When to use creative thinking? Top 4 problems to solve with this thinking style

Now that we know what creative thinking is, let’s investigate what kinds of business problems it works for and when it is best to use creative thinking. As with any thinking style, it won’t be suitable for approaching all kinds of problems, so it’s good to get a good understanding of when creative thinking can be at its best and lead to great results.

Creating something new

First, creative thinking works best and cannot really be challenged by any other thinking style when you need something new, be it an idea, a solution, or a completely new business model. Creative thinking, with its host of tools, is attuned particularly well to generating innovations and inventions. For example, you may be thinking of a developing a new product for your business. Other approaches, like analytical thinking, will be of limited usefulness when it comes to creating an idea for the product. Use creative thinking and work through its tools – this will definitely help with coming up with a few contenders. Mind you, though, this doesn’t mean that the new ideas you’ll develop will be feasible – or that they’ll actually work. This is why creative thinking is often the first thinking style to apply, but then you need other approaches to ensure the success of the idea.

Thinking outside of the box

Second, creative thinking is the best thinking style when you need to think outside of the box. If you’re facing a problem and you tried a number of solutions and nothing worked, you need to change your approach. Creative thinking stimulates unbounded and untethered lines of thought that enable you to think without the assumptions and limitations you might have held so far. For example, you may be considering a career change, and you looked at some job offers and spoke to some colleagues from other fields, but nothing seems to be convincing enough. Use creative thinking and it will force you to abandon preconceptions you may have about yourself and your skills, and this can really help you see possibilities you haven’t considered before.

Getting unstuck in a project

Then creative thinking works really well when you feel stuck in any project. It may even be an assignment you’re working on or, in my case, a research paper I’m writing up. Every now and then we all feel like we get stuck in the middle of what we’re doing, and we don’t know how to move forward. Engaging in the creative thinking process can really help – even if you’re thinking creatively about something completely unrelated to the problem you’re stuck with! It’s because your brain switches from seeing obstacles to generating possibilities, and this state spreads onto everything you’re dealing with in a given moment. Trust me, that’s exactly what I observed when I worked with creative thinking.

Facing uncertainty and impossibility to plan

Finally, deploying creative thinking works particularly well when it’s difficult to plan and predict what’s going to happen next. Under conditions of uncertainty, creative thinking gives you the flexibility and confidence needed to deal with changing conditions. You know how to come up with ideas in a shifting environment, but you also have a process to do so you can rely on – so you can cope with an uncertain situation right now, but you’re also resilient when it comes to future changes. As a very timely example, creative thinking was an approach many businesses had to draw on to deal with the changing conditions of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. I spoke with some local business owners who, after the initial shock faded, grew more certain that they’d be able to make it work and reinvent themselves despite their plans and possibilities changing from one week to another.

If you’re dealing with any of these situations on a day-to-day basis, you’ll benefit from developing your creative thinking skills. Creativity will boost your problem solving skills because you’ll know how to collect the necessary background information, generate ideas, let these ideas develop, and then select those that can be turned into potential solutions. This is important if:

  • Your main job is inherently creative, for example if you work in advertising, marketing, writing or art
  • Your main job requires innovation, for example if you’re at a startup or if you’re an engineer
  • Your main job is to run a business, if you’re an entrepreneur or a CEO
  • Your main job is in a context of changing conditions, especially with limited resources, for example you work at a non-profit
  • You want to become more creative in your daily life.

Good ideas are difficult to come by, and creative thinking in business is a sought-after skill. And as someone once said, “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”. Creative thinking can definitely help here.

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Marta Stelmaszak Rosa
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I'm a researcher, academic and writer dedicated to becoming a better thinker. Every day, I practise thinkfulness: consciously adopting a structured approach to thinking in order to understand and change the world. The world needs all of us to become better thinkers, so let's start a thinkfulness revolution together!

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