Characteristics of Creative Thinkers
Creativity is pure gold, no matter what you do for a living. Annette Moser-Wellman, author of The Five Faces of Genius, asserts, “The most valuable resource you bring to your work and to your firm is your creativity. More than what you get done, more than the role you play, more than your title, more than your ‘output’—it’s your ideas that matter. Despite the importance of a person’s ability to think with creativity, few people seem to possess the skill in abundance.
If you’re not as creative as you would like to be, you can change your way of thinking. Creative thinking isn’t necessarily original thinking. In fact, I think people mythologize original thought. Most often, creative thinking is a composite of other thoughts discovered along the way. Even the great artists, whom we consider highly original, learned from their masters, modeled their work on that of others, and brought together a host of ideas and styles to create their own work. Study art, and you will see threads that run through the work of all artists and artistic movements, connecting them to other artists who went before them.Perhaps you’re not even sure what It means when I ask whether you are a creative thinker. Consider some characteristics that creative thinkers have in common:
- Creative Thinkers Value Ideas. Annette Moser-Wellman observes, “Highly creative people are dedicated to ideas. They don’t rely on their talent alone; they rely on their discipline. Their imagination is like a second skin. They know how to manipulate it to its fullest". Creativity is about having ideas—lots of them. You will have ideas only if you value ideas.
- Creative Thinkers Explore Options. I’ve yet to meet a creative thinker who didn’t love options. Exploring a multitude of possibilities helps to stimulate the imagination, and imagination is crucial to creativity. As Albert Einstein put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Options provide the key to finding the best answer—not the only answer. Good thinkers come up with the best answers. They create back-up plans that provide them with alternatives. They enjoy freedom that others do not possess. And they will influence and lead others.
- Creative Thinkers Embrace Ambiguity. Writer H. L. Mencken said, “It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.” Creative people don’t feel the need to stamp out uncertainty. They see all kinds of inconsistencies and gaps in life, and they often take delight in exploring those gaps—or in using their imagination to fill them in.”
- Creative Thinkers Celebrate the Offbeat. Creativity, by its very nature, often explores off of the beaten path and goes against the grain. Diplomat and longtime president of Yale University Kingman Brewster said, “There is a correlation between the creative and the screwball. So we must suffer the screwball gladly.” To foster creativity in yourself or others, be willing to tolerate a little oddness.”
- Creative Thinkers Connect the Unconnected. Because creativity utilizes the ideas of others, there’s great value in being able to connect one idea to another—especially to seemingly unrelated ideas. Graphic designer Tim Hansen says, “Creativity is especially expressed in the ability to make connections, to make associations, to turn things around and express them in a new way.”
Creating additional thoughts is like taking a trip in your car. You may know where you are going, but only as you move toward your destination can you see and experience things in a way not possible before you started. Once you begin to think, you are free to collect. You ask yourself, What material relates to this thought? Once you have the material, you ask, What ideas can make the thought better? That can start to take an idea to the next level. After that, you can correct or refine it by asking, What changes can make these ideas better? Finally, you connect the ideas by positioning them in the right context to make the thought complete and powerful.
- Creative Thinkers Don’t Fear Failure. Creativity demands the ability to be unafraid of failure because creativity equals failure. You may be surprised to hear such a statement, but it’s true. Charles Frankel asserts that “anxiety is the essential condition of intellectual and artistic creation.” Creativity requires a willingness to look stupid. It means getting out on a limb—knowing that the limb often breaks! Creative people know these things and still keep searching for new ideas. They just don’t let the ideas that don’t work prevent them from coming up with more ideas that do work.