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29 Examples of Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is the production of non-obvious ideas that are valuable and actionable. The following are common examples of creative thinking techniques.


The process of spitting out ideas without much thought. Prevents the common tendency for people to hold back their bravest ideas for fear of criticism.

Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is same process as brainstorming but in response to a negative question such as "how can this plan fail?"


The basic process of making educated guesses where information is missing. For example, a coach that predicts what the opposing team may do next in order to compose a creative response.

Big Picture Thinking

The practice of forgetting about details to look at overall strategy. For example, a marketing team that is always focused on optimizing monthly revenue that looks at their overall customer experience to find why the competition is outperforming.

Preserving Ambiguity

Preserving ambiguity is the principle that you delay any assumptions as long as possible because they tend to prevent creativity. For example, a shoe designer who explores designs without starting with a target market such that the shoe may end up being anything.


Wrapping your proposals in storytelling as opposed to bland specifications. For example, design proposals for a clock that need to be wrapped in a fictional story of how the design changed someone's life.

Challenging Assumptions

The process of identifying the things that everyone has assumed and challenging these things. For example, an urban planner who challenges the assumption that roads are for cars.

Counterfactual Thinking

Counterfactual thinking is the process of imaging how things could have been different in the past. For example, a train company that imagines how trains might have developed if aircraft had never been invented.

Creativity of Constraints

Creativity of constraints is the idea that constraints can force you to be more creative. For example, a team designing a bicycle helmet that is given the constraints that it must be safer than all other models on the market and cost less than $14 to produce.


Allowing your imagination to work in an unrestricted way.


Optimism is the practice of focusing on the positive potential in everyone and everything. This is a critical mode of thinking for creative processes.

Defensive Pessimism

Defensive pessimism is the practice of validating your bravest ideas with negative criticism. This is often used to prune ideas that originate with optimistic processes such as brainstorming.


Idealism is the theory that the world is a product of the mind and not the other way around. This may or may not be true but is a useful perspective for invention.


Pragmatism is the process of being flexible to recognize the real complexities of a problem. This is another approach for making brave and optimistic ideas actionable. For example, an urban designer who produces a play street that is also usable by cars at low speed.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is the process of applying design to any domain, problem or decision. For example, a carpenter who designs a work process to increase their productivity.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is the process of considering the end-to-end impact of change to complex systems. For example, a government that is considering taxing plastic to reduce pollution that attempts to identify potential unintended consequences of this policy in order to mitigate them.


A charrette is an intense period of teamwork in the same space. For example, working on a problem for several days straight in the same room with long hours each day.


Improv is a type of activity that is commonly used to break people out of static patterns of behavior for the purposes of creativity. This involves building upon a story together in a positive way according to a set of norms that don't allow you to reject ideas but only to build upon them.


Play is the pursuit of joy. This may put people in the right frame of mind for imaginative thinking.


A process of communication can aid creativity. However, creativity is the output of an individual mind and groups are notorious for producing compromised solutions that are fully non-creative. As such, clear creative direction and creative control is required.

Motley Crew Principle

The motley crew principle is the theory that intellectual diversity produces creativity and by contrast that groups that think alike are blind to original ideas. For example, an engineer + marketing person + customer service representative may come up with a more creative product design than 3 engineers or 3 marketing people.

Creative Tension

Creative tension is the theory that group disharmony produces creativity. For example, a team that intensely disagrees about a solution to a problem may be likely to find a more creative solution than a team that prioritizes feelings, agreement and saving face.

Creative Intuition

Intuition is the ability of individuals to just know things without a process of conscious thought. For example, a fashion designer who knows a potent fashion trend when they see it.

First Principles

First principles are foundational knowledge that have broad implications for a domain. For example, an environmentalist who adopts the principles of waste is food to design sustainable farming practices.

Thought Experiment

A thought experiment is an analogy that is used to simplify a problem.


The process of trying things to see what happens.

Fail Well

The design of experiments to fail quickly, cheaply and safely. For example, opening a food truck with a small investment before you go big to invest in a restaurant location.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is disciplined or systematic thinking. For example, a farmer who systematically reviews data collected from a crop experiment.

Risk Taking

Reserved, cowardly and mediocre thinking make creativity impossible. In order to be creative you take intellectual risks such as proposing ideas that are easy to criticise.


This is the complete list of articles we have written about creativity.
Creative Ability
Creative Class
Creative Direction
Creative Economy
Creative Expression
Creative Feedback
Creative Hobbies
Creative Industries
Creative Intuition
Creative Leadership
Creative Process
Creative Productivity
Creative Quality
Creative Spark
Creative Tension
Creative Things
Creative Thinking
Creative Value
Creative Works
Creativity Theory
Divergent Thinking
Idea Generation
Intellectual Diversity
Inventive Step
Magical Thinking
Metaphysical Conceit
Motley Crew
Preserving Ambiguity
Reverse Brainstorming
Thought Experiment
Work Creativity
More ...
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The defining characteristics of abstract art.

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A list of common creative strengths.

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A list of things that can be considered the opposite of art.

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The definition of confirmation bias with examples.

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An overview of good failure with specific examples.

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