The Guide to Creative Thinking Skills: Examples and Tips

There’s more to creative thinking than meets the eye.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Creative Thinking Skills with examples and tips floating over worker

Creative thinking is not just a skill used by artists or other “creative” people; it’s a very useful attribute that can be used in real life and in all kinds of work. In fact, we all have the potential and the headspace to use creative thinking in all that we do.

Creative thinking examples at work can be used in many ways, and this article will bring many of them to life. We’ll also discuss what creative thinking is, its importance and purpose, and share some tips that will help you nurture your creative self.

What is creative thinking?

Creative thinking is the action of being able to think about something differently, or in a unique way not seen before. It’s the practice of generating something new from existing information, or the development of entirely fresh concepts. Creative thinking can generate novel approaches to problems, new information from data, new products or processes, or a fresh take on a conflict or disagreement.

Creative thinking can stem from practical day-to-day data, entirely conceptual information or, indeed, no existing information at all. As humans, we all have some capacity for creative thinking — some people are more naturally creative than others, but the potential is there!

The importance of creative thinking

Creative thinking isn’t just useful for people employed in the creative industries such as artists or media workers. It’s a skill that can positively impact all that we do, in various ways. Here are the top five benefits of creative thinking.

1. It improves your emotional intelligence

Creative thinking encourages us to consider things from various points of view, and gets us to think a little differently. Creative thinking also encourages collaboration with others, even those who you might not agree with in principle. These behaviors are examples of emotional intelligence, a trait that has a huge impact on how you live and work.

If you’re more emotionally intelligent, you’ll be able to sustain lasting relationships and be regarded as a professional and well-reasoned individual who can understand others inside and outside of work.

2. It improves your confidence

The road to creative thinking often involves tapping into creative potential through doing things that you love, being curious, and focusing on your mood. All these behaviors can create boosts to your confidence because you’ll be in the right frame of mind to present your ideas to others.

But what about the quality of these ideas? Creative thinking can mean that you have developed reasoned ideas that are innovative and exciting. Not only would you be keen to share these ideas, but this excitement would be infectious, and other people would love to hear about them too.

3. It helps you solve problems

Creative thinking goes hand in hand with problem solving. Even the creative thinking process can help us in the lead-up to problem solving through collaborating with others, asking strong questions, and being linked with a positive mindset and confidence.

Creative thinking examples, such as mind-mapping, brainstorming, and thinking outside the box can lead to problems not only being solved, but in a way that is both practical and original, with long lasting positive impacts. Yes, challenges can be solved without creative thinking, but you can solve them to a higher degree if your creative juices are flowing.

4. You’ll work better

Linear thought that is associated with being busy and productive is useful in certain settings, but it can also lead to frustrations, causing us to become unmotivated and unproductive.

We’ll discuss later how creative thinking works best when you’re taking a break or reflecting on work.  Nevertheless, creative thinking can help you work faster, smarter and better. Taking break times or rest can lead to a boost in productivity through reenergizing you. Pausing to think about a problem might mean that you solve it faster than trying to plough on and fix it as you go.

5. It adds value to your life

It’s too easy to not think creatively. We can get swept up in the processes and routines of personal life and what we do at work, and tick all the boxes that society and organizations tell us we should be doing.

Creative thinking creates fresh perspectives and requires positive inputs like happiness, exercise, collaboration, socialization and reflective practice. In short, the process of creative thinking adds value to your own life and drives career advancement, and the output can add value to everyone around you. Creative thinking is truly win-win.

How is creative thinking different to critical thinking?

Creative vs critical thinking isn’t a question of using one or the other, as they’re used interchangeably almost every day, albeit in very different situations.

Critical thinking is convergent: a logical and structured process, and one that makes use of existing concepts and information. We use these processes and information to make linear, factual decisions.

Creative thinking, meanwhile, is about creating something new. It’s not necessarily creating something out of nothing, but is more focused on discovering new approaches, new ideas and new perceptions to come up with something original. This is regarded as divergent thinking. There are plenty of ways this can be used at work.

Creative thinking examples

Creative thinking can have many practical applications at work, and many of these are used every day, even by people who don’t consider themselves to be creative.

Here’s a list of 20 examples of behaviors and actions that use creative thinking and positively impact your workplace.

1. Active listening

Active listening at work is essential, as it enables you to engage in conversation and retain information. It requires creative thinking, as it enables you to understand — and respond to —  the various ways that people talk, and adapt your listening technique accordingly.

2. Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking might appear the opposite of creative thinking, but the reality is that analytical thought requires creativity. When you’re at work, using analytical thinking to make sense of a project or task enables you to form frameworks that assist in structuring creative thought processes.

3. Brainstorming

When you’re at work, getting several people to help support problems can be a creative and effective way of approaching certain challenges. Brainstorming is a creative process, as it requires you to think of innovative ideas and then sort them into what might work. It requires coming up with creative solutions and creatively organizing other people’s, too!

4. Collaboration

Collaborating at work is essential, as doing so ensures that group or team interests are at the heart of the matter. Collaboration is sometimes challenging, as it requires creativity in balancing various people and wants; as such, finding “win-win” is a real achievement.

5. Commitment

One of the most important skills at work is staying the distance and seeing through projects from start to finish. This is easier said than done, especially when we’re getting ever busier. Commitment requires creativity, as it’s about finding ways to see the positives, fighting through hard times and staying organized.

6. Failing well

Knowing how to fail at work is an important skill and one that we all need to learn and use at some point. Failing well is about learning from suboptimal outcomes and taking them on the chin. It requires creativity because in failing well, you’ll need to find a positive spin on what happened.

7. Improvisation

Improvisation is an important work skill, because unexpected situations will always crop up. Using creativity to think on your feet and find suitable ways forward in the face of uncertainty is a useful ability to have. It can also be an example of how to solve problems at work.

8. Innovation

Innovation is essential for organizational survival: after all, if you don’t innovate, someone else will! Encouraging innovation is important so that people feel safe and empowered to think of new ideas and suggest them to managers. This way, new products and processes can be developed to maintain that competitive edge.

9. Interdisciplinary thinking

It’s helpful at work to consider how people in other departments or divisions think about certain things. Interdisciplinary thinking can help with team cohesiveness and certainly benefits larger organizations. Creativity supports in developing the open mind needed to see situations from another department’s point of view.

10. Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking refers to solving challenges through “thinking outside the box”, using abstract reasoning.  Many different lines of work require the use of lateral thinking, not just creative disciplines. Lateral thinking can help teams come up with creative and impactful solutions, and is a very useful way of approaching challenges.

11. Leadership

Leadership can refer to the leading of processes as well as people. It requires plenty of creative thinking as no one leadership style is ever enough for success. Leaders must be able to adapt their approach and develop agility to support everyone and everything they have responsibility for.

12. Mind-mapping

An extension of lateral thinking, mind maps convert the lateral thinking process into a visual aid that teams can collaborate on to look at solutions that can work. Mind maps are effective in a work setting, as they can focus teams’ attention on something tangible and can be reflected upon to consider and discuss what might work going forward.

13. Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness is a powerful skill to have at work and is driven by creative thinking. It allows us to be willing to entertain the ideas and approaches of others, and has practical implications for diversity and inclusion, all of which can sustain happy and productive workplaces.

14. Optimism

There will be times when even the most positive person will have difficulties remaining optimistic. Lasting optimism requires creative thought for exactly this reason: that it takes a little creativity to think “glass half full” all the time. Optimistic people will use creative thinking to help others keep optimistic, as well as themselves.

15. Problem solving

We face countless challenges every day at work: some big, some small. Creative thinking enables us to develop solutions to these problems that critical thinking might miss. Problem solving sometimes requires lateral thinking and daring to be different. Creative thinking helps us develop unique fixes to issues that have lasting impact.

16. Provocation technique

Provocation technique is brainstorming challenging solutions to problems that might not work by themselves, but when coupled with creativity to see what realistic ideas that can develop from them can yield powerful results.

One example of provocation could be that if you’re getting a lot of complaints, then a challenging idea could be to remove all the customers so there would be none. Whereas this clearly wouldn’t work, an idea to come out of provocation could be to separate teams into people that proactively help customers and those who handle complaints.

17. Reflective practice

Reflecting on work is a great way to revisit situations and come up with new ideas, or simply to learn from experience and build upon what’s happened. Reflective practice is not easy and requires you to find your own way to make it work; here’s where creativity comes into play!

18. Reverse thinking

Reverse thinking is starting with the end in mind. At work, this is an effective goalsetting technique and guarantees that your mind is focused on the bigger picture. Reserve thinking is an abstract process and requires creativity to make use of it to its fullest extent.

19. Sales and marketing

Selling products is not a linear process and requires a lot of creativity for it to be done well. You need to understand the idiosyncrasies of every client and come up with individual and creative ways to sell them your products. For the best results, no two approaches should be the same.

20. Storytelling

Storytelling at work helps bring ideas to life and is a powerful communication device to influence people. Storytelling requires deft use of words and thought to create compelling tales that stick in people’s minds. It requires creativity and knowledge of the audience for it to succeed.

How to improve your creative thinking skills

Creative thinking isn’t a skill you can “learn” in the traditional way; instead, it’s one that’s developed with the right conditions and mindset, over a long period of time. Improving your creative thinking skills is a true learning journey; here are 10 good ways to do so.

1. Ask more questions

American author Tony Robbins once said: “Successful people ask better questions and, as a result, they get better answers”. Effective questioning is central to creativity, because they’ll give you the ideas and inspiration needed for creative thought and solving complex problems.

Questions are an important part of discovery and curiosity. Your success as a creative thinker depends on how curious you are. Open-ended and probing questions work best when asking effective questions.

2. Take a break

It’s all very well working flat out, and this can make you feel efficient and productive, but a hectic day won’t give you time or stimulation to process information creatively. Taking breaks gives your mind a rest and allows it to reflect on experience to generate creative thoughts.

Taking a break will also relax you, making you happier and stimulating creative thought accordingly. One great method for managing breaks is the Pomodoro technique, where you punctuate your working day with short, regular breaks.

3. Look after yourself

If you’re in a good mood, then the anterior cingulate cortex, the area of your brain that drives creative thought and the processing of ideas, is stimulated. If it isn’t stimulated, then more analytical thought processes are prioritized instead.

To keep happy, start by looking after yourself. Eating well, getting lots of rest and exercising regularly will all increase endorphin levels that will ensure your mood remains high.

4. Practice gratitude

Gratitude is gold dust for creativity. Not only does being thankful put us in a better mood which, as previously discussed, supports creative thinking, but positive psychology stimulates our minds as many people aren’t used to practicing it, which in turn encourages us to think differently.

Develop an “attitude of gratitude” by ensuring you journal what you’re grateful for on a regular basis and thanking someone every day for something they’ve done to support you.

5. Schedule time for yourself

Solo time, or “non-time” — the times of day where nothing happens, like early morning or late at night — is fruitful time for creative thinking. Whereas creativity is fostered in part by interactions with others, taking a break from all these distractions can encourage our mind to wander.

A wandering mind allows you to explore different perspectives and distance yourself from negative emotions. This can generate mental space for you to do your best and most creative thinking.

6. Start from something, not nothing

It’s easy to think that creativity is born from blank pieces of paper or creating something from nothing. In fact, a little guidance and structure is best; as jazz musician Chales Mingus once said: “You can’t improvise on nothing; you’ve gotta improvise on something”. This might be starting with a mood board, some quotes, data or raw materials. One perfect example is LEGO: you have the bricks, but what you make is entirely up to you.

7. Find your purpose

Purpose is important for driving creative thought, because if you have this in place, then you’ll likely have a vision, be aligned to your values, and have passion and conviction in what you’re doing. All of this frees up headspace for you to do your best thinking.

Find your purpose by thinking about your values and end goals, and developing a vision board and targets to ensure you’re focusing all your energies on the right things.

8. Seek different perspectives

Sometimes, it’s too easy to think of a singular path forward or seek advice from those who are like us.  Seeking the opinions of those who you would not normally approach, such as people with different values, or even those who you don’t see eye to eye with, can open the creative flood gates. This might be challenging, and you might hear feedback you don’t want to hear, but you’ll come away with new ideas and creative solutions to problems.

9. Stimulate your brain

Brains don’t just react positively to good moods; they also react well to any kind of stimulation. Therefore, another important aspect to nurturing your creative self is to keep your mind active. You can do this through taking up a creative hobby, such as pottery or cooking, or even just passively listening to music.

Our brains will also react positively to different surroundings, so consider adding bright colors to your walls or putting up posters and paintings to get the mind going.

10. Discover what makes you most creative

People find creative time and space in their own special way, and what works well for you might not work for others. Take time to reflect on when you feel most creative. It might help to journal some ideas as you go through your day or week.

You might find that you’re most creative when approaching a deadline, or at certain times of day. You might also feel that you have a creative burst after food or when watching TV. Noticing patterns will enable you to create optimal conditions for creativity.

Key takeaways

Creative thinking can be developed by all of us, regardless how “creative” we think we are. The key to doing this is through understanding what creative thinking is, how it can benefit us and how we can use it:

  • Creative thinking is useful in almost all work situations.
  • Creative thinking can improve our relationships, our organization, and us as individuals.
  • Creative thinking can be applied in many different examples to all kinds of work situations.
  • Creativity can be developed and nurtured over time.

The road to creative thinking is a journey, and one that will improve you in many other ways, not just creative capacity. Use creative thinking as part of your personal development plan to see how!

Got a question? Let us know in the comments section below!

Originally published on June 8, 2018.