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Critical Thinking “vs.” Creative Thinking?!
Posted on February 4, 2011 | Veronica Adams

The Think DIA In a recent online LinkedIn discussion group, a question was posed, “Which is more important: ‘critical thinking’ or ‘creative thinking’?”

I was a bit taken aback by the question, since I can't really imagine one without the other.  They should inform one another.  Actually, even construing these as "two different types” of thinking, as if they might exist independently of one another, is probably why we have so many economic, social, and environmental crises today. 

Papillion Clearly, the brain has two hemispheres for a reason.  We weren’t born to only use half of our brain.  I recently read, “Each of us is really two people,” in that we possess both sets of thinking abilities.  Among its myriad other functions, the “left brain” helps us with logical, sequential reasoning, vocabulary and grammar, exact mathematical calculations, and detail.  And among its various roles, the right hemisphere helps with spatial, contextual, artistic and creative thinking.  It looks for patterns and connections, even those that may not be readily apparent.  Most of us may lean towards one, but it’s a matter of choice as to whether we exercise only one hemisphere, or both

How many of our collective imaginations got buried alive:
The northern European-dominated U.S. culture and its educational system has strongly favored “left-brain” linear thinking.  A multi-year Head Start study tested 1,600 children on their divergent or “out of the box” thinking abilities.  Of children 3-5 years old, 90% tested at the “genius” level for creative thinkingBy age 13, it was only 10%!  They had not lost their capacities for divergent thinking, but already, peer pressure to conform, “fit in,” and not seem “weird,” or to give “the one right answer” in school had trained them to suppress their creative imaginations.

By age 25, only 2% tested in the genius range.  Woe is us!  According the John Putzier’s great book, Get Weird: 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work, adults who do manage to hold onto their divergent thinking abilities are often considered “too weird”* to get hired by a lot of companies.  Or they learn to keep their ideas to themselves.  *(Putzier says “weird” is the pejorative we often use to describe anything we consider to be “different.”)

The case for Both/And….
Unlike merely “imaginative” musings, some define creativity as thinking that presents "the right solutions at the right time" and can result in innovation.  Solid analysis is a prerequisite for a) recognizing the dimensions and factors of a problem and for b) thinking through the elements of possible solutions.  Analysis is also c) a key component of the art of successful persuasion and in d) providing recommendations for practical implementation.  

Steve Jobs, along with any number of brilliant thinkers and innovators, build the work of their imaginations on foundations of significant amounts of critical thinking.  Truly creative thinking results from an intersection of analysis, imagination, and synthesis, and then, if given the requisite support, results in innovation. 

And so, that's why it is no surprise that many of the standout leaders in the 2010 IBM CEO study who fostered creative thinking throughout their organizations also found that increased efficiency and profitability resulted!   Truly creative thinking can solve far more of our organizational and social problems than either a) imaginative pondering that does not ground itself in analysis or consider what is truly possible, or b) the type of critical thinking that offers no creative alternatives and limits itself to what it thinks of as “current reality.”  

Creative thinking is smart thinking!


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