Creative Thinking: Opening Up a World of Thought

By Edgar, Don W.; Faulkner, Paula et al. | Techniques, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Creative Thinking: Opening Up a World of Thought

Edgar, Don W., Faulkner, Paula, Franklin, Ed, Knobloch, Neil A., Morgan, Alan C., Techniques

What is Creative Thinking?

It has been said that creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing, but the ability to generate new ideas by combining, changing or reapplying existing ideas. Albert Einstein stated, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Creative thinking has been categorized as something we are born with but others have said that it can be developed through activities and teaching strategies. Everyone has creative ability. Children naturally display creative energy, but creativity seems to decline through the aging process. Does the regimen of education cause creativity to diminish? Are there learning activities that can spur creativity to be grown instead of diminished?

Creative thinking involves creating something new or original. It involves the skills of flexibility, originality, fluency, imagery, associative thinking, attribute listing, metaphorical thinking and forced relationships. The aim of creative thinking is to stimulate curiosity and promote divergence. Gough (1991) said, "Perhaps most importantly in today's information age, thinking skills are viewed as crucial for educated persons to cope with a rapidly changing world. Many educators believe that specific knowledge will not be as important to tomorrow's workers and citizens as the ability to learn and make sense of new information."

Van Hook and Tegano (2002) defined creativity as "an interpersonal and intrapersonal process by means of which original, high-quality and genuinely significant products are developed" (p. 1). Edwards (2001) added that creativity involves "the openness to ideas and the willingness to encourage the exploration of the unknown, even if not easily manageable" (p. 222). Creativity also includes a wide range of interpretations and beliefs based on an individual's personal style and experiences.

Creative thinking is a novel way of seeing or doing things characterized by four thinking processes--fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration (see Figure i). Fluency is described as generating many ideas. Flexibility occurs when a person easily shifts his or her perspective about a topic being considered. Originality has been explained as conceiving new ideas or solutions. Elaboration is the ability to build on other ideas. When faced with challenges, a creative person is curious, optimistic, able to suspend judgment, and comfortable with imagination. They also tend to seek problems, enjoy challenges, see problems as opportunities and as interesting, view problems as emotionally acceptable, challenge assumptions, refuse to give up easily, and persevere.

Process and Methods of Creative Thinking

The scientific study of creativity is generally considered to have started with J.P. Guilford in 1950 with an address to the American Psychological Association. Guilford observed that most individuals preferred either convergent or divergent thinking. Divergent thinking helps students be more resourceful in their analyses of questions. Answers are not based on rote memorization and students develop their own solutions to problems. The creative process itself was outlined earlier by Graham Wallas in The Art of Thought (1926). Wallas believed that the creative process consisted of five stages: preparation, incubation, intimation, illumination and verification. Based on Guilford's work, E. P. Torrence developed the Torrence Tests of Creative Thinking (1974). This test displayed the notion that IQ was not the only way to measure intelligence. Testing constructs were based on fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.


Five classic methods are used to produce creative results: evolution, synthesis, revolution, reapplication, and changing direction. Evolution is the method of incremental improvement. New ideas stem from other ideas, new solutions from previous ones, the new ones slightly improved over the old ones. …

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