Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

How to Encourage Creative Thinking

There are a number of different mental processes that encourage creative thinking and that enable us to come up with ideas that are original. Once we have potentially original thoughts, we can apply more critical thinking and examine if the idea is also useful.
a desk
© CQUniversity 2021

There are a number of different mental processes that encourage creative thinking and that enable us to come up with ideas that are original. Once we have potentially original thoughts, we can apply more critical thinking and examine if the idea is also useful.

Encourage Creative Thinking By:

1. Associations

Associations usually happen on a subconscious level. One way is to focus on a problem before you sleep, to encourage dreams that can help new associations to form.

Change the scenario of the problem. What would it look like if it were in a zoom, or shop or at sea? New problems may evoke new associations. Ask questions based on the new scenario. What would it mean for the original problem, why and how? Then come up with solutions based on the new scenario. A solution to rubbish problems will look different in a suburb compared to a zoo, or if it functioned like a fast food restaurant, or a gym, or a cafe. Options are endless!

2. Priming

Use the brain’s desire for priming to your advantage. Introduce different images that evoke a feeling or sentiment that you want to encourage. Get people to look at the images and then introduce the brainstorming activity. You can also ensure that the images or posters in the space you are using communicate what you want or at least are not in contrast to your purpose (for example, they show people by themselves, as opposed to in groups, or they show only one gender/race). Maybe hold the workshop/class in a different location – mix it up!

On a personal level you can use visualisation techniques to encourage priming in your own work. Visualise something that will help you. It can be a strategy to put your head in a positive and creative mindset. Focus on a word that is significant to you, or what an outcome could be.

‘Positive priming, when used properly, can provide increased motivation, better mood and ultimately higher performance’ (Dr. Fei Song)

3. Divergent Thinking

This is the step out of your box phase. You want to generate multiple ideas. Ensure the time and place is right and that people feel comfortable to speak out and share ideas.

To encourage divergent thinking, you can use prompts. These need to be open and allow for many different answers. They are usually not focused on the ‘who, ‘what’, ‘when’ (this leads to convergent thinking).

Instead these include phrases such as ‘what might happen if…’, ‘how could you/we…’ or ‘just suppose that…’. For example, you can ask; ‘suppose that no money is available, or we are unable to travel, or if some technical innovation did not exist, how would we…’

Any question that forces the person to consider different solutions from different perspectives can trigger more divergent thinking. You can do this in a rapid way and eg allow two minutes per question.

Each group can share each other’s answers or ideas and come up with further ideas in response. ‘What if’ questions can also help. Don’t be precious about your ideas or how they are presented.

You can also draw an idea, and then create a mind map, with different ideas that share something in common, but takes something else into consideration. The map will grow as your idea grows.

Another idea is to set boundaries. It may sound contradictory, but to be forced to come up with ideas that can only exist in a spaceship can make you come up with some strange ideas. Some may have potential, others may just be silly, but they can all trigger further thinking once you reflect on them.

4. Challenging Assumptions

When you look back at ideas, ask the question ‘why not?’ ‘Why not put a roof over it, place it in water, use it inside, in a car?’

Why not challenge what you think is in your space of possibilities and make yourself realise that maybe there are other ways to do something, even though it may sound a bit crazy. Why should you follow the rules, maybe the rules should not apply?

Have fun, play games that don’t allow you to take the easy route.

5. Enabling Incubation

Once you have been immersed and spent time thinking about a problem and ideas, take a break. Relax. Do something else. Let your mind wander. This is the step when ideas will float around and they can bump into other ideas and form new ideas you did not think about before. This can lead to the ‘eureka’ moment, the real insights.

© CQUniversity 2021
This article is from the free online

Unlocking The Creative Brain: Develop and Teach Skills For Creative Thinking

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education