The Power of Creative Thinking
What is creative thinking?
As you may be aware, there are two sides – or hemispheres – to the brain: the left brain and the right brain. The left brain is said to be the seat of our rational or logical faculties. The right brain is the seat of our creative faculties, our hunches, intuitions, and imagination. Successful people use their right brain for creative planning. They focus on possibilities: the big picture, the future; ‘what can be’ – rather than ‘what is’, ‘what was’ or what the limitations are.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” - Albert Einstein
Brainstorming is a simple technique for generating ideas, which is frequently used in business organizations to foster creativity and complex problem-solving. Brainstorming is perhaps most effective for a group or team of people, because one person’s idea or viewpoint sparks off another and inspirations ‘piggyback’ on each other, leading in directions that no one individual might have gone. But it works well for individuals too, because the other key point of brainstorming is to turn off the little voice in our heads that act as Inner Critic and Editor of our creative thoughts.
When I started out as an author, my editor gave me a piece of useful advice. She told me that the main reason people find difficulty writing – anything from a letter to a novel – is that they do not separate the ‘writer’ from the ‘editor’ in their heads. The moment the writer gets down a sentence, the editor jumps on it, suggesting that it could be put another way, or that the grammar doesn’t look right, or that it’s not punchy enough.
There’s nothing wrong with that editor's voice: it’s just trying to help – and it will make a huge contribution later, when there’s a manuscript to pull into shape and polish. But when there’s a blank page to fill and ideas to capture, it’s a real killer of the flow of ideas... We need to turn off that voice, somehow, so that the writer can get its ideas flowing, and get them down on paper, and maintain the excitement and inspiration and momentum. Then there’s something for the editor to work with.
Same with any kind of creative thinking. If the moment you come up with an idea, your Critic voice pipes up and says ‘ That’ll never work!’ or ‘That’s just silly!’ or any kind of ‘But...’ – the potential of that idea will be dropped, and the flow of other ideas, which might have come from it, blocked. So what if it’s a silly idea or an impractical idea? There might be something in it that sparks another thought. Something you can use. Or a minute later, another idea might come along that makes it less impractical...
Brainstorming involves throwing ideas ‘out there’, and writing them all down as they come – and deliberately not questioning, examining or censoring them in any way. The brainstorming process is one of quick-fire, off-the-wall, ‘hey-what-about-this?’, anything-goes thinking. No holding back, no ‘buts’, no retractions...
Once the flow of ideas has definitely dried up (and it’s worth pushing past the initial slow-down stage for a while, as ideas – like athletes – get their second wind...), then you get a chance to review all the ideas on the page: to cross off the joke ones, to consider practicalities, to evaluate, and to choose the ideas that your Inner Critic thinks are sensible, doable and worthwhile. This evaluation stage should be reassuring enough to create a real safety zone around the brainstorming session. You can give your ‘right brain’ permission to come up with the craziest, most reckless, most innovative ideas – knowing that you won’t be asked to do anything that your sensible, responsible, logical ‘left brain’ doesn’t approve of!
I find that the most effective way of unleashing my own creative thinking is mind-mapping. It’s a great technique, which I’d urge you to have a go at – and practise whenever you get the chance!
Mind-mapping isn’t complicated or formal or anything. It’s just brainstorming – with branches!
• Find a fairly large blank – unlined – piece of paper
• Draw a rough circle in the middle of the page
• Put a heading or topic word in the circle
• Brainstorm: let your brain run free, coming up with anything that links to that topic.
Don't attempt to sort out your ideas, censor them or worry about whether they are 'good ideas' or not: just let them flow.
• Jot down points as you think of them, linking ideas that come from or relate to other ideas with lines and 'branches' that fan out from the centre.
• Do whatever you like to capture the way your mind is working on the topic: link up different areas, doodle pictures, use different colours for different 'themes', use arrows to show progression from one point to another, question marks for areas you want to come back to – or whatever you like. (The more the mind map is expressive of you and the way you think, the better.)
If you get stuck, put the paper down, go away and do something else – and come back to it, maybe an hour, maybe days later. Or try using the ‘wrong’ hand to draw or write with: never mind the awkwardness and mess – it frees up the other side of your brain! Push past the initial ‘I’ve dried up...’ feeling and keep going: there’s more in there. You’ll know when you’ve finally finished.
What does your mind-map tell you? Somewhere on there, there’s the idea that’s waiting to happen. You’ll know it when you see it. The more you use mind-mapping, the better it gets. The process frees up and gets easier and goes deeper.
I use mind-mapping, these days, for everything from planning seminars to writing books, designing homes, running my business – and even coaching the junior league football team! Whenever I need to ‘think about’ something, I ‘mind-map’ it at the same time.
What do you want – really want – from life? For your health, wealth, achievements and relationships; for yourself, your family and your community? You might like to start with that great thought-starter: ‘If I knew I could not fail, I would...’ Or just use the question ‘What do I really want?’
Don’t worry about whether you ‘need’ it, whether it’s ‘logical’ or ‘realistic’ or whether you ‘deserve’ it. We’ll get to all that. Just let your mind run free, for a bit – and have a go at mind mapping your ideas as they come to you.
If you like the idea of mind-mapping and want to explore its possibilities further – before ‘jumping in’ – check out The Mindmap Book by Tony Buzan, BBC Books. It’s got some wonderful examples of other people’s mindmaps, which are always fun to explore – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘I could never do it like that’, or even ‘I want to do it like that!’: the whole point is (a) to do your own mindmaps and (b) to do your own mind-maps!