minutes, though thirty is the “ideal” length recommended by Alex Osborn.

5. Make copies.  After the session, neaten up the list and make copies for each member of the session. No attempt should be made to put the list in any particular order.

6. Add and evaluate.  The next day (not the same day) the group should meet again. First, ideas thought of since the previous session should be shared (entered on the photocopied lists). Then the group should evaluate each of the ideas and develop the most promising ones for practical application.

During the evaluation session, wild ideas are converted to practical ones or used to suggest realistic solutions. The emphasis is now on analysis and real world issues. Some brainstormers divide the ideas found to be useful into three lists:

A. Ideas of immediate usefulness.  These are the ideas you will be able to use right now. B. Areas for further exploration.  These are ideas that need to be researched, followed up, thought about, discussed more fully, and so on. C. New approaches to the problem.  These are ideas that suggest new ways of looking at the situation.

Note here that evaluation does not take place on the same day as the brainstorming session. This fact keeps the idea session looser (no fear that evaluation is coming soon) and allows incubation time for more ideas and time for thinking about the ones suggested.

1. Stop and Go.  For stop and go brainstorming, ideas are generated for three to five minutes. Then the group is silent (and thinking) for three to five minutes. Then ideas are given out for another three to five. This pattern alternates for the entire session.

2. Sequencing.  In this technique, the moderator goes in order from one member of the group to the next in turn or sequence. Each member gives whatever ideas he then has, and they are written down. If a member has no ideas, he just says, “Pass,” and the next member responds. This movement in turn or around the table continues throughout the session. (Sequencing has been said to nearly double the number of ideas generated in a brainstorming session.)


Try It Yourself

Brainstorming.  Choose one of the following problems for a brainstorming session. Generate at least 35 ideas for solving the problem. Then distill this list into at least three practical, effective ideas.

1. A new snack food 2. How to keep rowdy children quiet on a schoolbus 3. How to get more tourists into the United States 4. How compatible people can meet each other for romance 5. How to reduce hospital costs 6. How to reduce airport congestion and delays 7. A name for a new laundry detergent 8. How to keep your car keys safe at the beach 9. A new toy 10. A new electronic consumer product ______________________________________________________________________

Idea Generating Questions

Asking questions to stimulate curiosity and creativity has proven helpful for all kinds of endeavors, whether problem solving, product development, inventing, or communication. A written list of mind-stimulating questions is useful because it reminds us of approaches and possibilities that we otherwise would not have in mind. Yes, it is sometimes possible to be creative in a thorough and even orderly way.

The Journalistic Six

These are the six key questions that journalism students are taught to answer somewhere in their news articles to make sure that they have covered the whole story. For creative thinkers, these questions stimulate thinking about the idea in question and allow approaches to it from various angles.

1. Who?  (Actor or Agent) Who is involved? What are the people aspects of the problem? Who did it, will do it? Who uses it, wants it? Who will benefit, will be injured, will be included, will be excluded?

2. What?  (Act) What should happen? What is it? What was done, ought to be done, was not done? What will be done if X happens? What went or could go wrong? What resulted in success?

3. When?  (Time or Timing) When will, did, should this occur or be performed? Can it be hurried or delayed? Is a sooner or later time be preferable? When should the time be if X happens?

4. Where?  (Scene or Source) Where did, will, should this occur or be performed? Where else is a possibility? Where else did the same thing happen, should the same thing happen? Are other places affected, endangered, protected, aided by this location? Effect of this location on actors, actions?

5. Why?  (Purpose) Why was or is this done, avoided, permitted? Why should it be done, avoided, permitted? Why did or should actor do it? Different for another actor, act, time, place? Why that particular action, rule, idea, solution, problem, disaster, and not another? Why that actor, time, location, and not another?

6. How?  (Agency or Method) How was it, could it be, should it be done, prevented, destroyed, made, improved, altered? How can it be described, understood? How did beginning lead to conclusion?

Historical Examination

These questions are especially useful for generating ideas for improving something (the evolutionary approach), but they also help to break thinking out of the evolutionary mode and put it into the revolutionary mode by returning the thinker to the origin and purpose of the idea or solution. By returning to the roots of the problem, a new vision can be created.

1. Essence.  What is it? object, concept? What is it made of? What is its real, elementary nature? What are its parts? What is it like, unlike? (Similes and metaphors help in understanding abstractions). What is it related to? What are its various kinds, facets, shades? What is it a part of? Which part of it is unusual or outstanding? In what forms does it appear? Is it typical or atypical of its kind? What is it not? What is it opposed to? How is it different? What makes it different?

2. Origin.  Where did it come from? How was it made or conceived or developed? What caused it? If an idea, how did it arise? Are its origins meaningful now? What makes it spread or multiply or gain adherents? What was the reason behind it? Is the reason still valid or useful? Why? Why not? Is it still needed? What influences it? Does it change? Can it, should it be changed, strengthened, eliminated? What could have prevented, delayed, encouraged it?

3. Purpose.  What does it do? How does it work? What is its purpose? Is the purpose fulfilled? Better than by its predecessor? Can it, should it be improved? Is it helpful or harmful in intent? What are its implications; what does it lead to? Does it have obvious or hidden consequences? Does it have more than one purpose? What are its immediate effects and its long-term effects? Is its actual function the same as the original purpose intended by its originator? Can it be put to other uses?

4. Import.  What is its overall significance? What is its significance to man, environment, civilization, happiness, virtue, safety, comfort, etc.? How is it important? Is it a key element in life, civilization, local area, one man’s existence? Is it necessary? Is it desirable?

5. Reputation.  What do you think about it? What are your underlying assumptions? What do others think about it? Do you find consensus, division? Is it good, bad, helpful, harmful in fact or in the opinion of others? Can you resolve any differences between truth and opinion, intent, and actuality, pro and con members? What weaknesses are commonly identified? Are there obvious areas of desired change or improvement or elimination?

Blocking and Block Busting

Many people complain of not being creative when in fact their creativity has merely been blocked. Once the blocks are removed, nearly everyone can exercise a high degree of creativity. Several techniques exist which will help remove the usual blocks to creativity, but before we discuss these, we should say a few words about the blocks themselves.

Sources of Blocking

1. Functional Fixation.  As we mentioned earlier, functional fixation arises when someone is unable to see beyond the historical or accepted use for an item, often identified by its name or label. Thus, for example, a screwdriver is a tool for tightening or loosening screws, just as its name says. A person suffering from functional fixation would be unable to see any other uses for the item. But, of course, a screwdriver can also be used as a paint can opener, an ice pick, a plumb bob, a paper weight, and so on.

Similarly, to see a length of water pipe and to think only of water pipe may block your thinking if you are need of pry bar, a blow gun, a plant prop, a flag pole, a fishing rod, a measuring stick, or something else that the pipe might serve for.

An interesting example of how people are almost by nature functionally fixated comes from an experiment. Several people were placed in a room where a short length of pipe containing a ping pong ball was anchored in the floor. The task of the people was to remove the ball from the pipe without damaging either. Several sets of people were given this same task. For some of the sets, a bucket of water was placed on the floor. When this was the case, over 80 percent of the groups solved the problem by pouring water into the pipe and floating the ball out. For some of the other sets, a pitcher of ice water and some drinking glasses were placed on a table in the room. When this was the case, fewer than 40 percent of the groups solved the problem by using the water in the pitcher. The pitcher of water and the drinking glasses so fixated them on the idea of refreshment, that they could not see beyond the ostensible purpose of the pitcher to its use as a solution to their problem.

Block Busting Techniques

1. Uses For.  This is a simple technique that can be used for mental stimulation or practical application, depending on what you have in mind at the time. It is an excellent tool for breaking you out of a functionally fixated mindset. To use this technique, think of an item or object, usually a common one like a brick, toothpick, pencil, or bucket, and set the task of thinking of all the possible uses for that object, without regard to what the object is normally used for, what it is named, or how it is usually thought of.

Sometimes a time limit, like three to five minutes, is given. Other times a quantity limit, like 25 to 100 is given. All the techniques of idea generation are used, from checklist to attribute analysis to random stimulation.

For example: What are the possible uses for a brick? Ideas: doorstop, boat anchor, build a wall, build a walk, ballast, sanding block, powder and make dye, put on white background and make a sign (red letters), nut cracker, shoes, straightedge, red chalk, stop signal (use something green like a cucumber for go), heat reservoir, leaf press, paper weight, step stool, target for shooting, children’s toys, scale weight standard, distance standard, definition of red, water holder (soaked), tamper, pattern maker (in soft material), pendulum weight, bell clapper, roofing material (crushed)

Another example: What are the possible uses for a steak knife? Ideas: hot pad, planter stick or prop, hole digger, popsicle stick, bubble wand (through hole in handle), flipping tool or spring, hammer, gun sight, fishing weight/float, compass (magnetize the steel), plumb bob, drill, can opener, carving tool, electrical (knife) switch or other electrical conductor use, awl, measuring device (two knives long and three knives wide), shim, design maker in wet plaster (serrated edge), writing instrument (dip in ink), all cutting and chopping uses, guitar pick, branding or soldering device (get red hot first), ice climbing aid (hook or glue to boots with part of blade down into ground)

Uses For.  Choose one of the items below and think of at least 25 original uses for it. (That is, you cannot list things that the item is already used for.) The uses can be fanciful, but should at least approach practicality. Describe each use in a sentence or two.

Example: Uses for a steak knife. 1. Drill a hole in the tip and use it as a “knife switch” to turn electricity on and off. 2. Use the wood or plastic handles of two or three to make a hot pad for serving casseroles or soup in hot containers. 3. Use it to measure a spot for a new sofa, so when you go to the store you will know how many “steak knife units” long your new sofa can be. 4. Use it to drill holes in plasterboard walls.

Versa Tarp.  You have been hired by Acme Manufacturing to write an advertising brochure for its new product, Versa Tarp. The product is an 8 by 10 foot plastic tarp with the usual spaced grommets and reinforcing. (You can see tarps like this at most hardware stores.) In the brochure, Acme wants you to list as many good, practical uses for this tarp as you can, to show just how versatile it is. List at least 25 practical uses, with explanations if necessary. Drawings would be good, too.

Hole Punch.  Redwood Mills, Incorporated is a manufacturer of paper. A principal product of theirs is three-hole punch notebook paper for schools. A byproduct of making this paper is tons and tons of punched paper holes. You have been hired to suggest as many uses for these punched pieces of paper as possible. Be imaginative and practical. Think of at least 25 uses.

Steamer.  The Heiss manufacturing company of Germany has been making a steam-producing home appliance, designed to be used to steam milk in the making of cappuccino. Unfortunately for the company, its competitors now incorporate a steam maker right into the cappuccino maker, so that a steamer-only design no longer sells. You have been hired by a liquidator company that has acquired 40,000 of these steamers to write an advertising brochure, describing as many practical uses for this steamer as you can. Your basic task is to think of what steam can be used for. Describe at least 25 good uses, with any necessary explanations or drawings.

2. Improvements to.  “Improvements to” is the counterpart of “uses for.” Whereas “uses for” concentrates on using a given item, often unchanged, for multiple purposes different from the item’s original purpose, the “improvements to” technique focuses on altering an item to enhance its original, given purpose. The item in question can be any of several kinds and is not limited to objects.

A. Objects.  The first and most obvious “thing” to improve is an object, usually something common that most people would never think of changing. The classic, textbook example item is the coffee cup. Suggested improvements have included things like

and so forth. The improvements ideally should move away from obvious bolt-on things, however. For example, in the problem, “Think of several ways to improve books,” the first things that come to mind might be the addition or repair ones like

but we might also think about more imaginative improvements like

B. Places, Institutions, Things.  In addition to the object, a second kind of thing that improvements for can be applied to is a place, institution, or thing. For example, list ten ways to improve a college, or a marriage, or a shopping mall, or the local church, or the road system, or communications channels (telephone, TV, radio). Improvements to these areas require more thoughtful and elaborate proposals, often involving improvements in attitudes, beliefs, behavior, relationships, or other non-tangible things, as well as changes in physical technology. A piece of wood and a tube of glue are no longer sufficient to effect improvement.

C. Ideas.  A third area of improvement is even more removed from wood and glue: the improvement of ideas or abstractions. How can we improve art or the writing of history or the application of personal values to our actions?

In all of these cases, problem exploration (an exploration and articulation of needs) is usually the first step. What is there about a coffee cup that is deficient or that could be made better? What about shopping malls do you (and most people) dislike? How is the bulk of recorded or taught history insufficient or imperfect–what keeps it from being described as excellent?

Again, remember the constructive discontent philosophy. The coffee cup, the local church, the college, art, all may be really good and suitable and “satisfactory” in what they do; to look for ways to improve them should not imply condemnation or rejection. This “either it’s fine or it’s bad” attitude often gets in the way of thinking calmly about improvements. In personal relationships, romantic or supervisor/employee, in techniques and policies, whenever someone suggests an improvement, the typical response is, “So what’s so terrible about it now?” Be sensitive, therefore, to the ego needs of the human element involved in improving things. Don’t rush into the cafeteria and declare that you are there to make the putrid food edible at last–think of the people who make it now. Don’t rush up to your boss and declare that you are about to reveal why his management style stinks. Don’t call your best friend and offer to reform her disgusting and selfish personality.

Improvements To.  Choose one of the following and think of at least ten practical ways it can be improved. Describe each improvement in a sentence or two (why is it an improvement?) and supply any needed drawings.

You will probably want to submit drawings with this project to show what your improvements will look like.

An Idea List of Ways to Improve Something

Note: Remember that some of the major problems in modern living are too much noise, too much information, too many decisions, too much complexity, together with a general lack of quality and reliability. Intelligent addressing of these problems in connection with your idea should produce welcome improvements to it.

3. What-Iffing.  A major block to creativity for many of us is the mind’s fierce grasp on reality. This very factor that keeps us sane also keeps us from thinking beyond what we know to be true. What-iffing is a tool for releasing the mind, for delivering us from being blocked by reality.

In its simplest form, what-iffing involves describing an imagined action or solution and then examining the probable associated facts, consequences, or events. Instead of quickly saying, “That sounds dumb,” or “That would never work,” and leaving our criticism vague, we trace as exactly as our reasonable minds can generate the specific implications or consequences of the newly imagined fact.

For example, what if automobiles were all owned by the government and everybody had a key and could use any car that was handy? Consequences: Parking lot size could be reduced. There would probably be more car pooling with strangers. If cars were maintained by the government, too, some would be in better shape than now, but others would be in worse shape–no pride in personal ownership. On sunny days cars would be plentiful, but on rainy days, you might get stuck at the shopping center. Cars that broke down would be abandoned. You couldn’t lock things in your car. You’d never know if the car you drove to a location (like the movie theater at night) would be there when you got out.

Another example might be to ask, “What if we do nothing about the problem?” Then seek as accurately as possible the consequences.

On another level, what-iffing allows us to create a completely new reality, to establish a new chain of being or relationships, to change the unchangeable in hope of generating a new perspective on a problem or a new idea.

For example: What if rocks were soft? We could put big ones in our houses like pillows to lean on in the living room. We could use them like “medicine balls” to toss to each other for exercise. We could line roads with piles of rocks to keep cars from damage when control was lost on dangerous corners. We could jump off high buildings onto rock piles. Crushed rock pits could be used to jump into by athletes. On the other hand, rock grinding wheels wouldn’t work anymore. Concrete, made of rock, would be soft. A cinderblock cell would be a padded cell.

Another example: What if we could see odors? You’d know the source of the bad smell in the kitchen–a plant, garbage disposal, wastebasket, old food in the refrigerator. You could see the perfume as it wafted off the girl wearing it–a visible “come on.” Since we can see farther than we can smell, you could see who had an orange or banana or Limburger cheese sandwich in his lunch bag from across the room. Visible odors could be socially embarrassing in ways not necessary to detail.

Whether or not the “seeing odors” thought suggests the invention of an odor detecting device, a super sniffer like the ones used by the U.S. military to sniff out enemy soldiers, a main benefit of practicing what-iffing is to train the mind to explore unreality or imagined reality, to think about, for a few minutes, the necessary, logical consequences or facts needed to support such a change in real things. Too often when someone gets a new idea, little attempt is made to think about its logical consequences for a few minutes.

For example, we have heard some people say that the United States should legalize drugs like cocaine because then the pushers and organized crime couldn’t make money and would stop pushing them and the drug problem would go away. Okay, what if drugs were legal? Would they be legal for everyone, even children? Well, no, you’d have to be 18 to buy them. But then wouldn’t the pushers concentrate on selling drugs to those under 18 instead of to adults, which would be a worse situation than we have now? Or, would adults stop using cocaine if it were legal and cheap? Or would it be legal and expensive? And so on.

As I said, too often we simply stop thinking altogether when something contrary to fact comes across our minds or else we think about it in the most illogical and impractical way. When we ask, “What if the sky were green?” the response we tend to get, either from others or from ourselves, is, “Well, the sky isn’t green, so why think about it?” But if nothing else, thinking about it is good practice at logical thinking.

In more practical terms, though, thinking about what does not exist is about the only way we have of eventually making it exist. In other words, the first step to implementing a new reality is to imagine it.

Notice when you mention a “what if” to your friends, their reaction will probably be to laugh and change the subject, or to laugh and suggest one funny consequence. There is little attempt to trace probable consequences thoroughly, to outline a full set of associated realities. By not doing so, we are in danger of cutting off many new ideas.

What If.  Choose one of the questions below and then trace the reasonable and logical consequences that would follow. You might be sure to think of both good and bad (and perhaps indifferent) consequences. List or describe (in a sentence or two each) at least ten consequences.

4. Attribute Analysis.  Attribute analysis is the process of breaking down a problem, idea, or thing into attributes or component parts and then thinking about the attributes rather than the thing itself.

For example, let’s say you work for a ball bearing manufacturer and you discover that a flaw in one of the machines has caused the production of 800 million slightly out-of-round ball bearings. You could ask, “What can I do with 800 million slightly out-of-round ball bearings?” and, of course, a few things come to mind, like sling shot ammo and kid’s marbles. But you could also break the ball bearings down into attributes, such as roundish, heavy, metal, smooth, shiny, hard, magnetizable. Then you could ask, “What can I do with 800 million heavy things?” or “What can I do with 800 million shiny things?”

Further, you can focus on each identified attribute and ask questions about it, like this:

What can heavy things be used for?  paperweights, ship ballast, podium anchors, tree stands, scale weights, and so on What can be done with metal things?  conduct electricity, magnetize them, melt them, make tools with them

To solve the problem of poverty, ask, what are the attributes of poverty Some answers: people, crime, lack of food, lack of goods, large families, psychological lacks, low self esteem, welfare, lack of jobs, lack of job skills, lack of value-rich upbringing, lack of education, lack of motivation, poor economic judgment (poor buying skills), poor quality housing, poor quality transportation.

Then, each of these attributes can be addressed, either directly, or through further attribute analysis. For example, take “poor economic judgment.” What are the attributes of that? Some possibilities: buying low quality items, buying smaller packages at higher price per ounce, wasteful spending habits, tendency to “blow a wad” on payday, inefficient food buying (expensive rather than quantity or health considerations), lack of market competition (and hence higher prices), lack of ability to budget, tendency to use money for non food items like alcohol, inability to calculate price per ounce, etc. to determine greatest economy

Discovering attributes can be aided by the use of checklists. For example: Physical:  color, weight, material, speed, odor, size, structure, taste Psychological:  appearance, symbolism, emotive (“happy smell of detergent”) Functional:  intended uses, applications, how it does what it does People:  who’s involved Miscellaneous:  cost, reputation, origin, class it belongs to, definition

Attribute analysis is sometimes described as a smashing technique, because it smashes our fixed and frozen collection of thoughts about a problem or idea. Notice that this is accomplished by refocusing onto something belonging to the problem but more general or abstract or more specific and concrete. Often, attribute analysis is another way of recognizing that a given problem is really a collection of interrelated smaller problems. And often it is a way of perceiving the variables that make up a situation or thing in a way that allows us to change one or more and improve the whole thing.

Example problem: How can we read and remember better? First, what are the attributes of reading and remembering? Possibilities: books, repetition, visualization, understanding (comprehension), quantity of material and number of details, length of time desired to remember (short or long or permanent) What are the attributes of visualization? … Solution: draw pictures of what you read. What are the attributes of understanding? … Simplify text by rewriting it or summaries of it into your own words

Another problem: What are the uses for a yellow pencil? What are the attributes? Possibilities: yellow paint, hexagonal, pointed, rubber end, metal ring, wood, graphite rod, long and stick-like shape What are the attributes of wood? burns, floats, electrical insulator, nailable, paintable, gluable, structural component, soaks up liquid slowly, can be sanded or carved

5. Morphological Analysis.  Morphological analysis builds upon attribute analysis by generating alternatives for each attribute, thereby producing new possibilities.

The rules are simple:

A. List the attributes of the problem, object, or situation as you would in a standard attribute analysis. B. Under each attribute, list all the alternatives you can think of. C. Choose an alternative from each column at random and assemble the choices into a possibility for a new idea. Repeat the choosing and assembly many times. Example problem: Develop a better bandaid. What are the current attributes of a bandaid? In the table below the attributes are listed in the first row and alternates are listed under each attribute:

Example problem: Improve the textbook What are the current attributes of a textbook?

Morphological Analysis.  Use morphological analysis to improve or solve one of the following. List at least six attributes and at least six alternatives for each. Then choose one set that forms a practical, useful improvement.

6. Manipulative Verbs.  Taking a hint from Osborn’s questions above, some creative thinkers have asked, Why not use a large list of action verbs to stimulate creative thinking? And that is just what manipulative verbs are all about. The list could be very long; here we have just a few. You can make your own list if you like. Choose one of the verbs and think about how it can be applied to your idea or problem.

For example: The problem is to improve a table. The verb is inflate. What does that suggest? Make the table larger, floating, made of inflated vinyl, thick top and legs, high price to cater to upscale consumers, air vents in table to blow out cool or heated air or to suck in smoke from cigarettes. And so on.  Here are a few verbs to begin with:

7. Reversal.  The reversal method for examining a problem or generating new ideas takes a situation as it is and turns it around, inside out, backwards, or upside down. A given situation can be “reversed” in several ways; there is no one formulaic way.

For example, the situation, “a teacher instructing students” could be reversed as

Example problem: a motorist came up behind a flock of sheep in the middle of the road and told the shepherd to move the sheep to the side so that he could drive through. The shepherd knew that on such a narrow roadside, he could not easily keep all his sheep off the road at once. Reversal: Instead of “drive around the sheep,” drive the sheep around the car: have the car stop and drive the sheep around and in back of it.

Example: going on vacation: bring vacation home, stay on vacation most of year and then “go on work” for two weeks, make work into a vacation, send someone on vacation for you to bring back photos and souvenirs, etc.

Example: how can management improve the store?

Note that in some reversals, ideas are generated which then can be reversed into an idea applicable to the original problem. Example from reversal, “How can management hurt the store?” Hurt it by charging high prices on low quality goods, dirty the floors, be rude to customers, hire careless employees, encourage shoplifting, don’t put prices on anything and charge what you feel like, or have to ask for a price check on every item. These bad things can then be reversed, as in, be nice and helpful to customers, make sure all items are priced, etc., and supply a good number of ideas. Sometimes it’s easier to think negatively first and then reverse the negatives.

Example: What can I do to make my relationship with my boss or spouse better? Reversal: what can I do to make it worse? Have temper tantrums, use insults, pretend not to hear, etc. Reverse: control temper, use compliments, be solicitous to needs and requests.

In another example, a variety store chain was being hurt by the competition. Some possible reversals include these:

The second reversal, “How can competition help the store?” was chosen and was implemented by sending employees to competing stores every week to examine displays, sales, floor plans, goods quality and selection, anything that appeared to be effective or useful. The employees brought these ideas back to company, compared, and implemented the best in the store. Result: competition helped the store.

The value of reversal is its “provocative rearrangement of information” (de Bono’s term). Looking at a familiar problem or situation in a fresh way can suggest new solutions or approaches. It doesn’t matter whether the reversal makes sense or not.

Reversals.  Choose on of the following situations and suggest at least five reversals for it.

8. Analogy and Metaphor.  Whether you are teaching someone else something new or trying to learn something yourself or trying to solve a problem, one of the best ways for doing that is to compare the unfamiliar, unknown, or problematic with something familiar and understandable. This is the method of analogy, to find a familiar thing or process that seems somewhat like the idea or problem to be clarified.

In creative thinking, analogies are used for their suggestive qualities, to see what ideas they can break loose, and especially for helping to examine the problem better. By searching for several points of similarity between the analogy and the problem, new aspects of the problem are revealed and new approaches arise.

Example problem: Devise a better way to find your way driving through the fog. Analogy: This is like a nearsighted person finding his way around. How does he do that? feels with his hands, looks at the ground, uses glasses, waves a cane, asks directions. Ideas: feel around–a radar system or fog lights or other feelers, uses glasses–develop a vision enhancing device, such as night light amplification, looks at ground–develop system for car to follow a track on the ground.

Another analogy for the same problem: This is like a traveler in a strange country trying to find his way to a particular location. Use direction signs, radio stations with tourist broadcasts. The traveler goes slow, asks directions, uses guidebook and perhaps foreign language dictionary. What is similar in the problem? Ideas: direction signs–put signs or lights along the side of fog shrouded roads, asks directions–an electronic query system in the car?

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things, in which one thing is identified with the other. In problem solving, the use of metaphor helps to break out of a stereotyped or obvious view. Again, similarities between these two essentially unlike things are looked for.

For example: This problem is a real doughnut. My work schedule is a tree or barbed wire fence or brick wall or flowerpot. Hmm. My work schedule is a flowerpot, and right now there are too many flowers in it and not enough water. So I need more water or fewer flowers if I want healthy blossoms. I had been thinking in terms of fewer flowers (fewer things to do), but now I see that if I use more water (get some help and support), then I can do the same amount of work without suffering.

There is still some good thinking in traditional metaphors, like society as a ship, hierarchies as a great chain, and so on. For example, “History’s not my cup of tea.” Well, what is your cup of tea? What do you really like? A subject that’s hot, sweet, strong, clear, weak, brimming over, aromatic, mixed with cream, flavored with honey or orange blossoms? What are the corresponding realities to each part of the metaphor? Strong equals weighty, technical, concrete? Or orange blossom equals improved with esthetics, etc. But new metaphors are often the most revealing. So discover your own.

Analogy and Metaphor.  Think of a good, original analogy or metaphor for one of the following and the trace at least four similarities. Describe the similarities in complete sentences.

9. Trigger Concepts.  A trigger concept (or idea seed or random seed) is an idea creating technique operated by bringing an unrelated idea into the problem and forcing connections or similarities between the two.

Example problem: improve TV programming Trigger concept: road Questions of association: How is TV programming like a road? (a journey, dangerous curves, linear progress–would better continuity improve TV? scenery makes roads interesting); Does TV programming have a road in it? (bumpy, rough, leading astray); What do roads do? They take you somewhere. Does TV programming take you somewhere? Could improved programming do this better? More location filming? More programs from abroad? Programs that take viewers on intellectual journey? What are roads like? ribbons, tourist havens between the scenery, the route to something else, a path toward real life. What about TV programs that are the route to something else, like happiness, education, thinking, art, escape

Another Example Problem: How can we individualize mass education so that students receive as much personal attention and instruction as possible? Trigger concept: Hatmaker Ideas: put it on your head, iron each one out, custom made hats, custom made heads, custom made textbooks or information (computer generated?), hatboxes of knowledge, students choose a boxful of information to master, multiple hats like multiple disciplines, one hat at a time, one subject at a time? one student at a time? meet twenty students for fifteen minutes each

As strange as the trigger concept method may sound at first, it can work quite well. And, oddly enough, any random seed will be fruitful if you are patient and energetic.

For example, in his book,  The Care and Feeding of Ideas , James Adams gives the following problem and random seed as an exercise: “Assume that you have been hired as a consultant by a restaurant that is having business problems. See how many ways you can think of to improve the business of the restaurant using the concept of a runover dead cat.” What are the possibilities here? Cat guts, catgut, tennis racket–make the restaurant a sports club like place or decorate it with a sports theme (The Avon River Rowing Club?), or install game machines (video) or put in a giant screen TV and show football games on Monday nights. Flat cat, tire tread marks, artsy in the avant garde area–add to the restaurant an art gallery with modern art on the walls, put in chrome and glass and high tech furnishings. Decorated dining plus art sales. Who killed the cat? Offer surprise menu items that guests won’t know what they are until the food arrives. Cats, catsup, the Catsup Supper Club–a burger place. The cat was greased, hit–did the Mafia do it? Is the cat run over repeatedly? Build repeat business by giving a free meal, drink, gift after nine (cat’s lives) visits.

That’s my list, and you can see that what Adams suggests is true: “One of the underlying theories of creativity techniques is that wild ideas are valuable because the normal forces of life will tend to convert them rapidly into practicality.”

Final Example Problem: Get a friend who is behind in his payments to the store to catch up and pay regularly. Trigger concept: Potato Ideas: feed him, peel him, slice him up–divide his payments into smaller pieces, as in every week, and send in the monthly payment made up from that. fry him when he doesn’t pay, plant him in the ground. salt him–give him some “flavorful” incentive to pay, as in some gift or verbal reward. Baked potato, butter and sour cream. Potato eyes–growth–convince him his credit rating will grow and be valuable to him if he pays regularly.

Some useful questions to ask that will help you connect your trigger concept to your idea include these: A. How is the problem or idea like the trigger concept? B. Does the problem have the trigger concept in it? C. What does the concept do? D. What is the concept like? E. What is it not like? F. What does the concept suggest?

Trigger Concepts.  Choose one of the following items and use its assigned trigger concept to stimulate ideas for improving the item. On the first part of a page, write down the ideas and associations that first occur to you when using the trigger concept. Then on the last part of the page, list at least five improvements, each described in a sentence or two, that resulted from your thinking.

A checklist is a standard collection of items (things, verbs, questions, approaches, attributes) used to remind the creative thinker of possible ways to approach a problem or shape a solution. When running through a typical checklist, the creative thinker might ask, “Have I taken this into account? How might I change or use this aspect? What effect will this attribute have on my problem or solution or idea?”

Here are a few checklists, which you should supplement with your own customized ones, developed for your particular problem, or the kind of work your do. You might also locate or develop some additional general lists like these:

I. The Five Senses

1. Touch.  Feeling, texture, pressure, temperature, vibration. 2. Taste.  Flavor, sweet/salt/bitter. 3. Smell.  Aroma, odor. 4. Sound.  Hearing, speech, noise, music. 5. Sight.  Vision, brightness, color, movement, symbol.

II. Human Needs

1. Physical Comfort.  Food, clothing, shelter, warmth, health. 2. Emotional Comfort.  Safety, security, freedom from fear, love. 3. Social Comfort.  Fellowship, friendship, group activity. 4. Psychological Comfort.  Self-esteem, praise, recognition, power, self-determination, life control. 5. Spiritual Comfort.  Belief structure, cosmic organizing principle. (Note: some needs cross boundaries. These include: pleasure, recreation, activity.)

III. Physical Attributes

1. Shape. 2. Color. 3. Texture. 4. Material. 5. Weight. 6. Hardness/Softness. 7. Flexibility. 8. Stability.  (rolls, evaporates, decomposes, discolors, etc.) 9. Usefulness.  (edible, tool, esthetic, etc.) 10. State.  (powdered, melted, carved, painted, etc.)

IV. Aristotle’s Categories

1. Substance or essence.  What is it and what makes it unique or individual? 2. Quantity or magnitude.  How many, how much, what degree? 3. Relation.  Rank, comparison, derivation. 4. Quality.  Value, attributes, shape, habits. 5. Action.  What is it doing or does it do? 6. Affection.  Reputation, attitudes toward. 7. Place.  Where is it? 8. Time.  When? (now? historical? future?) 9. Position.  Sitting, standing, displayed, hidden 10. State.  Planned, broken, untried, changing.

V. General Comments

Customized checklists should be developed for individual problems or ideas when several factors must be considered. Listing each condition to be met or part to be covered will assure that none are overlooked. The mind can attend to only about seven items at one time; more than that will have to be recalled from memory, either by force of will or through a checklist. Checklists help enormously in keeping the idea maker or problem solver alert to multiple aspects of the issue at hand.

A checklist of available tools used in your ordinary work can also be helpful. These lists might be called availability reminders. An electrician might have a list (or even a board with samples) of the various kinds of wires and fasteners available. A student might have a list of common reference tools, outlining styles, and information storage methods (like writing, drawing, typing, voice and video recording, model building, memorizing, and so forth). These checklists simply save the mental effort required to bring up what’s available when that list gets longer than six or seven.

Use one or more of the concepts in this article to respond to one of the following challenges. List the concept(s) you chose to use, and describe how you used it. Then list your suggested names.

Product Name.  The KellMills Cereal Company has just created a new breakfast cereal made from formed wheat chunks. Instead of targeting this cereal either to the children’s or adult’s market, the company would like to target it toward young adults in the 13-19 year-old range. Your task is to think of ten possible names for this product and then to choose one of these names. Explain in a few sentences why the name is appropriate and appealing, and then in a paragraph sketch out a possible advertising campaign or advertisement that will appeal to the targeted group.

You may want to design the look of the cereal box also as part of the advertisement.

Company Name.  A new company has been formed through the merger of two conglomerates, AXA Inc. and Flubco Industries. The new company now makes food items (bread, cake mix, cereal, soup), household products (light bulbs, telephones, dishwashing detergent), and original equipment for manufacturers (automobile mufflers and shock absorbers).

Your task is to create a new name for this company that will be attractive, memorable, and distinctive, and if possible, reflect the kinds of products the company makes and the market it serves. Suggest ten possible names and then choose one that seems to be the best. In a few sentences explain why this is the best choice.

Finally, generate a motto to go with the new name. (For example, “Flubco–Our light bulbs are a bright idea.”)

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9 creative techniques for you and your team

Miro is a great tool for brainstorming and creative projects. Endless whiteboard and a set of tools allow you to generate ideas for thousands of different projects – from travelling to engineering. In this post we collected popular creative techniques you can easily use in Miro, and prepared some tips&tricks for you.

1. Brainstorming – probably one of the most popular creative techniques

This is the most obvious creative techniques and endless whiteboard is just perfect for it. The basis of brainstorming is a generating ideas in a group situation based on the principle of suspending judgment – a principle which scientific research has proved to be highly productive in individual effort as well as group effort.

Creative Techniques

State the problem you are trying to solve. Use post-its , images and videos – anything that can help you generate ideas. Write down every idea even if it is odd, encourage people to build on the ideas of others. Follow 12 basic rules to make the session effective .

After the session is over, vote for the best ideas.

2. Negative brainstorming

This is another example of creative techniques. It uses brainstorming to generate bad solutions to the problem and then see how those could be transformed into good solutions. The method is a two-step process, that consists of generating the worst ideas first and then transforming them into good solutions.

The process is the same as described above.

For example, you are trying to solve the question ‘How to make teamwork more effective’.

These are examples of bad solutions:

– To build a wall between team members so they never meet each other.

– To put them in 5 different buildings.

A transformed bad solution can be:

– To move to another building/office with the common space where all the team can gather together and discuss ideas.

3. The Insights Game

Have you experienced one of those moments when you suddenly realize how the world works and the dots are connected? The Insights Game is about these moments. Every insight gives you one point. You need to have at least one point every day, if not the game is over.

Insight game

Actually, it is a personal method, but you can do it with your friends or team on different boards simultaneously supporting each other.

The goal and the reward of this game is that you will improve your ability to see the big picture, process more complex problems and challenge your beliefs.

Use images, videos, post-its and whatever you want to put your insights on the board. Back to the board every day and look at the big picture. Try these for 21 days minimum, and feel this magical moment! Use the Monthly planner template to start or put everything on a blank sheet.

4. Mood boards

Mood board is a type of collage that may consist of images, text, videos and samples of objects in a composition of the choice of the mood board creator.

Creative Techniques

Designers and others use mood boards to develop their design concepts and to communicate to other members of the design team. They are used by artists and are based on a particular theme of their choice too. Here  you can find some more useful information about mood boards.

You can use a blank template, add pictures and videos using Insert button, and screenshots using Chrome Extension .

5. Random Words (Random Input)

Random Words creative technique encourages your imagination to create different perspectives and new angles on your idea or the problem you are facing. It is by far the simplest of all creative techniques and is widely used by people who need to create new ideas (for example, for new products).

Random words

Prepare with a lot of different random words, short stories or tweets, put them on the board and start your brainstorming session!

Once you have chosen the word, list its attributions or associations with the word. Then apply each of the items on your list and see how it applies to the problem at hand.

How does it work? Because the brain is a self-organising system, and very good at making connections. Almost any random word will stimulate ideas on the subject. Follow the associations and functions of the stimulus word, as well as using aspects of the word as a metaphor.

Get inspired with our example and start your own random words session!

6. Storyboarding

Storyboards go back to the very beginnings of cinema and animation. As it is known, Walt Disney and his staff developed a Story Board system in 1928. Disney wanted to achieve full animation and for this, he needed to produce an enormous number of drawings. Managing the thousands of drawings and the progress of a project was nearly impossible, so Disney had his artists pin up their drawings on the studio walls. This way, progress could be checked, and scenes added and discarded with ease.

Visual story Map

Now Storyboarding is a popular creative technique and is widely spread in business. Storyboards are used today by industry for planning advertising campaigns, commercials, a proposal or other business presentations intended to convince or compel to action.

To implement a Storyboard solution you can use a blank template in Miro. The initial storyboard may be as simple as slide titles on Post-It notes , which are then replaced with draft presentation slides as they are created.

Another way to create Storyboard in Miro is to use Visual story map template which was originally taken from the awesome book ‘Stories that move mountains’.  

7. Metaphorical thinking

A metaphor is a thinking method which connects two universes of meaning. Examples: Food chain or flow of time. Metaphorical thinking is based on Similarity. Our mind tends to look for similarities. A road map is a model or metaphor of reality and useful for explaining things.

Imaging within another conceptual frame can help, eg. the visual images of spring which inspired Vivaldi’s “Prima Vera”, the dream that led to Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” the art exhibition which Mussorsgy illustrated in “Pictures at an Exhibition,” and so on.

Put everything that you may need on the board – words, images, videos, icons, etc. to help you create something new and exciting.   

8. Mind mapping

Mind Maps has been developed by Tony Buzan are an effective technique of structuring information and note-taking. They are also useful during the brainstorming sessions. To make a mind map , start in the center of the board with the main idea, invite your team and work in all directions, producing a growing and organized structure using key words/phrases and key images/videos.

Mind Map with icons

Use colorful links, post-its, shapes, icons, images and videos – anything that can help you build a visual map.  

Get inspired with our example and start with the template in Miro .

9. Brain shifter

Brain shifter is one of creative techniques that is similar to mind mapping, but you should act as if you were someone else. The  purpose  is to create new ideas that you never thought about before.

Creative Techniques


Get in to character by changing your mindset and try to think like another person. E.g imagine that you are a doctor, a lawyer, a kid or why not a Batman? Start to write your ideas on post-its thinking as your ‘superhero’. If you use the method in group, you can give the roles to each other before the session.

After the session is finished, vote for the best ideas.

Any thoughts on creative techniques? Comments? Reach us at [email protected]

creative thinking methods and techniques

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creative thinking methods and techniques

Introduction to the Essential Ideation Techniques which are the Heart of Design Thinking

Ideation is at the heart of the Design Thinking process. There are literally hundreds of ideation techniques, for example brainstorming , sketching , SCAMPER , and prototyping . Some techniques are merely renamed or slightly adapted versions of more foundational techniques. Here you’ll get an overview of the best techniques as well as when and why to use them.

“Ideation is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.” – d.school, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

How to Ideate

You ideate by combining your conscious and unconscious mind. You combine your rational thoughts with your imagination. The following techniques are the most essential techniques, which can help you and your team ideate:

The Most Essential Ideation Techniques: Which Ideation Techniques Should You Choose?

Due to the nature of ideation, it is extremely important to make use of techniques that match the type of ideas you're trying to generate. The techniques you choose will also need to match the needs of the ideation team, their states of creative productivity and their experience in ideation sessions.Here is an overview of the most essential ideation techniques:

During a Brainstorm session, you leverage the synergy of the group to reach new ideas by building on others’ ideas. Ideas are blended to create one good idea as indicated by the slogan “1+1=3”. Participants should be able to discuss their ideas freely without fear of criticism. You should create an environment where all participants embrace wild ideas and misunderstanding, and which will allow you to reach further than you could by simply thinking logically about a problem.

Braindump is very similar to Brainstorm, however it’s done individually. The participants write down their ideas on post-it notes and share their ideas later with the group.

Brainwriting is also very similar to a Brainstorm session. However, the participants write down their ideas on paper and, after a few minutes, they pass on their own piece of paper to another participant who’ll then elaborate on the first person’s ideas and so forth. Another few minutes later, the individual participants will again pass their papers on to someone else and so the process continues. After about 15 minutes, you will collect the papers and post them for instant discussion.

creative thinking methods and techniques

Brainwriting is very similar to a Brainstorm session. However, the participants write down their ideas and then after a few minutes they pass on their own paper to another participant who’ll then elaborate on the first person’s ideas and so forth.

Brainwalk is similar to Brainwriting. However, instead of passing around the paper, the participants walk around in the room and continuously find new “ideation stations” where they can elaborate on other participants’ ideas.

Worst Possible Idea

Worst Possible Idea is a highly effective method that you can use to get the creative juices flowing and help those who are not so confident in expressing themselves by flipping the brainstorm on its head. It’s a lot of fun too. Instead of going for good ideas and putting the pressure on, call for the worst possible ideas your team can come up with. Doing this relieves any anxiety and self-confidence issues and allows people to be more playful and adventurous, as they know their ideas are most certainly not going to be scrutinised for missing the mark. It's way easier to say, “hey, no that's not bad enough” than the opposite. A great variation of this called the bad ideas method encourages you to generate a large quantity of bad ideas.

Challenge Assumptions

Take a step back from the challenge you're tackling and ask some important questions about the assumptions you have about the product, service, or situation where you're trying to innovate. It is particularly effective to challenge assumptions when you are stuck in current thinking paradigms or have run out of ideas. Therefore, it is good for re-booting a flagging session. Are the characteristics we take for granted about these things really crucial aspects, or are they just so because we've all become accustomed to them?

Mindmapping is a graphical technique in which participants build a web of relationships. To get started with the simplest form of mindmapping, the participants write a problem statement or key phrase in the middle of the page. Then, they write solutions and ideas that comes to their mind on the very same page. After that, participants connect their solutions and ideas by curves or lines to its minor or major (previous or following) fact or idea.

Sketch or Sketchstorm

Throughout ideation sessions, a valuable exercise is to express ideas and potential solutions in the form of diagrams and rough sketches instead of merely in words. Visuals have a way of provoking further ideas and providing a wider lens of thinking. The idea with sketching out ideas is not to develop beautiful drawings worthy of framing and mounting on the wall. The sketches should be as simple and rough as possible with just enough detail to convey meaning. This also helps preventing people from becoming attached to their little works of art.

You can rely on sketching, a proven design tool, to help you explore your design space more fully, and avoid the pitfalls of focusing on suboptimal design choices ahead of time. More particularly, sketches can assist you in the design process by helping you to think more openly and creatively about your ideas. They can help you create abundant ideas without worrying about their quality. Sketches will help you invent and explore concepts by being able to record ideas quickly. Sketches will make it easier for you to discuss, critique, and share your ideas with others. That’s why sketches are a great tool to help you and your team to choose which ideas are worth pursuing.

creative thinking methods and techniques

Sketches should be as simple and rough as possible with just enough detail to convey meaning.

Stories are a key medium for communication, learning, and exploring. Storyboarding is all about developing a visual story relating to the problem, design, or solution which you want to explain or explore. Storyboarding can help you bring a situation to life, it can show what happens over time, and explore the dynamics of a situation. You can use storyboarding after having empathised with people in order to better understand their lives. You can draw out their stories. Storyboards can help you represent information you gain during research. Create scenarios consisting of pictures and quotes from users. If you are developing ideas, you may then seek to play with different scenarios to see where they go. Develop a coherent storyline with actors and a plot. Try to build tension and include unexpected surprises in your story. Evoke emotions and show struggle and by the end learning and solving the tensions and leaving the user satisfied.

When you’re creating your storyboard you can seek inspiration in the method called “ Aristotle ’s seven elements of good storytelling ” which you can download, print and use as your guide.

Get your free template for “Aristotle's 7 Elements of Good Storytelling”

Aristotle's 7 Elements of Good Storytelling

Bodystorming is a technique in which participants physically act out situations they are trying to innovate within. It may involve expressing solutions to ideas through physical activity, or enacting some of the problem scenarios that we are attempting to solve. Physically acting out processes, scenarios and events helps get the ideation team physically involved instead of theorising about the problems. It combines aspects of empathy , brainstorming, and prototyping into one exercise with increased energy and movement, which helps stimulate higher energy and more meaningful experiences.

Bodystorming may include setting up the entire ideation space with props and artifacts, to recreate some semblance of the real environment in order to test out various scenarios and see how this may change the situation. The process may also include setting up various steps in a customer's journey.

Storytellers, journalists, artists, leaders and all kinds of other creative professions have relied on creating analogies as a powerful tool for communicating and sparking ideas. An analogy is a comparison between two things for instance a comparison of a heart and a pump. We communicate using analogies all the time as they allow us to express our idea or to explain complex matters in an understandable and motivating way.


Provocation is a lateral thinking technique, which challenges the status quo and allows you to explore new realities to extreme degrees. Lateral thinking distances itself from the classic method for problem solving where we work out the solution step-by-step from the given data.

Creativity is all about journeying through stimuli with a possibly abstract or unseen destination in mind. The route of the journey is unknown and most often requires you to explore multiple paths in order to arrive at the unknown destination. Provocations provide this mechanism for injecting the unconventional into the thinking patterns and exploration process. Provocations do not themselves lead directly to a final solution in most cases, although they do provide the material from which the new idea may be formed.

SCAMPER is a lateral ideation technique that utilises action verbs as stimuli. It helps us ask seven kinds of questions to come up with ideas either for improvements of existing products or for making a new product.

The movement technique will also help you if you’re blocked in your idea generation. You can use this technique to step around the roadblocks in your thinking. As the Provocation technique Movement will help you force your team to question the status quo, shock yourself and your team into a new reality. This is the perfect “what if?” tool. Lateral thinking techniques do not always immediately result in concrete or usable ideas, but create a wide array of thinking stimuli, which you can leverage for piecing together practical ideas. To make use of the stimuli generated, it requires movement, or what some refer to as insight or principle mining. This tool will help you spot themes, principles, useful attributes or trends in your thinking, which you can use to build up a more viable and realistic ideas.


Gamestorming is a set of ideation and problem-solving methods that are purposely gamified in order to dramatically increase levels of engagement, energy, and collaboration during group sessions. It involves some of the methods we've already mentioned, while adding gamification .

A few examples of gamified ideation sessions include:

Fishbowl: An ideation session in which participants sit in two circles, one smaller and one larger surrounding the smaller one. Participants in the inner circle discuss their ideas and brainstorm while participants in the outer circle listen, observe, and document the ideas and conversation points without saying anything. This forces some to listen and others to engage in brainstorming.

The Anti-Problem: The idea is based on flipping the problem. In the Anti-Problem is the opposite of the real problem that needs to be solved. In this session you seek to solve the anti-problem. This may provide inspiration that you could not have gotten access to by focusing purely on the real challenge, though it may generate ideas which are still related to the problem space. The ideas you generate can then be re-flipped to bring them back into the realm of the real problem.

Cover Story: This involves using a template that forces participants to create a cover story, including main image, headline, quotes, and sidebars with associated facts etc. It is a good method for vision generation sessions and helps create a cohesive picture of a broad subject area using the primary characteristics.

creative thinking methods and techniques

Cheatstorming is less about coming up with new ideas and more of an early ideation technique for taking existing pools of ideas and leveraging them as input or stimulus. Unlike other ideation methods where the bulk of ideas generated are discarded, cheatstorming is a bit like cognitive sustainability, reusing and not wasting previously ideated material.

Another storm to consider involves the target audience to generate or comment and approve generated ideas. Customer or user feedback is important at every stage of the process and involving them to pick and evaluate ideas can lead to identifying possible winners or losers, which the team might have missed due to blind spots. Social media , customer surveys , focus groups and co-design workshops are all methods of getting the crowd to share their thoughts on the generated ideas. This process may not provide an ultimate winner but it will reveal valuable insights that can assist in the daunting decision relating to which ideas to proceed with.

Co-Creation Workshops

creative thinking methods and techniques

There are times when combining customer or user empathy research, ideation, and prototyping might prove useful when rapidly combined.

There are times when combining customer or user empathy research, ideation and prototyping might prove useful when rapidly combined. Co-creation or Co-design workshops combine a number of Design Thinking methods over the course of a few hours to days or even weeks. They can be condensed into full day workshops and conducted a number of times at different locations in order to expedite findings and ideas from the target community. These sessions, if used as one-off workshops, usually follow a sequence that includes:

Introductions and Icebreakers

Vision and Values Exercises

Empathy Exercises

Insight Mining

Challenge Framing


Prototyping itself can be an ideation technique. When you create a physical object you need to make decisions and this encourages the generation of new ideas. You build to think.

Creative Pause

An important step in any ideation process or session is what Edward De Bono refers to in his book, Serious Creativity as the creative pause. When our neurons are firing away against a seemingly impenetrable brick wall challenge, we can easily get stuck into unconstructive thinking patterns. We become anchored to an early idea or stream of thought, or get caught up in negative thoughts surrounding the process. A creative pause gives us time to take a step back, reflect, extract ourselves from the traps we've cognitively set for ourselves, and re-approach the challenge with renewed freshness of the mind. We want proactive thinking to lead the way – not reactive thinking, which often has a negative orientated spin to it.

creative thinking methods and techniques

Creative pauses help us to not get anchored to an early idea or stream of thought or get caught up in negative thoughts surrounding the process. A creative pause gives us time to take a step back, reflect, extract ourselves from the traps we've cognitively set for ourselves, and re-approach the challenge with renewed freshness of the mind.

The Take Away

Ideation is at the heart of the Design Thinking process. There are literally hundreds of ideation techniques. Here we’ve provided you with an overview of the best techniques as well as when and why to use them. Due to the nature of ideation, it is extremely important to make use of techniques that match the type of ideas you're trying to generate. The techniques you choose will also need to match those of the ideation team members, their states of creative productivity, and their experience with ideation sessions.

References and Where to Learn More

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Braden Kowitz. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Edward De Bono. Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas, 1993

Gabriela Goldschmidt. Chapter 9 Visual Analogy- a Strategy for Design Reasoning and Learning

Dave Gray. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, 2010

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How is it that some people always seem to be able to generate new ideas and think creatively, and others seem to struggle to do so? The answer lies in their ability to use creative thinking.

Creative thinking is the ability to look at things differently, and find new ways of solving problems. Creative thinking skills are definitely not just for ‘creative types’ like artists and musicians. Everyone can benefit from creative thinking from time to time.

Regardless of whether you view yourself as a creative type or not, you can learn some useful skills and techniques which will enable you to tap into that creative ‘right brain’ thinking and bring a new perspective to innovation, problem-solving and managing change.

What is Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking is:

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 the ability to make something new. This might be a picture, or a piece of music—but it might also be a new idea.

Creative thinking, therefore, is the ability to think differently: to see a problem or issue from a new angle or perspective. This often allows you find a new solution, or even to see that the problem does not necessarily need a solution.

The need for creative thinking arises because our brains naturally tend to fall into certain ‘short cuts’. Once we have a piece of information, we tend to use it again: that’s how we learn. This has huge advantages—for example, it means that we don’t have to learn how to use a knife and fork every time we eat—but it also has some disadvantages, in that we tend to stop thinking about things that we do, see or say regularly.

Formal Creative Thinking

Of course it is possible to think creatively all the time. There are some people who simply fizz with new ideas and seem to see everything slightly differently from those around them.

These are the people who are always asking ‘ Why? ’, and ‘ Why not? ’.

They are natural problem-solvers and innovators.

However, for most people, creative thinking requires more effort. They prefer to save their creative thinking for when it is really necessary.

Typical examples of times when you might take the time to use creative thinking techniques include:

When you are facing a major problem or issue , and you cannot see an obvious way forward.

At times of change , when it is hard to see what might lie ahead, and you want to think about possible scenarios.

When there is a lot of disagreement about what needs to happen next, and no compromise seems possible without a lot of effort.

When you need something new , that hasn’t been tried before, but you are not sure what.

On occasions like this, it may be worth doing some ‘formal’ creative thinking, and using a trained facilitator to help the group get the most out of the session.

There are a number of tools and techniques that you can use to stimulate creative thinking.

These include brainstorming, drawing techniques such as mind-mapping and rich pictures, and role-play techniques. There is undoubtedly considerable scepticism about many of these techniques. However, most if not all have some science behind them, and certainly some evidence that they work. It is worth keeping an open mind when you try them.

There is more about suitable tools and techniques for creative thinking in our page on Creative Thinking Techniques .

Making Your Thinking More Creative

Beyond ‘formal’ creative thinking opportunities, there are also things that you can do to help yourself think more creatively on a routine basis.

These include:

‘ Spreading your social wings ’ to get to know a wider and more diverse group of people.

We all tend to get on best with people who are like us, and particularly people with the same background and overall views on life. However, associating with people who are like us tends to mean that our thinking gets a bit ‘lazy’. Our assumptions go unchallenged, and our views tend to get reinforced.

Taking time to actively go out and meet new people—and particularly more diverse people, who are not so like you—will help you to challenge your assumptions. Without even realising that you are doing so, you will start to think more widely, and see things differently.

That, of course, is the first step in starting to think more creatively.

Embracing new opportunities and trying new things

One particular research study tested creativity among people who had lived abroad, and those who had not lived outside their birth country. The study found that people who had lived abroad were better able to think creatively to solve a problem.

Obviously not everyone can go and live abroad for a period, but actively seeking out and taking up opportunities to do something new could have the same effect.

It is worth challenging yourself to learn a new skill, or do something you find difficult, simply for the effect it will have on  your thinking!

Challenging stereotypes and forcing yourself to think beyond the obvious

Another study found that people who were asked to think about people who did not fit a stereotype (such as a male midwife) were better able to think creatively than people asked to think about someone who fitted the stereotype.

This is a very small thing, but it shows the effect of conventional thinking on our ability to think more creatively.

Being conscious of stereotypes, and asking yourself ‘But why do I think that?’ will help to surface your assumptions, and  help you to think more creatively.

Engaging with art, theatre and music

It seems that people who visit the theatre, go to concerts, or engage with other cultural activities are also more able to think creatively. The thinking is that these activities help us to see things from a new perspective, and therefore to think more creatively. They also, apparently, can help you to feel more connected, and generally kinder.

Taking time to enjoy arts or create something in your leisure time will help you to broaden your horizons more generally.

A final thought

There are huge benefits to learning to think a little differently. It will help to improve your problem-solving ability, and also help you to see others’ perspectives. In an increasingly global world, broader horizons and an ability to think more widely is never going to hurt.

Continue to: Understanding Creative Thinking Creative Thinking Techniques

See also: Critical Thinking Skills Personal SWOT Analysis Skills Needed by Inventors 4 Learning Techniques That Are Perfect for Creative Minds


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    What you'll learn in this course: · Understand what creative thinking techniques are. · Develop your own, new, creativity techniques. · Make your ideas take shape in the real world. · Use high-impact, creativity techniques. · Tap into your most original thinking, regularly and on demand. · Make new connections in your mind that result in ...

  18. Creative Thinking Techniques

    You'll remember the five creative methods we discussed in the Introduction to Creative Thinking: evolution, synthesis, revolution, reapplication, changing direction. Many classic creative thinking techniques make use of one or more of these methods.

  19. Creativity techniques

    Creativity techniques are methods that encourage creative actions, whether in the arts or sciences. They focus on a variety of aspects of creativity, including techniques for idea generation and divergent thinking, methods of re-framing problems, changes in the affective environment and so on.

  20. Three Ideation Methods to Enhance Your Innovative Thinking

    How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work. They've got a vital point there. So, let's see how we can help you stand apart in your work by learning three new methods—namely, Re-Expression, Revolution, and Random Links. These can help you soar above the humdrum and make users go 'Wow!' - not because you'll have done the 'done ...

  21. New Ideas

    The key techniques to do this are: Breaking out of old patterns of thinking. You can do this by challenging your assumptions, rephrasing the problem, mixing your media, and thinking in reverse. Forging new connections. Use random words, picture prompts, or objects of interest to force your mind to make new connections.

  22. 10 Creative Techniques You Should Try in Online Whiteboard

    Brain shifter is one of creative techniques that is similar to mind mapping, but you should act as if you were someone else. The purpose is to create new ideas that you never thought about before. Instructions: Get in to character by changing your mindset and try to think like another person.

  23. Introduction to the Essential Ideation Techniques which are the Heart

    Ideation is at the heart of the Design Thinking process. There are literally hundreds of ideation techniques, for example brainstorming, sketching, SCAMPER, and prototyping. Some techniques are merely renamed or slightly adapted versions of more foundational techniques. Here you'll get an overview of the best techniques as well as when and ...

  24. Creative Thinking Skills

    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 the ability to make something new.

  25. ERIC

    Divergent thinking (DT) tests are among the most popular techniques for measuring creativity. However, the validity evidence for DT tests, as applied in educational settings, is inconsistent partly due to different scoring methods. This study explored the reliability and validity issues of various techniques for administering and scoring two DT tests.