Tag Archives: creative thinking

Thinking about Your Creative Thinking

A recent Forbes.com article by Holly Green highlighted the role of strategic thinking in effective leadership. Referencing the mad pace of business, she asserted that leaders need to move beyond depending upon what she called “critical” and “implementation” thinking types, to embrace three additional thinking types: “conceptual,” “innovative” and “intuitive.” Green placed these five types together under the larger umbrella of strategic thinking. (The reference in the title of the article to “Five Critical Thinking Types” is misleading; “Five Strategic Thinking Types” is a more accurate description of her theme.)

While there’s some murkiness around her usage of “type” and “skill,” in her article Green does two significant things: she asks leaders to think about their thinking, and, building upon this, she draws awareness to the fact that different types of thinking are called for in different situations. Both of these are valuable propositions.

We can take her recommendations further, however, by offering leaders a deliberate process for applying these two concepts of “thinking about your thinking,” and using different thinking skills while you do.

The most recent adaptation of the classic model for applied creativity, Creative Problem Solving (CPS) does just this. The aptly-named “Thinking Skills Model” uses an approach similar to what Green proposed, but has the advantage of being more explicitly incorporated into the creative thinking process from beginning to end – in Green’s terms from “visualizing” to “implementation.” Drawing upon its CPS lineage, it is also supported by decades of research into the benefits of applied creative thinking.

The Thinking Skills Model (TSM) identifies key cognitive skills which come into play throughout the creative thinking process. They are: diagnostic, visionary, strategic, ideational, evaluative, contextual, and tactical thinking.

Green’s list of thinking types, again, is: critical, implementation, conceptual, innovative, and intuitive.

Of course there are some similarities and differences, and in a longer analysis we would line these up in a straight-on comparison to explore the overlaps and gaps between the two. For the time being, suffice it to say that Green’s on to something when she says “knowing when and how much to utilize each (type) is the hallmark of great leaders.” By aligning different thinking skills to different phases of the creative process, the Thinking Skills Model gives leaders a framework for being able to do this. The result is more effective thinking in complex, open-ended situations such as Green describes.

Effective creative thinking is at the heart of what Green advocates. Yet it’s interesting to note that the words “creative” and “creativity” are nowhere to be seen in her article. This may have been a deliberate choice, in order to avoid the fuzziness often associated with the “c” word, especially in business settings. Using deliberate processes like Creative Problem Solving doesn’t make things fuzzier, however. In fact, it does quite the opposite: it clarifies and strengthens our thinking, especially in these complex and open-ended situations, when we need our creative thinking the most.

Photo Credit: Jacob Boetter
Green, H. (2012, March 27). How to develop five critical thinking types. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/03/27/how-to-develop-5-critical-thinking-types.
Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M.C, & Mance, M (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Diary of a Process: Moving Forward in Uncertainty; Perfecting the Pitch


Diary of a Process: an episodic peek into a creative company’s internal process.

  • The company: a design and production firm that creates learning environments and opportunities for team-building, exhibit design, education, training, branding, etc.
  • The project: designing a visitor experience for a small west coast museum.

Episode 2, September 9: Moving forward in uncertainty; perfecting the pitch.

At the end of the last installment, Budget Slashed in Half, owner Bryan Thermo had agreed that his best option for restoring the project budget would be to re-pitch the board of directors on the original concept. Meanwhile, if the project (a museum visitor experience) was to stay on track, certain core elements needed to be advanced.

Thus, from a creative process point of view, a level of tolerance for ambiguity was needed in order to proceed in uncertainty. This ran side-by-side with the need to generate ideas on how to better communicate the value of the original concept, select the best of these solutions, and strengthen them into an inspiring pitch. Lastly, a willingness to embrace risk was necessary in order to move the project forward without knowing how much money would be there. Let’s pull back the creative curtain on these concepts, from a Creative Problem Solving (CPS) perspective.

Tolerance for ambiguity is one of the key attitudes or emotional skills needed for effective Creative Problem Solving (1). Why? One reason is that when we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity, we tend to rush to the first idea or solution we can find—which isn’t necessarily the best one.

Generating Ideas and Selecting & Strengthening Solutions represent two phases of the Creative Problem Solving process. Both steps involve divergent thinking, where ideas are generated (the more ideas the better) and convergent thinking, where the best ideas or solutions are chosen (2). These steps can be used as many times as you need throughout a project.

The willingness to embrace risk is important in creative thinking (1). Once we’re ready to Plan for Action (another Creative Problem Solving step), we’re putting our creative products out into the worldwhere they may succeed or fail. If we don’t have tolerance for risk, we may find excuses to forestall or sabotage our efforts. Creative companies tend to have a higher rate of product failure than other companies. But they’re also identified by the successful creative products they produce.

So how did the team engage around these concepts? Organically. This is one of the beauties of Creative Problem Solving: it capitalizes on our natural creative thinking process. As it so happened, the team members involved worked through the process in an organic and effective way. The team member charged with developing a key element of the project moved smoothly through clarifying what was needed and, along with the owner, generated ideas to get started. The pitch meeting, while a bit more intense since it was all about the funding, also rolled organically from generating ideas to strengthening them as solutions, and onto planning for action as the team developed visual aids and talking points to support the pitch.

Notice how, even though CPS can be used to direct an entire project or product cycle from concept through roll-out, it can also be used within the various stages. At any point, you can dip in to get what you need: idea generation, action planning, clarifying the problem, etc. This is in fact what happened in this episode: the core concept had already been completed, but the team needed to go back do some creative thinking on some trouble spots. Think of it as cycles within cycles, or a mini-iteration within the project as a whole.

The result: the board restored half of the money that had been cut, which was the amount Thermo requested. Meanwhile, a key component of the visitor experience has not lost too much time in development.

Question: if these things had not happened, would it have meant that the creative process had been unsuccessful? (see “tolerance for risk,” above…).

Process in a nutshell: by embracing ambiguity and risk, and by creatively developing a strong pitch, the team succeeded in persuading the board to restore the project budget to close to its original level, while losing a minimum amount of time in the project development.

This experience, or one very much like it, is probably familiar to you and your organization. By shining a light on the different aspects of creative thinking, we become more aware of how well the process is (or isn’t) working for us, andideallywe also learn to identify and embrace our natural creative thinking skills.

What’s next? now that most of the money has been restored, as one team member said: “now we gotta deliver.” Check back to see the next steps in the diary of a process…

(1) Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M. C. & Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

(2) Miller, B, Vehar, J, Firestien, R (2001). Creativity unbound: An introduction to the creative process. Williamsville, NY: Innovation Resources, Inc.