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What Is Creative Thinking? Definition and Examples

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Creative thinking is the ability to come up with unique, original solutions. Also known as creative problem-solving, creative thinking is a valuable and marketable soft skill in a wide variety of careers. In this guide, you’ll learn: 

Creative Thinking Definition

Creative thinking is all about developing innovative solutions to problems. Creative thinkers brainstorm not only a large number of ideas but also a variety and range of them. 

Once they’ve brainstormed their ideas, creative thinkers will experiment with them. They look at ideas from multiple perspectives and examine how their solutions fit into the scope of what they’re working on. Creative thinkers aren’t afraid to take risks and try new ideas. In fact, this ability to develop, test, and implement original solutions makes them a valuable asset to just about any workplace. At work, creative thinking may look like:

  • Holding an interactive brainstorm to gather initial thoughts on a project
  • Evaluating a current process and offering suggestions on how to improve it
  • Researching other ways to market a product and leading experiments on new marketing channels
  • Developing an innovative way to reach out to prospective clients
  • Identifying a unique opportunity to promote the company brand and developing a strategy to do so  

Creative Thinking Examples

Creative thinking includes the process of innovative problem-solving — from analyzing the facts to brainstorming to working with others. Examples of these skills include analytical skills, innovation, and collaboration.

Analytical Skills

Analytical skills are problem-solving skills that help you sort through facts, data, and information to develop rational solutions. These skills aid you in the first part of the creative thinking process as you brainstorm and start to generate ideas. 

Analytical skills include:

  • Data analysis
  • Research
  • Forecasting
  • Reporting
  • Interpreting
  • Communication

Innovation

Innovation is the ability to come up with something new; however, you don’t need to develop the first flying car to be an innovative thinker. “Something new” at work might mean a method you haven’t tried before or experimenting with an unfamiliar process. Innovators in the workplace aren’t afraid to step away from tradition and explore something original, even if it might fail. 

Innovation skills include:

  • Risk-taking
  • Brainstorming
  • Imagining
  • Critical thinking
  • Ambition
  • Resilience

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Collaboration

Creative thinking doesn’t have to happen alone; you might have your most creative ideas when bouncing your work off others. Collaboration skills ensure you consider multiple perspectives and ways of thinking when you develop and refine ideas.

Collaboration skills include:

  • Written and verbal communication
  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Feedback
  • Inclusivity

How to Include Creative Thinking Skills in a Job Application

While creative thinking is a skill employers might look for, you don’t necessarily need to write “creative thinking” on your resume to show you have this skill.

“Think of your best mental strengths,” Laura Fontenot, resume writing expert, ACRW, and CPRW, recommends. “Are you a great problem solver? Do you understand how to phrase things differently? Can you learn a new skill quickly? Those questions can help you find great words for the resume. Consider adding things like problem-solving, intuition, collaboration, fast learner, organized, or communication.”

>>MORE: Need help crafting the perfect resume? Check out Forage’s Resume Writing Masterclass.

You can show these skills outside of your resume in creative ways — including your LinkedIn profile.

“Early professionals can make creative thinking a part of their professional brand by explicitly adding creative thinking or creative problem solving to their list of skills on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles — this will help with ATS optimizations,” Alejandra Garcia, manager, alumni college and career success at Code2College and Forage content development partner, advises. “They can also consider adding projects or an online portfolio website link to their resume and LinkedIn where they can showcase projects they’ve worked on that demonstrate their problem-solving skills.”

In the interview, make sure you can describe your workflow and process for these projects. Elaborate how you brainstormed ideas, what range of ideas you had, how you tested and experimented, and how you decided on a final solution.

4 Ways to Improve Creative Thinking

1. Put Yourself in a Box

Creative thinking is about “thinking outside the box,” but putting limitations on your problem-solving can help you think more freely and innovatively. For example, if someone tells you to make dinner, you may struggle to come up with a meal you don’t always cook. Yet if they ask you to make a hot dinner with three specific ingredients and two spices, you’ll more likely come up with something original. 

Putting yourself inside a box, whether that’s by telling yourself you need to include three charts in your presentation or giving yourself a strict word count for an article, can help expand your thinking.

2. Switch up Your Routine

Routine can be a great productivity booster, but it also can get in the way of your creativity. So, switch up your routine for one project, day, or even an hour. This can be something as small as where you’re physically sitting when you do your work or something as big as your process for approaching projects. Challenging yourself to do something different will help you find creative ways to adapt to your new environment.

3. Challenge What’s Currently Working

Think about how you might expand or improve upon a current process. What would you do if you had more resources, whether that’s time, money, or another expert? What would you do if you had fewer resources? If this project was taking place at a different time of year? If the target audience was different? Imagining these different potential scenarios will force you to problem-solve and adjust for various (very possible!) circumstances. 

4. Find Inspiration

Creative thinking doesn’t happen in a bubble. It’s vital to ask for others’ opinions, ideas, and feedback. Creative thinkers consider multiple perspectives and are curious about how others think. Ask your colleague about their work processes, whether it’s how they research for a client deliverable or how they approach meeting an external buyer. 

Why Is Creative Thinking Important?

A soft skill like creative thinking will always be valuable to employers, whether you’re looking for a marketing job or trying to land a career in finance. Employers need employees who can develop and experiment with new ideas to help them solve complex problems.

“Many employers seek candidates that are analytical and outside-the-box thinkers which are iterations of creative thinking skills,” Garcia says. “Thus, creative thinking, creative problem solving, innovative thinking, and analytical skills are all valuable in the current workplace — these skills are especially important in our ever-changing workplaces with new emerging technologies.”

Fontenot agrees. “The ability to navigate new challenges quickly can benefit any workplace!” she says. “The current world of work is fast-paced, technically driven, and constantly changing. Being intuitive, creative, driven, and a problem solver are key.”

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