The Tools Required in Creative Thinking
As it has been established that creativity is not easily defined, cannot be achieved through a step-by-step process, and does not fit into a neat box, so the tools for developing and utilizing creativity are going to be varied, as well. There are a number of formal techniques that can be used to inspire thinking and brainstorm ideas. These include things like SCAMPER, random input, mind mapping, DO IT, and many more. The focus of this article will be on recognizing the more basic, but vitally important, mental and emotional tools each person has that can be used to fuel personal creativity in a powerful way.
All the senses are tools for our interaction and understanding of the world around us. As such, they are tools of creativity, as well. Every input we get from our world is translated through one of our senses and then interpreted by our brains, based on past experiences and the categorizing of past inputs. This process can be subconscious many times. We are not always actively thinking about every smell or every object we see in our field of vision at all times. More of these inputs are being taken in at any one time than we usually realize. This aspect of our sensory activity is significant to our understanding and use of creativity. As we dig deeper to draw on all our faculties to get a new idea, these subconscious inputs can be brought to the surface of our conscious thinking. Images or ideas sometimes seem to come from nowhere when we find ways to brainstorm our ideas, but often we are benefiting from the activity of our senses constantly feeding our brain, even as we get lost in other thoughts or processes.
Being present and paying attention to what our senses are telling us about the world around us can facilitate this process, and maximize the inputs of our senses and our own personal creativity.
There is practical value in stopping to smell the roses, or paying attention to what you are watching, as you are waiting or moving from Point A to Point B. Point A may be the important activity you just completed and Point B may be the next important meeting, or the place you really want to go after finishing a hard day's work. The journey in between might feel like down time. You may be unwinding mentally, or you may be going over the points of the next presentation in your head. There is nothing wrong with these mental activities, either, but don't completely lose the details of your senses in these moments. Watching what the people around you are doing, saying, how they are doing it, and more can become invaluable data that serve you later. It can give you an epiphany about a new marketing idea; it can help you understand why people behave the way they do and how you can deal with them better; and it can be a random idea that inspires your next great creation. These moments of sensory input are the building blocks of more things later.
We often focus much of our sensory attention on sight and hearing. Many people process their world through these senses primarily. We should not neglect the inputs from other senses too. Smell, taste, and feel give valuable data too. If for no other reason, the inputs of these senses can enrich our experience and add to our pleasurable sensations. This is invaluable to creative thinking and it gives a fuller, more rewarding experience of life. How something feels physically can inform us as to whether a product or situation is working in its present form. Taste is an important tool for chefs – the most important. It can allow us to enjoy a moment more, or trigger interesting ideas. The sense of smell is most closely associated with memory and triggers the strongest memories. Smell is powerful in connecting to emotion and accessing feelings of nostalgia. Seeing a picture of a loved one can bring up strong feelings, but smelling their brand of lotion can be overpowering in bringing up memory and emotion. These senses should not be neglected as data collectors even as we take in input from what we see and hear.
Emotion plays a vital role in creative thinking. The goal of many creative endeavors and artistic works is to invoke an emotional response from others. That emotional response does not have to be positive. Feelings of anger, sadness, regret, fear, or social conviction can be acceptable responses to art, literature, or other presentations. Having access to the tools of one's own emotions can facilitate creative undertakings that are meant to provoke particular emotional responses from others. These responses can be sought with the purpose of changing behavior, steering decision making, or simply to express feelings, thoughts, or ideas. Creative work can serve to better process and understand our emotions, as well.
Emotional understanding is usually associated with fine arts, social-oriented work, and other study categorized as arts. It is less often seen as a tool for business or sciences. This is not to say that a person has to be emotional, or even overly sensitive, to use the tools of emotion. It is often seen as a funny quirk, when a person is emotionally flat or emotionally disconnected, from others. In business, and in most other aspects of life, it can be a distinct disadvantage. We will talk about empathy ,but being able to understand others' emotions, motivations, and thoughts is a valuable ability. Being unable to do that to any degree is a deficit.
If, for no other reason, one should have emotional awareness because so many decisions are driven by emotion, even in relatively unemotional people. Most impulse decisions, and decisions that are made under any level of stress, have strong emotional components. There are psychological theories which hold that many beliefs are formed after decisions, instead of driving decisions. So, though we think we are making our decisions carefully and rationally, many times emotion leads to a decision and the belief is formed to accommodate the previous action.
For example, if a person decides to cheat on a test, we often picture that as a struggle with what we were taught, and the desire to find a shortcut. With the charged, emotional nature of such a decision, emotion will often play a greater role than reason in the final outcome. The student cheats because of fear of failure, or doesn't cheat, because of fear of discovery. There are many other factors involved, but we'll simplify it for the sake of the example. Whether the student cheats or not, leads to a belief that reinforces a belief that cheating is wrong, or justifies the choice to cheat. Lacking an understanding of the tools of emotion makes a person more likely to stumble into many of these types of decisions on an emotional basis. The emotionally stunted person may not realize how big a role emotion plays in shaping the application of their reason and logic, as well as the formation of their beliefs and ideas.
Embracing emotion as a tool of creative thinking allows one to better communicate with others and access more resources for solving problems, generating ideas, and making decisions.
Memory is a significant well of material for creativity. In many ways, it is our very identity. Our combined experiences shape who we are. Even deeper, the way we store the memory of those experiences may be altered from the actual events and speaks volumes about ourselves and our perceptions. Memory is a jumping off point for ideas and creative ventures. Memory can also help us form predictions about what we might expect or anticipate from the future.
As a tool for creative ventures, our memory can be used to create scenes and play out scenarios for ideas we are considering. By running mental experiments, we can make adjustments to ideas in the development stage and perfect the details before we ever get to implementing an idea for the first time. Memory is an invaluable tool in that process.
This implies the importance of making memories. We can learn a great deal from reading or watching media, but there is something exponential different in the formation of memories through experience. Beyond the value of physical activity, there are perceptions and details that can only be gained through the actual experience. Memory is an important tool, and experiences build memories.
Logic, reason, and knowledge should not be discounted as tools for developing creative thinking. We are tempted to categorize these things as concrete, right-brained processes. Some would even pose these as the opposites of creativity, but that is not entirely fair or accurate. A highly logical person is still capable of creative solutions. Though literary work is largely a creative and imaginative process, logical timelines and cause and effect relationships are vital to a believable, powerful story. Logic and reason can play a role in the creation of other forms of art, as well, in terms of design and the use of the human body. This goes for sculpting, painting, dance choreography, blocking for plays, and more. Logical reasoning requires direct, active thinking, but still plays a role in the creative process for the full spectrum of personal creativity. Even the conscious choice to abandon reason and logic for a particular project requires some understanding of it, to move in the opposite direction.
For a person that struggles with creativity on any level, this may be the most important set of creative tools. For a person who thinks mathematically, scientifically, or logically by nature, this is likely their best doorway to unlock their own personal creativity and all the possibilities that holds for their work. A mathematically minded person can utilize this to attempt works in music and fine art, with all the connections between the two. The creative possibilities in this are vast.
Any talents or interests an individual possesses are tools for creative expansion. Even if these talents or interests are not typically thought of as creative in nature, they can be a tool for accessing personal creativity. One value in this particular category of creative tools is that it is more likely to inspire enthusiastic practice. Involvement is usually not forced. Also, people quite naturally devote many hours of practice and study to their talents and interests, often without realizing they are doing so. This holds great potential for allowing an individual to reach the hours required to be considered a de facto expert. Being an expert at anything opens the possibility of applying that knowledge in interesting, valuable, and unique ways. Interests and talents have the potential to connect to other activities in ways that are unexpected and hold great potential for creating new ideas through the unexpected combination. Do not neglect talents or discount interests based on their popularity, or lack thereof. If nothing else, engaging in something of interest inspires thinking and releases stress. This, alone, is a valuable tool in maximizing creative potential.
Risk taking is a tool for creativity. This is not to say that a person should put himself into physical danger, or create trouble, just for the sake of being creative. Being in danger can force a person to come up with creative solutions in a hurry, but this probably isn't the best approach. Fear can often stifle creativity. Although there is a stimulating factor that adrenaline and the idea of risk can cause someone to bring out unusual ideas.
In a more useful sense, taking a chance on a new idea or a new, potential solution to a problem can move a person out of his or her comfort zone. This form of risk taking is useful to the creative process. Comfort can inspire stasis. We are more likely to fall into repeated patterns. Breaking out of that, though uncomfortable, can lead one to discover new patterns, different ideas, and new solutions.
Another set of mental tools for creativity includes imagination, daydreaming, and meditation.These are often viewed as less active forms of thinking. In some ways, they can be. Some of their value for creativity is in letting go of the patterns of thought we engage in within our normal activities in the day. They can be viewed as more indirect thinking at times or possibly passive, but that is not always the case.
Daydreaming can be allowing thoughts to drift, but in that relaxed state, one can follow a particular train of thought. Part of the use of this tool is in allowing the mind to relax and select a different course than expected. Daydreaming can lead to interesting discoveries. Far from being a waste of time, daydreaming has the potential to allow the mind to break past mental blocks, and out of frustrating mental loops.
Meditation can mean different things to different people. It could be relaxation, by clearing the mind through a mantra. It can also mean intense study on a particular text or subject to the exclusion of other distractions. This still sounds like an active mental process, and it can be. What the items in this particular set of tools have in common, though, is in letting something go from the more common, direct forms of thinking one might normally follow.
Interaction is a valuable tool and involves many of the components of the other tools of creativity. Engaging with people and the world around us is a valuable piece in inspiring creativity. Creative people and creative pursuits may require solitary work or quiet places from time to time. The life of an artist at work can be insular at times. This condition probably should not be maintained indefinitely. Creativity is not fed through total, sustained isolation. Interaction of any type can be revitalizing and fuel further creativity.
Move outside and engage with the people, events, and the world. Take in all the details. Allow the mind to wander over what they mean, or what they could mean. Look at the world with different eyes, using all the tools of creativity. Allow your mind to use different forms of thinking to keep these tools in working condition. Force yourself into situations where you have to think and experience in different ways. Sometimes the most creative ideas are found outside the established comfort zone. Sometimes the great, new solution is within reach with the use of the right, creative tool. Use your favorite ones, but force yourself to use the ones that are less comfortable for you, too. Creativity very often involves trying something new, to find something new.