Critical and creative thinking are two fundamental processes that work together to produce results and solutions. Fundamentally, creative thinking is generating options, while critical thinking is analytical evaluation. These two work in harmony: the one producing new ideas and possibilities, the other discerning, analyzing, and critiquing. When both are encouraged, they nurture each other in a continuous spiraling process.
Creative thinking is playful, innovative, unpredictable, and divergent. In this mode, people generate ideas, value all viewpoints, elaborate, and promote discovery. This process embraces the random and seemingly irrelevant in order to spark new possibilities. Creative reading is a great example! In most environments, this involves: wandering off-topic, encouraging outlier ideas, following unusual analogies, changing patterns and habits, valuing intuition, following “wrong” answers, conjecturing, restructuring and reframing, and otherwise seeking the richness of discovering new possibilities. “Yes,” and “Yes, and…” are indicative of creative thinking. I still love Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk on creativity!
Critical thinking is purposeful, selective, predictable, and convergent. In this mode, people measure, seek patterns, use structures and frameworks, apply rules and criteria, and try to find logical sequences and templates. Critical thinking eliminates options and works toward right answers, practical applications, and solutions. It often demands evidence, reason, suitability, and correctness. In a classroom this often involves: citing a text, staying on topic, using relevant sources, making pertinent connections, supporting ideas, critiquing against expectations, seeking clarification, applying facts and data, finding examples, and otherwise focusing on relevant criteria toward desired ends. The verbal tools “No,” and “Yes, but…” are indicative of critical thinking. Read more on critical thinking here.
Most creative ideas are initially misunderstood and underappreciated. Just look at the history of art movements or scientific discoveries for evidence. In school, many students are unwilling to share their outlier ideas because of how they are critically received. We need these breakthrough ideas, however, because they often lead to entirely new paradigms. This is why suspending judgment is so important.
In an ideal situation, critical and creative thinking work together to carry an idea from an unpolished fledgling state, through to a completed, gilded form. As an example, an innovative idea would be proposed (creative), followed by its analysis and critique (critical). The idea would then be refined or redirected into a new form or idea (creative) and measured against various criteria (critical). Hopefully, the idea will eventually become specific, useful and valuable. Take a simple and fun creativity test!
Image by Elisa Riva - Pixabay