Activate Creative Thinking at Work

Managers may call it creative thinking or divergent thinking; others refer to it simply as creativity. Whatever term you use, with today’s emphasis on innovation, the development of creative thinking is more important than ever. For instance, the CEO of Stewarts Coffee, Bob Stewart, has a sculpted light bulb hanging above his desk to represent what the bulk of his work entails—generating ideas. For the creative thinker, each thought is pregnant with possibilities.

According to cognitive experts, thinking is not something you choose to do, anymore than fish choose to live in water. To be human is to think. But while thinking may come naturally, awareness of how you think does not. The essence of critical thinking is thinking beyond the obvious. Unfortunately, sometimes we get stuck mentally. Options don’t occur to us because we’re so focused on the task at hand, that we forget to ask, “What if?” We may never shift our thinking into synthesis, a deeper mental process that involves combining ideas and information in ways that form completely new solutions, processes, uses, or products.

What about you? Are you developing your creative powers and using them on the job? Companies lament that employees aren’t more creative. Managers say that they could increase productivity and sales if every worker learned “to think outside the box.” Of course, every employee does have the potential to think creatively, but creative thinking, like other skills, must be learned and practiced.

To stimulate creativity, some organizations hire creative consultants or sponsor seminars that teach employees how to imagine. Through his books and speaking engagements, Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head, presents a variety of methods for improving mental flexibility. One of his suggestions involves changing your viewpoint. So you might ask yourself, “How would someone with an opposing view to mine approach this problem?” Following are other suggestions for enhancing creativity:

• Indulge in a creative process such as drawing, or cooking something you’ve never made before.
• Get away from the office and think about a business problem in the middle of a park, or at a museum.
• Give yourself time to evaluate an idea. Rushing your thought process can be a roadblock to creativity.
• Solicit a variety of opinions on a problem you’re trying to solve. Weigh the different perspectives to help you come up with the best solution.
• Research your idea, and from that, brainstorm as many ideas as possible.
• Read about or participate in a new activity, something novel to you, so that your mind is exposed to fresh ideas.
• Let yourself play. Creative ideas often surface when we allow ourselves to engage in something frivolous, or in an activity that we truly enjoy.

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