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Making creativity and innovation happen
Making creativity and innovation happen

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5.2 Creative thinking and critical thinking

While some might argue that the process of critical thinking helps to stimulate creative thinking (Eggers et al., 2017), others are quite clear that creative thinking and critical thinking are distinctly separate phenomenon which nonetheless share a common focus on decision making (Wechsler et al., 2018).

Paul and Elder make the case for a close link between the two as follows:

To the untutored, creative and critical thinking often seem to be opposite forms of thought: the first based on irrational or unconscious forces, the second on rational and conscious processes; the first undirectable and unteachable, the second directable and teachable….

Critical and creative thought are both achievements of thought. Creativity masters a process of making or producing, criticality a process of assessing or judging. The very definition of the word creative implies a critical component (e.g. having or showing imagination and artistic or intellectual inventiveness). When engaged in high-quality thought, the mind must simultaneously produce and assess, generate and judge the products it fabricates. In short, sound thinking requires both imagination and intellectual standards.

(2006, p. 34)

They conclude by asserting that both forms of thought are inherently linked, arguing quite strongly that ‘Critical thinking without creativity reduces to mere skepticism and negativity, and creativity without critical thought reduces to mere novelty’ (2006, p. 35).

Figure 13 Critical or creative thinking?

Creativity is consequently necessary for critical thinking, but in itself not sufficient to guarantee that it will occur. Creative people may bubble with ideas but to successfully get things done they must engage in problem finding – ‘a thinking activity that utilizes existing contexts and experience to produce and express new questions’ (Jia et al., 2017, p. 86).

Needless to say, critical thinking is not easy, and the pressure of time, something that many experience, can enhance this challenge. Sostrin (2017) argues that: ‘An unbridled urgency can be counterproductive and costly. If you’re too quick to react, you can end up with short-sighted decisions or superficial solutions, neglecting underlying causes and create collateral damage in the process.’

While problem solving is in many ways a natural human activity, if you reflect further you might recognise that effective problem solving is much harder. An important first step can be understanding the nature of the problem you are trying to solve and the full complexities it entails. Taking a more critical approach to problem solving can help you address them in new and productive ways.

In the next section you will take a step beyond the individual and look at the challenge of creativity and innovation in organisations.