Creative Thinking

Have you ever met someone who has an endless supply of brilliant ideas? Maybe they are always thinking of the next best thing, giving good advice, or running a successful small business. You might think to yourself, "I wish I could do that!" With a little bit of practice with creative thinking, you can! 

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Table of contents
    • What is creative thinking?
    • What are the stages of creative thinking?
    • What are examples of creative thinking?
    • What are different creative thinking techniques?

    Definition of Creative Thinking

    Creative thinking is also known as lateral thinking. Creative thinking is when someone is able to produce a vast amount of ideas and put them together in a way that may differ from someone else. A creative thinker often thinks outside the box and beyond the standard level of problem-solving. A person that is creative can make something new out of previous thoughts, things, or ideas.

    Lena is struggling to come up with a name for her new photography business. Lena begins writing down ideas and thinking of ideas throughout the day. Eventually, she decides that she wants to incorporate her name. She starts thinking of other words that are related to cameras and thinks of "lens". When she connects the two together, she wants to add a descriptive word to tie them both together. Through this creative process, she has come up with the name "Lena's Lovely Lens" for her photography business. Lena has used her thinking creatively throughout the day to come up with a name that stands out and will hopefully set her business up for success.

    Creative Thinking an imaginative drawing of an eye StudySmarterFg. 1 Creative Eye,

    Stages of Creative Thinking

    Graham Wallas laid out four stages of creative thinking. Wallas said that we use preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification stages during the creative thinking process to help us discover creative solutions.

    Stages of Creative Thinking: Preparation

    This might seem self-explanatory, but preparation includes just about anything that helps you get started thinking creatively. Identifying the problem or idea and obtaining any necessary background information or details is helpful during this stage to support your future creative ideas. An important tactic in this stage is brainstorming. Gathering ideas and materials that may be needed to bring your idea or project to life is also important and will help you be ready to proceed with the creative process.

    Stages of Creative Thinking: Incubation

    Incubation actually involves unconscious thoughts and only requires that you take a break after all of that prep work. You might just be surprised at what else will come up throughout the day when you are not cognitively aware that your brain is at work. Perhaps you will become inspired by your surroundings and be able to incorporate them into your creative project!

    Stages of Creative Thinking: Illumination

    Illumination is the stage when things fall into place. You will have a brief moment of understanding that contributes to your idea or issue. Most of the time, illumination is when you develop new connections to really bring a creative solution or project together.

    Stages of Creative Thinking: Verification

    Verification is when you put everything you've learned through the creative process together. The actual creation of choice comes to life here if your ideas are successful. If not, you might have to go back through the creative process or use some critical thinking skills here.

    Here is a scenario of someone going through the four-stage process of creativity:


    Jenny wants to find a way to raise money for her favorite charity. She brainstorms for a while and writes down some ideas that come to mind. Jenny knows she is excellent at baking, so she decides that this is the first step in raising money. Jenny makes a list of materials she needs as well as items she can create for her bake sale.


    Jenny continues with her day and allows her mind to rest since she still needs to find a place to sell her baked goods. She knows that things will eventually fall into place, so she takes the day to relax and let thoughts come to her. While on the way to the store, Jenny sees vendors at a fall festival.


    When driving back from the store, Jenny realizes that she knows a local boutique owner who always hosts events. Jenny realizes that she can bake all of her goods throughout the week and set them up at her local boutique, per the owner's permission.


    Through all of Jenny's hard work and determination, she is able to set up at the local boutique on Saturday and Sunday, which is perfect as plenty of customers frequent her shop on the weekends. Jenny brings her idea to life and raises over $1000 to donate to her favorite charity. Jenny now decides that she can continue baking in the future and set up at different local shops to serve her community.

    Examples of Creative Thinking in Psychology

    You most likely automatically think about art when you think of creativity. However, art isn't the only way or reason to use creativity. Sure, paintings are creative, but creativity goes far beyond just painting on a canvas or drawing on paper. An artist can use creative thinking skills to portray an emotion, to portray an idea, or to tell a story in a variety of ways.

    Some examples of creative thinking skills include thinking critically, having a strong imagination, viewing scenarios from multiple perspectives, possessing curiosity, and having an open mind. These skills are all important because they allow room for new ideas to flow and new connections to be made.

    Creative Thinking paint tubes and paint brushes covered with paint StudySmarterFg. 2 Art supplies,

    Creative Thinking Techniques

    There are so many creative thinking techniques. Creativity can be enhanced and achieved through some of the techniques listed below:

    Creative Thinking Techniques: Goal Setting

    Having a clear set of goals for yourself is extremely important. You would not try to improve your guitar playing skills if you were trying to get better at cooking a meal. Having expectations for ourselves can hold us accountable before starting the creative process. You might ask yourself things such as "What am I trying to accomplish?" or "What are my strengths/weaknesses?" After you have your goals established, you can then move on to list the steps you need to take to reach those goals. Chances are if you have a path to follow that you are passionate about, you will get there with the right level of determination.

    Getting Inspired

    Finding inspiration is important for creativity. While you want to be an original, you might be able to pick up on some tactics that other people have used to spark your new, creative ideas. When you have a clear goal in mind, finding inspiration from other people should be fairly easy. If your goal is to start a small business in candle-making, you might want to research tactics, tips, and tricks that other people have used to make the process easier for you. By doing this you can incorporate your own ideas but still gain inspiration from the techniques that other people use.

    Brainstorming as a Creative Thinking Technique

    While this may seem obvious, brainstorming is a great way to open your mind to new ideas. The best way to brainstorm is to write down ideas and random thoughts that come to your mind throughout the day. You might be surprised what 5 minutes of uninterrupted writing can do for you. You can even brainstorm by engaging in conversations with other people. They may be able to offer helpful advice. Mood boards are also another great way to brainstorm and align your goals with your progress.

    Creative Thinking Techniques and Self-Analysis

    Keep track of your progress when trying to come up with new creative ideas. See how far you've come from the first time you listed your goals. Keeping an open mind when criticizing yourself can be hard, but it is doable. By keeping track of your progress, you can see what is and isn't working, and you can see how far you've come! If something is not working, you can then take further action. Maybe it is time to rethink your motives or change the path that you thought would work. You can become even more creative by being able to adapt quickly to new changes.

    Creative Thinking clip art of ideas falling from a cloud to illustrate brainstorming StudySmarterFg. 3 Brainstorming,

    Characteristics of Creative Thinking

    Everything that we have discussed thus far can be incorporated into the characteristics of creative thinking. Creativity involves being able to maintain generating a steady amount of new ideas. It also includes recognizing and learning from mistakes. There is a lot of room for mishaps and mistakes in the creative process. Even if your new creative idea ends up not being useful, that idea can spark other new ideas!

    The fun part about being creative is that the possibilities are endless. Of course, sometimes we need to use creativity for work or deadlines, but constantly coming up with new ideas helps us to always be prepared. Creative thinkers want to learn, grow, and succeed in their own unique way which means they will always jump at new experiences and opportunities that help them reach their goals.

    Creative Thinking - Key takeaways

    • Creative thinking is when someone is able to produce a vast amount of ideas and put them together in a way that may differ from someone else.
    • Creative thinkers can make something new out of previous thoughts, things, or ideas.
    • There are 4 stages in the creative thinking process developed by Graham Wallas.
      • Preparation includes identifying the problem, issue, or idea and gathering the necessary information and materials to bring the idea to life.
      • Incubation involves unconscious thoughts and only requires that you take a break after all of that prep work.
      • Illumination is the stage when things fall in place and come together so that you can proceed with your creation.
      • Verification is putting everything you've gathered together to see if your creation is practical and achievable.
    • Goal setting, getting inspired, brainstorming, and self-analysis are all important creative techniques.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Creative Thinking

    What is creative thinking?

    Creative thinking is also known as lateral thinking. Creative thinking is when someone is able to produce a vast amount of ideas and put them together in a way that may differ from someone else.

    What is the difference between critical thinking and creative thinking?

    Critical thinking and creative thinking are similar, chances are if you are using one you are using the other. Critical thinking is more in-depth, while creative thinking is more trial and error-based. 

    What are the different types of creative thinking?

    The stages of creative thinking are preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

    What are 3 creative thinking techniques?

    Creative thinking techniques include goal setting, getting inspired, and brainstorming.

    Why is thinking creatively important?

    Creative thinking can help people grow, learn, and succeed. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    A creative thinker often thinks

    True or false? Only artists are creative. 

    What is not a skill needed for creative thinking?


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