Over the years we tend to develop thinking styles that become
ingrained. People who say, “I’m not creative” or
“I’m not really a thinker” simply have not been made
aware of, or adopted, thinking patterns different from their own. We
are all capable of breaking old habits, and this checklist suggests
various techniques that can help you to develop new ways of thinking.
What You Need to Know
I just can’t come up with good solutions to problems. How can I change this?
are probably stuck in your habitual mode of thinking. Thinking styles
become automatic over the years, and because for the most part they
work well for us, we have no incentive to change them. But when your
thinking patterns limit your ability to approach problems creatively,
it is time to challenge old habits. You might start with some of the
techniques outlined in this checklist.
our meetings we just don’t have time to indulge people’s
creative flights. How can I control coworkers who refuse to focus on
the issue at hand?
It’s likely that your more
imaginative coworkers are simply being themselves. It might be useful
to explain the kind of thinking you are looking for and explain why it
is more productive in the context of a meeting. Perhaps you can steer
them into other settings in which their thinking style will make a real
contribution, such as marketing, or research and development.
How can I tap into the creative energy of someone who has great, off-the-wall ideas, but who is very impractical?
people have an amazing ability to suppress their logical thinking and
let their creativity flow. In order for it to be productive you need to
offer them a framework in which to work. Structure need not inhibit
them if they are really capable of letting their imagination loose. If
you are a logical thinker, you might be the right person to take on the
role of guiding their imagination and harnessing their creative energy.
What to Do
Organize and Prioritize
the various thinking techniques requires far more space than is
available here, but it is possible to provide a sampling of the tools
available. Thinking techniques can help you:
- organize and prioritize information;
- generate practical outcomes.
you feel overwhelmed by information, a few simple techniques can help
you identify what is important and decide how best to make sense of it.
Understand SWOT Analyses
are used to identify strengths and weaknesses and to examine existing
opportunities and threats. Answering questions in each of these four
areas enables you to think systematically about a problem and its
potential solutions. For example:
- Strengths: What
are some benefits of your new product that consumers are demanding?
Which features distinguish it from competitors’ products?
Where are the areas of vulnerability or weakness? Is the price a
barrier? What could be improved? Would different features improve the
product’s salability? What are the known vulnerabilities in the
market? Is the time of the product’s launch crucial to its
- Opportunities: Where do opportunities exist
in terms of technology, markets, policy, and social trends? Do you have
a new commercial idea or a new way of doing things? Can you capitalize
on your competitors’ mistakes?
- Threats: What
obstacles are in your way? Have you correctly defined your market? What
is the current regulatory climate? Are any changes being considered?
Are you in a race with your competitors? Might they be winning? Is your
financial situation being jeopardized? Should you try to raise money
now, or wait for a better time?
Learn About Critical Path Analysis
is an approach to managing complex projects. It tells you when certain
activities need to be completed in order to bring a project in on time
and on budget. The idea is to determine which activities are dependent
on others being completed first (sequential), and which may be
completed more or less at any time (parallel). The ordering of these
activities creates the critical path through the project.
Investigate Mind Maps
maps are graphic representations of whatever is on your mind. They help
you get everything on paper without initially having to order or
prioritize it. Like road maps, mind maps give you an overview of a
large area, enabling you to make the connections that allow you to
arrive at your destination.
Start by drawing a circle on a large
sheet of paper. In the center of the circle put the word or image that
best represents the idea you wish to explore. Then, using free
association, place any words and images that come to mind in smaller
circles around the hub. Finally, connect the circles with lines, using
colors or symbols to highlight similar themes. The finished diagram
should reveal unexpected connections between the outer elements and the
central idea. Consider how you might use these connections to further
Be Aware of Force Field Analysis
is a useful technique for examining the variables in a given situation.
Draw three columns; place the issue under consideration in the center
column. List the driving forces in one remaining column and the
restraining forces in the other, assigning each of these forces a score
between one and five representing its relative strength. Then total the
scores in these columns. If the driving and restraining totals are
equal, the situation is in equilibrium. Once you understand the forces
that drive or restrain an issue or decision you will be able to
strengthen the drivers, minimize the negatives, and maintain
equilibrium as circumstances change.
Think About Decision Trees
trees allow you to make decisions in situations in which you have a
great deal of information to sift through. They create a framework in
which you can consider alternative solutions and their impact. The
decision tree starts on one either edge of a piece of paper, with a
symbol representing the decision to be made. Lines representing
possible solutions open out like a fan from this nexus. Each line
contains its own sequence of decisions and uncertainties, and each of
these in turn becomes a new decision point and forms the source of yet
another fan of options.
is a well-known technique for generating options. All ideas generated
in a brainstorming session are welcomed and cannot be censored on the
grounds of illogic or impracticability. This “anything
goes” approach often motivates people to contribute creative
ideas that they might otherwise have censored themselves and withheld.
Free association, obscure and esoteric ideas are to be strongly y
encouraged. Only after all the ideas have been collected are they
reviewed and prioritized.
Develop Lateral Thinking Techniques
thinking is an unorthodox approach to problem solving. It is concerned
with moving sideways instead of head-on, fostering different
perspectives, concepts, and approaches to resolution. It is usually
done in a team setting, in which participants are provoked to abandon
their preconceptions and usual line of thought. It cuts across patterns
and the status quo, and jump-starts ideas in new territory where they
may flourish unexpectedly.
Learn About the Six Thinking Hats
thinking hats is a powerful technique developed by Edward de Bono for
looking at decisions from multiple perspectives. Each
person—alone or in a group—wears a series of imaginary
hats, each representing a different outlook and symbolized by a
different color. This technique forces people to move from one mode of
thinking to another. White hats focus on the data, look for gaps,
extrapolate from history, and examine future trends. Red hats use
intuition and emotion to look at problems. Black hats look at the
negative aspects, finding the reasons why something may not work. If an
idea can get beyond the black hats, it is more likely to succeed.
Yellow hats think positively. The optimistic view from this perspective
clarifies the benefits of a decision, providing a boost to the thinking
process. Green hats develop creative, freewheeling solutions from a
strictly positive perspective, allowing no room for criticism. Blue
hats orchestrate the meeting—you are in control in this hat. To
keep ideas flowing you can direct everyone to change hats.
Know the Value of Questioning
In questioning, you ask why a problem is occurring, and then ask again—four more times: Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? This
allows you to drill down to the heart of the matter. Or ask the six
universal questions to explore the full extent of a problem: What? Where? When? How? Why? Who?
What to Avoid
You Believe That Everyone Thinks the Same Way As You
groups encourage their members to contribute in a variety of ways. If
you look at the people around you at work, you will probably recognize
different thinking styles and recall how each of them has contributed
to better clarity, decisions, and outcomes.
You Criticize Others’ Creativity
you are under pressure, you may be tempted to think: The last thing I
need is flaky ideas when I’ve got a deadline! But when you have
not been under stress, you have undoubtedly seen the real value that
creativity can bring. Try not to stifle creative thought; instead,
guide and control it openly, alternately encouraging and focusing it as
You Underestimate the Importance of Structure
businesses are often formed by people with extraordinarily creative
minds. Eventually, all businesses need structure; good decision making
and effective management require systems and focused thinking. For a
business to grow, creative thinkers need to learn to accommodate
practical, analytical thinkers.
Where to Learn More
Buzan, Tony. The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential. New York: Plume, 1996.
Buzan, Tony. Use Both Sides of Your Brain. 3rd ed. New York: Plume, 1991.
de Bono, Edward. Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
de Bono, Edward. Six Thinking Hats. Rev. ed. New York: Little, Brown, 1999.
Sternberg, Robert J. Thinking Styles. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Buzan Centers: http://www.buzancentres.com
Buzan World: http://www.buzanworld.com
Creative and lateral thinking techniques: http://www.brainstorming.co.uk/tutorials/creativethinkingcontents.html
Edward de Bono’s Web site: http://www.edwdebono.com
Innovative thinking resources for entrepreneurs: http://www.innovationtools.com
The Open Directory Project: http://dmoz.org/Science/Social_Sciences/Psychology/Creativity
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