What is Creative Thinking?

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

~Albert Einstein


Creative thinking is referred to by many names and can be achieved through many processes, but is generally the idea of being inventive, innovative and imaginative in one form or another. This can range anywhere from the purity of a completely new invention to the remixing or reinterpreting of existing material to slight creativity involved in copying. Finding inspiration can be a huge part of the process, as Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about in her fantastic TED Talk.

In the context of my Creative Thinking Cards, creative thinking is defined as: “The process of connecting two or more ideas together that were previously unconnected.” This is thinking by analogy. I like the simplicity of this definition because it is easy to describe to students and accounts for many styles of approach. Try taking a simple creativity test with this in mind (the test actually asks you to list words that are far apart and unlinked).

By way of a quick example, if I asked you how your day was like a pineapple, you would be prompted to compare those two things. Assuming you have never thought of your day as a pineapple, you are now creating new analogous links between them. Keep in mind that there are about a dozen types of analogies, including analogy by synonym, antonym, whole-part, degree, thing-context, cause-effect, and others. Having fun with anagrams is a great way to make these types of connections! Try out some creative reading as well!

This linking process explains why randomness is so valuable. The more random, the more unrelated two things seem, the harder it is to connect them in meaningful ways. These random linkages force us outside of our habitual thinking patterns and help us think differently. With any newness in thinking, it is important to suspend judgments and criticisms. We can always apply critical thinking later in considering how appropriate and applicable those ideas are. 

 Creative thinking has many important ingredients: 

  • It is divergent, innovative, and playful. 
  • It is for discovering new ways of thinking. 
  • It is for generating options and possibilities. 
  • Participants must suspend judgments. 
  • It requires confidence and practice. 
  • Randomness is a key. 
  • Disruption of habitual thinking is important. 
  • It encourages associations and connections. 
  • It does not have to be sequential or orderly. 
  • Mistakes cost you nothing – in fact, there are no mistakes. 
  • “Crazy ideas” are often just the start of a new thought process.


creative thinking, Creativity, learning, teaching

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