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creative thinking /noun/ looking at problems from a different, but fresh perspective in order to discover nontraditional solutions

Why Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking isn’t really about the solutions if we focus on its true value. It is a way of looking at any problem to create paths that never existed, and in some cases, may not be able to exist. What I mean by this last part is that though a solution may be impossible, it can spark the possibility of another solution. Only a fictional superhero can fly, but a human can still climb a mountain. The creative thinking is not in climbing the mountain, it is in seeing the mountain. We are often faced with problems that have no clear solution, so the value of any solution rests entirely in the ability to develop it.

But when do you want to expand your creative thinking: when faced with a problem, or before?

By opening yourself up not only to lateral thinking exercises, but to a mindset where possibilities exist in every situation, you give yourself something critical to success: options.

Most people resign to failure, they don’t choose it actively. It may seem like some people choose it simply because difficult paths to success don’t show up on their radar; that is, they only see the easy way out. No matter who you are though, with options you are willing to try, you’ll keep going. Creative thinking is, therefore, a way to move through a problem by creating new options.


The List

This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, nor does it catalog the best books on the subject, but they are some of my favorites that I have read and currently use in my life.

  1. Happy Accidents | David Ahearn, Frank Ford & David Wilk: I was personally handed this book by a stranger after a spontaneous hour-long conversation about making the most of life in every way. He was one of the authors (Ahearn). The premise of this book is to engage “Yes, and” in your life. Now, this is not a new concept, but the authors show the power of seeing the silver lining in every storm cloud by recounting their own story of creating a successful improv show, among numerous other accolades. For creative thinking, this is a foundation story to see how thinking differently can help you always see options.
  2. Little Bets | Peter Sims: When you deliver a solution to a problem, there are varying levels of “completeness” at which that solution can exist. In this book, there is ample proof that delivering an underdeveloped solution is sometimes better because you need to receive feedback in order to make improvements. The idea of making small bets helps test out ideas without full commitment, which can help spawn a train of thought that would otherwise be unobtainable. Creative thinking relies on letting your mind wander into new territory; making small bets allows you to see a glimpse of a world where that territory is a reality.
  3. A More Beautiful Question | Warren Berger: If a solution is an answer, what question you ask becomes a significant decision. It’s not as easy as just asking more questions, rather you need to ask the right questions. Reframing a situation can help the creative juices flow so that your perspective shifts from how just you think to how others might think. This book guides you through the process of shifting your perspective on problems by asking better questions that produce better answers.
  4. Thinkertoys | Michael Michalko: Consider this the toolbox to supplement the know-how and mindset of creative thinking. Through well-detailed examples, you can use the ideas in this book for the physical navigation of creative thinking. The best way to use this book is to do just that: use it. For every “thinkertoy” you read about, find a problem and try out what you learned. This will solidify what you read, while showing you the versatility of that specific “toy”. If you only have a hammer, this book helps you see things other than nails.
  5. Think Like A Freak | Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner: From the creators of Freakonomics, this book lays out the mindset that led the authors to dive into their wild discoveries. While they focused on economics, this book is more about how to look creatively at what’s right in front of you to see what’s hidden behind or inside it. One of the unique pieces of this book is how to think more rationally about situations and to reduce the emotional ties to a situation, which so often cloud the creative thinking process.
  6. What If? | Randall Munroe: This is the curveball suggestion for creative thinking. This book switches the roles of a conventional problem and a creative solution, presenting creative (if not ridiculous) problems and conventional solutions. In doing so, the author must think creatively to apply real-world science and fact to problems that defy logic. For example, how many Legos would it take to build a bridge from London to New York? This will help you see how creativity can be applied in even the most unique of situations, but more importantly, how to consider all the various factors involved in any situation to develop solutions.

In a world becoming more defined by reading headlines, it is becoming too time-consuming to read entire books. Slow down. Reading should be a critical part of your life. I won’t go into great detail about the benefits of reading, but in short, you expand your vocabulary, knowledge, and focus. This is one post in a series of book recommendations on improving different aspects of life.

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