Why You Need Creativity More than Critical Thinking

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Why You Need Creativity More than Critical Thinking

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By Gerard Puccio, Ph.D., Chair and Professor, International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State and Pamela Szalay, M.S., Creativity Consultant at Imagine

Over the years, schools have emphasized and lauded the value of critical thinking, and it likely has been emphasized in your own education. Yet critical thinking is not the highest form of human thought.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the widely-respected Blooms Taxonomy a schema that organizes thinking from the simplest form to the most complex was revised to place creativity at the top, which better reflected the transition away from an industrial economy. Similarly, in many notable reports released this past decade (American Management Association, IBM, World Economic Forum), creativity is moving up in the ranks as one of the top skills needed for success in todays world.

In critical thinking, you evaluate, analyze, compare and dissect. You react to something that already exists. In creative thinking, in contrast, you sense a problem or opportunity, then use your imagination to produce an original idea or solution for that problem or opportunity.

Critical thinking is backwards-focused, creativity is forward-focused. Both are important, but until recently, creative thinking has largely been missing from most schools‘ curriculums and organizational training programs.

Consider the tests you took that determined your grades in school. Most of them were probably multiple choice. These types of tests emphasize and reward critical over creative thinking, as you are asked to supply a single correct answer from a list of options: A, B, C or D.

There are situations when this is appropriate, but such testing is limited; it does not reflect or prepare students for the real world. Think about it. How often in life and work have you been presented with a tightly framed problem and then been given a set of options where you knew you could find the exact right answer?

Standardized tests are funnels toward conformity, asking thousands of students to come up with the same answer. The result is those tests reward sameness – not uniqueness, not cleverness, not original thinking. Is it any wonder that, in an economy defined by innovation, CEOs are looking for more creativity?

Original ideas, innovations and breakthroughs rarely emerge by relying on critical thinking alone. Original ideas come from stretching the imagination. Alex Osborn, founder of the BBDO advertising agency and a thought leader in the creative education movement, once said that necessity may be the mother of invention, but imagination is the father.

Lets look at a current, real-world example of creative and critical thinking. Apoorva Mehta was a young man from Canada with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Waterloo. He worked at Amazon barely two years before he quit and became an entrepreneur.

He started a succession of businesses, almost 20 in all. Every one ended in failure, and he lost his investors more than a million dollars. Finally, he focused on a challenge he was truly interested in solving, a pain point in his life: developing an app to make it easier to buy groceries.

However, this was not a new idea. Grocery chains like Safeway and Whole Foods, even his former employer Amazon, were already offering online shopping and delivery. How could he compete?

Enter creative thinking. Mehta knew he needed to be unique to attract customers. He couldn’t simply look at the existing business models and say, “Which one do I want to be like: Safeway, Whole Foods or Amazon?”  In other words, he could not just choose option A, B or C because the answer was “none of the above.” His solution would first have to be imagined and then invented.

He imagined a situation where customers could conveniently order groceries via an app, workers could fill the order by shopping at any local store, and then deliver the groceries to the customer that same day. In other words, he would sell product without having inventory.

This was simpler for the customer and for Mehta, and it was unique because his competitors were selling their own inventory. Once he had a novel idea, one for which there was no successful example to follow, he set to work refining and testing it, and grew his business into an empire in just five years. That company, Instacart, is now worth $3 billion dollars.

There are many lessons to be learned from Mehtas story, but his ability to blend creative and critical thinking in a process we call creative problem solving, allowed him to close the distance from Amazon employee to Amazon competitor.

What could you accomplish by applying creative thinking to everyday problems at work and in life? How might you use your imagination to lead you away from ordinary solutions to breakthroughs?

You can practice some creative thinking right now by thinking of 30 ways to make your job better. Picture what your day would be like; let your imagination flow. In our next article, we will share specific techniques you can use to develop creativity.

Reports Cited:

American Management Association. (2010, April 2). AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey. http://www.amanet.org/news/ama-2010-critical-skills-survey.aspx

IBM. (2012) Leading through connections: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. IBM Institute for Business Value. www-935.ibm.com/services/multimedia/anz_ceo_study_2012.pdf

World Economic Forum. (2016, January). The future of jobs: Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs

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By Gerard Puccio, Ph.D., Chair and Professor, International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State and Pamela Szalay, M.S., Creativity Consultant at Imagine

Over the years, schools have emphasized and lauded the value of critical thinking, and it likely has been emphasized in your own education. Yet critical thinking is not the highest form of human thought.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the widely-respected Blooms Taxonomy a schema that organizes thinking from the simplest form to the most complex was revised to place creativity at the top, which better reflected the transition away from an industrial economy. Similarly, in many notable reports released this past decade (American Management Association, IBM, World Economic Forum)1, creativity is moving up in the ranks as one of the top skills needed for success in todays world.

In critical thinking, you evaluate, analyze, compare and dissect. You react to something that already exists. In creative thinking, in contrast, you sense a problem or opportunity, then use your imagination to produce an original idea or solution for that problem or opportunity.

Critical thinking is backwards-focused, creativity is forward-focused. Both are important, but until recently, creative thinking has largely been missing from most schools‘ curriculums and organizational training programs.

Consider the tests you took that determined your grades in school. Most of them were probably multiple choice. These types of tests emphasize and reward critical over creative thinking, as you are asked to supply a single correct answer from a list of options: A, B, C or D.

There are situations when this is appropriate, but such testing is limited; it does not reflect or prepare students for the real world. Think about it. How often in life and work have you been presented with a tightly framed problem and then been given a set of options where you knew you could find the exact right answer?

Standardized tests are funnels toward conformity, asking thousands of students to come up with the same answer. The result is those tests reward sameness – not uniqueness, not cleverness, not original thinking. Is it any wonder that, in an economy defined by innovation, CEOs are looking for more creativity?

Original ideas, innovations and breakthroughs rarely emerge by relying on critical thinking alone. Original ideas come from stretching the imagination. Alex Osborn, founder of the BBDO advertising agency and a thought leader in the creative education movement, once said that necessity may be the mother of invention, but imagination is the father.

Lets look at a current, real-world example of creative and critical thinking. Apoorva Mehta was a young man from Canada with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Waterloo. He worked at Amazon barely two years before he quit and became an entrepreneur.

He started a succession of businesses, almost 20 in all. Every one ended in failure, and he lost his investors more than a million dollars. Finally, he focused on a challenge he was truly interested in solving, a pain point in his life: developing an app to make it easier to buy groceries.

However, this was not a new idea. Grocery chains like Safeway and Whole Foods, even his former employer Amazon, were already offering online shopping and delivery. How could he compete?

Enter creative thinking. Mehta knew he needed to be unique to attract customers. He couldnt simply look at the existing business models and say, Which one do I want to be like: Safeway, Whole Foods or Amazon?Or, choose option A, B or C because the answer was none of the above. His solution would first have to be imagined and then invented.

He imagined a situation where customers could conveniently order groceries via app, workers could fill the order by shopping at any local store, and then deliver the groceries to the customer that same day. In other words, he would sell product without having inventory.

This was simpler for the customer and for Mehta, and it was unique because his competitors were selling their own inventory. Once he had a novel idea, one for which there was no successful example to follow, he set to work refining and testing it, and grew his business into an empire in just five years. That company, Instacart, is now worth $3 billion dollars.

There are many lessons to be learned from Mehtas story, but his ability to blend creative and critical thinking in a process we call creative problem solving, allowed him to close the distance from Amazon employee to Amazon competitor.

What could you accomplish by applying creative thinking to everyday problems at work and in life? How might you use your imagination to lead you away from ordinary solutions to breakthroughs?

You can practice some creative thinking right now by thinking of 30 ways to make your job better. Picture what your day would be like; let your imagination flow. In our next article, we will share specific techniques you can use to develop creativity.

Reports Cited:

American Management Association. (2010, April 2). AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey. http://www.amanet.org/news/ama-2010-critical-skills-survey.aspx

IBM. (2012) Leading through connections: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. IBM Institute for Business Value. www-935.ibm.com/services/multimedia/anz_ceo_study_2012.pdf

World Economic Forum. (2016, January). The future of jobs: Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs

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