Today I’m going to talk about creative thinking. And towards the end of the episode, I’ll give you some tips and advice on how to become a creative thinker! Whether you are a student, a writer, a businessperson, or any other professions, learning to think more creatively will surely be useful!
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A few months ago, I released episodes talking about “critical thinking” and “logical fallacies.” And these topics have quickly become some of my most popular and most listened to episodes! Critical thinking is a highly valued skill – the ability to analyse arguments, tell the difference between facts and opinions, and evaluate evidence is vital in our modern world!
But it is not the only way of thinking. Today, I want to introduce you to an alternative way of thinking and approaching topics – commonly called creative thinking. While critical thinking is focused on examining and understanding things that already exist, creative thinking aims to discover new possibilities and solutions.
Perhaps you are an entrepreneur starting your own company; a writer thinking of new article ideas; a computer programmer trying to find a solution to a problem in your code; or an English education podcaster trying to get a larger audience… In all these situations the ability to think creatively and generate new ideas is just as important as the ability to think critically.
Today I’m going to introduce and define creative thinking. I’ll talk about the difference and connections between critical and creative thinking. And towards the end of the podcast, I’ll provide some useful tips and advice on how you can all think more creatively in English!
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What is Creative Thinking?
Creative thinking is the exploration of new ideas, the discovery of fresh perspectives and points of view, and the use of unconventional solutions. In a nutshell, to think creatively you are thinking of something new or thinking of a new way to use an existing thing. Thinking creatively is often described by the idiom – to think outside the box. And I think this is a useful image to help visualise creative thinking.
For many people, and listeners of Thinking in English, we are told how to think and how to act from a very young age. We are taught the rules and expectations of society and told that thinking like everyone else is the best way to exist in modern society. And we get used to thinking in this way – it is easy and comfortable. But thinking normally, thinking like everyone else, is not always enough to progress, advance, or make a difference.
Basically, when you think outside of the box or think creatively, you tackle a problem, situation, or challenge in a way that you, or other people, normally would not. And by doing this you can find better solutions to problems than traditional thinking allows.
You might assume that “creativity” is a skill mainly needed by artists, marketers, writers, or designers. But in reality, thinking imaginatively by using new ideas instead of expected or traditional assumptions can be useful in a wide variety of situations. And creative thinking is not just something that you should do when you encounter major problems or extraordinary situations – it is something you can make part of your regular routine.
Creativity is what drives progress and innovation. It is what allows people to come up with incredible solutions to unexpected problems. Creative thinking helps students choose original topics for papers and find new evidence. It allows journalists, salespeople, and marketers to write and create engaging material. Creative speeches, advertisements, and presentations tend to be the most memorable and effective.
Take “problem solving” as an example. This is a skill required in a wide variety of careers, situations, and often in your daily life. When you encounter an unexpected problem, it takes a great deal of creativity to find the solutions. But creative thinking allows you to solve problems in innovative ways.
I looked online to find some creative solutions to problems encountered during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, MGM casinos in the US had thousands of dollars of fresh food unable to be used once their casinos were closed – instead of throwing it away they distributed it to charities across 8 different states. LinkedIn, the social media network for professionals, recognised that more people were using social media during lockdowns and made many of their courses free to keep people on their platform for longer and attract new users.
Alcohol companies across the world started making hand sanitizers with their waste alcohol as soon as demand for such products increased. Clothes and fashion brands quickly began designing and creating face masks and Covid accessories.
Instead of just following traditional expectations and thinking in standard ways, these companies used creative thinking to find innovative solutions to an unexpected problem!
Creative Thinking vs Critical Thinking
Just before I give you all some tips and methods to think creatively, I just want to say a little about creative and critical thinking.
A lot of articles online assume creative and critical thinking to be different, or perhaps even rival, ways of thinking about the world. But it is possible, and even recommended, to use both approaches when you are thinking!
Critical thinking tends to focus more on the process of understanding and evaluating what already exists. While creative thinking is all about unconventional solutions and new possibilities. But by combining the two approaches, you can effectively solve problems and make decisions.
For example, critical thinking allows you to truly understand a problem or situation – and rationally assess what needs to be done to solve or advance the situation. Creative thinking then allows you to come up with possible solutions. And then, once again, critical thinking allows you to take an unbiased look at your solution and see any possible problems or issues.
This cycle of creative and critical thinking is a challenging but incredibly beneficial skill
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How to Think Creatively??
How can you think creatively? How can you improve your creative thinking? Here are a few tips and tactics!
Get out of your comfort zone
One of the biggest obstacles facing us all when we try to be creative is that we already know a lot of things. We’ve spent years on the planet, learning and observing what already exists. So when it comes to trying to be creative and think of something new, we tend to work with already existing ideas!
Imagine you were trying to draw an alien. A creature from another planet. How would you draw it? Big eyes? Grey or green skin? Small? If that’s what you thought of straightaway, it is because that is the common alien we’ve seen on TV and in the movies.
However, if I told you to draw an alien – but it had to live under water, survive extremely hot conditions, be able to fly, or have a way of digging holes in the ground – you would have to draw something more creative. You would need to think creatively!
So, by setting limitations or restrictions on your task, you force yourself to be more creative. You could set a word limit to make yourself write differently. You could try making a presentation just using images. You could try designing your new version of a product without a key feature that you always thought was necessary!
The next tip is to brainstorm. Brainstorming is when you note down all of the ideas that you, or your team, have about a certain topic. By getting all of your ideas out, no matter how weird or crazy, you might stumble upon some incredible suggestions.
You can pick out the best ideas and try to refine or improve them. Or perhaps even more creatively, you could pick out the worst ideas and try to find the good points about them.
This is how I come up with ideas for Thinking in English episodes! I write down every idea I have, and every idea you guys suggest to me, and eventually I find topics I’m interested in!
Talk to Someone Unrelated to the Problem
The next tips is to talk about your task with someone unfamiliar or unrelated with it. When you’ve spent hours thinking about an argument for your university assignment, or a way of improving your company website, or how to make more people listen to your podcast, you can struggle to come up with new ideas and look at the situation in an unbiased way.
By asking a friend or acquaintance with no idea about your task, you can get a completely unbiased and unrelated suggestion. This is something I did right at the beginning of Thinking in English. After about 15 episodes, I sent a message to almost every friend I have who is either an English teacher or has learned English themselves. I asked them to listen and tell me what they thought – I got some great suggestions!
And I still get suggestions today from my listeners!
Think About Opposing Views
We talked about this in the critical thinking episode. But it is also a useful tip for creative thinking. If you explore a problem from the other side, from a perspective you think is wrong, you might be able to find some weaknesses and areas to improve in your own ideas!
To think creatively, you should explore as many different perspectives and suggestions as possible – even if you think the ideas are bad overall, they may have a few interesting or useful components!
Where you do you get inspiration for your ideas? If you’re a journalist writing an article, a salesperson thinking of a new design for your sales pitch, or a English learner looking for a new way of studying, where do you find inspiration? Of course, you can look at other people in similar situations to you or in your industry, but you might end up copying an unoriginal idea from someone else.
Or… you could look for random inspiration, you could look for solutions to problems and ways of creating new products in unexpected places. I very rarely look at English learning resources when I come up with ideas for Thinking in English episodes. Most of the ideas come from magazines, news articles, discussions with my friends, google trends data (so the things people are searching most often on Google) or things I think about while daydreaming on the train!
I don’t want Thinking in English to be similar to other podcasts – there are hundreds of English learning podcasts teaching grammar lessons, idioms about animals, and expressions for travelling, but by choosing topics other podcasts don’t cover hopefully I’m giving you all something interesting and new to listen to!
Quantity Over Quality
You’ve probably been told the opposite to this – the common saying is the other way around: quality over quantity. However, when you are trying to think creatively or outside of the box, you should try to generate as many ideas as possible. It doesn’t matter if they are ridiculous, impossible, or bad… by writing them down you might be able to find something useful!
Of course, once you have come up with a whole array of ideas from different perspectives, then you can start to think about quality!
Try thinking about the end product or goal of your task first. Naturally, we tend to think about problems from a cause-effect perspective: we think about the causes (or problems) first, and then later about the effects (or solutions). Why not try working backwards?
This is something I’ve learnt to do when planning episodes for Thinking in English or writing articles and papers as a researcher. Rather than thinking about what I’m going to write, I first think about how I want the article or episode to look like – how long should it be, what sections and topics should it cover, when do I want it to be released. This allows me to have a clearer image of my goals and the steps I need to take to reach them!
On this episode of Thinking in English, I’ve tried to introduce the idea of creative thinking. Learning how to become more imaginative and innovative can really help your professional career, studies, or even personal life. And if you combine creative and critical thinking together, you will find yourself thinking in a much more effective way!
Do you think you are a creative thinker? What tips do you have to be more creative?