The Basics of Creative Thinking

Here is an overview of what creative thinking is and why it is a crucial life skill.

Often described as ‘thinking outside the box’, creative thinking is using techniques and approaches to problem solving that may at first glance seem eccentric or outlandish yet ultimately are of great value. See the excellent ‘oblique strategies’ for some great examples.

Thinking ‘inside the box’ is characterized by adherence to traditions and customs and trying to replicate previous works. This is effectively karaoke culture and it is commonplace. Imagine the band in Britain who are asked to write a hit single by their record company. Sadly, this usually means looking at what Coldplay or U2 or another mainstream and rather bland act have done, work out their ‘formula’ of 3 verses, 2 choruses and a guitar solo, and then replicate it. How dull!

Genuine creativity relies on genuine creative thinking. Try an instrument you have never tried before. Play your demo backwards. Invite a foreign vocalist in to speak their own language as the intro. Use a hydrophone to record underwater sounds in your local river. Record the wind. These kinds of ideas often come after a bottle of wine or three, but can sometimes throw up something so unusual that it stands apart from all other contemporary work.

It is sometimes said that critical thinking and creative thinking are opposites because the former follows rational rules and logic whereas the latter ‘breaks all the rules’.

There is actually no conflict between critical thinking and creative thinking. They can be used together really effectively, as the ‘breaking all the rules’ part of creative thinking can help us gain unusual perspectives that we might not have considered before and can even help us develop cutting edge or pioneering techniques, systems and theories. And in the fields of creative arts, we are not always aiming for a song or story or painting to be true or logical but rather be of incredible aesthetic value. For most, the artwork is at least as important as the method used to create it.

It depends, as always, on what our goals are, but creative thinking techniques can help us think for ourselves and reach our full potential, free from the shackles of convention and tradition. The past may offer us clues as to how to create the future, but we need the bravery and freedom to explore it for ourselves rather than follow a set of rules that no longer applies in a fast-changing world.