Creative Thinking

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by Kim Sandhu

Creative thinking continues to be perplexing, transformative, and a key component for innovative ideas to emerge across disciplines and contexts. It has been identified as “the basis for progress” in society, as well as the act of solving “complex, novel, ill-defined problems” with the “generation of high-quality, original, and elegant solutions” (Mumford et al., 2012, p. 30). Theorists believe creative thinking exists along a continuum and that it can be honed by employing explicit strategies, exercises, and simulations (Malycha & Maier, 2017). However, stimulating creative thinking in individuals requires consistent investigation, as tools and strategies used to foster and gauge creativity continue to evolve in tandem with technology.

The following chapter will define creativity, present theory and evidence, examine the role and value of creativity and technology in societal and educational contexts, introduce local practices geared towards fostering creative thinking, and provide examples of strategies and relevant learning objects.


The complexities of creative thinking impose an enormous challenge in creating a definition that encompasses the multitude of processes and components involved. For the purpose of this chapter, creative thinking is defined as an individual’s ability to analyze and create unique associations between problems, explicit and implicit knowledge, ideas, and concepts, with fresh and original thought processes. The desired end result is a creative proposal, solution or innovation.

Theory & Evidence

The Individual, Domain, and Field

Mihaly Csikszentmilahyi’s (1988) systems model of creativity emphasizes creative thinking exists through interactions between the domain, the individual, and the field (Henriksen et al., 2016).

The domain consists of cultural and societal contexts defined by symbolic rules. These ideas and values constitute norms individuals use to structure thought processes and knowledge derivation. These ideas exist within what is commonly referred to as “the box” and it is “outside the box” where creative thinking, novelty, originality, and innovation await actualization.

The individual refers to the entity who brings novelty to the domain, engaging in creative thinking through divergent thought processes, contemplating diverse associations between unrelated categories, disregarded ideas, and personal experiences. This process may allow the individual to reach actualization, leading to innovation.

These results are finally presented to the field, which consists of experts able to recognize and validate the individual’s creativity and innovation. In order for novelties to find their place within “the box,” they must be granted acceptance from the field to enter and exist within societal norms, facilitating acceptance by the general population (Henriksen et al., 2016).

Henriksen et al. (2016) identify that the field has transformed with technological advancements; as seen with Youtube, the individual is capable of directly interacting with the audience, forgoing the approval process with the domain.

Dual-Processing Theory

Creativity requires associations between implicit and explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge (type 1) is procedural and pertains to skills or experiential knowledge needed to accomplish particular tasks. Explicit knowledge (type 2) is declarative in nature and predominantly consists of factual information that has been coded.

Procedural knowledge is often referred to as “know how” or “intuition” and is considered to be a better source for creative thinking. However, subject knowledge (declarative) and an understanding of how such knowledge can be used (procedural) are both required for an individual to be creative (Saebo et al., 2007).

Creative thinking involves two sets of thought processes (Sowden et al., 2014):

  • Generation of ideas
  • Refinement, evaluation, selection of ideas

These thought processes are based on elaboration, reorganizing, and recombining knowledge, ideas, and concepts found in the two types of thinking (Sowden et al., 2014):

Type 1 (Implicit, procedural, divergent)

  • Does not require working memory
  • Rapid, unconscious, automatic, associative, and intuitive
  • Rapid association of information
  • Contributes to experience based decision making

Type 2 (Explicit, declarative, convergent)

  • Requires working memory
  • Slow, controlled, effortful, conscious, and analytic
  • Thinking is capacity-limited, rule-based
  • Responses considered rational

Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Guilford’s (1956) Structure of Intellect Model examines the influence of divergent and convergent thinking and can be interpreted as a modern dual-processing model (Sowden et al., 2015). Divergent thinking allows for exploration and unpredictable connections to be drawn between diverse ideas and solutions. Convergent thinking facilitates refinement and evaluation of these ideas and solutions. Surprisingly, though divergent thinking may seem more influential in creative thought, Gabora’s (n.d.) honing theory supports the need to use both, as consciously shifting between convergent and divergent thinking allows individuals to overcome barriers or “blocks” in thinking and producing ideas (Sowden et al., 2015). Prompting is recommended to promote switching between thought processes (Sowden et al., 2015).

Guilford’s model consists of multiple stages, each followed by evaluation (Lubart, 2001):

  • Filtering – Arousal
  • Cognition – Sense/structure problem
  • Production – Generate ideas via divergent and convergent thinking
  • Cognition – Obtain new information
  • Production – Cyclical until a solution is achieved


The genoplore model proposed by Finke et al. (1992), maintains creative thinking occurs in two phases (Sowden et al., 2014):

  • Generative phase - Implicit and explicit thought processes are used to produce mental models; items are retrieved from memory and elaboration occurs, often leading to innovative ideas. Malycha and Maier (2017) affirm that mind maps are frequently used to represent mental models and help individuals combine knowledge in a visual format.
  • Explorative phase - Corresponds more closely with explicit thought processes, where the individual’s creative solutions result from evaluation of mental models; also enables innovation in diverse contexts.

Problem-Based Creative Thinking

Mumford et al. (1991) developed the Creative Process Model, inspired by earlier models proposed by Wallas and Dewey, and more recent conceptualizations, such as the genoplore model (Hunter et al., 2006).

It includes “eight core processes involved in creative thought” (Hunter et al., 2006, p. 30):

  • problem construction
  • information gathering
  • concept selection
  • conceptual combination
  • idea generation
  • idea evaluation
  • implementation planning
  • monitoring

The model is based on three critical propositions (Hunter et al., 2006):

  • Creative problem-solving requires knowledge to interpret information.
  • Existing knowledge is reorganized and recombined to produce new knowledge, leading to new ideas.
  • Ideas must be evaluated and transformed into feasible plans for managing a creative project, usually extending over a number of years.

Cognitive Flexibility & Schema Violations

Cognitive flexibility has been recognized as a necessary mental component for creative thinking (Ritter et al., 2016). It enables one to make connections between concepts and overcome functional fixedness, defined as traditional, accepted norms and sequences. Cognitive flexibility is further facilitated by schema violations, or when sequences of well-known activities are disturbed and performed in a different order (Ritter et al., 2016).

Factors for Individual Differences in Creative Thinking

Baer and Kaufman (2005) identified intelligence, motivation, and an appropriate environment as requirements for creative thinking (Mussel et al., 2015). They identified being open to new experiences as a key personality trait, which is positively related to divergent thinking tasks. Openness allows new information in the form of strange and unconventional patterns of thought, and the ability to form independent opinions to enter the creative combining process (Kandler et al., 2016).

Extraversion has also been linked with creativity, facilitating the social context and platform from which ideas and thoughts are shared (Kandler et al., 2016). Additionally, studies on intelligence and creativity suggest that creative ability is positively correlated with high intelligence, but high intelligence is not necessarily a predictor of creative ability (Sarsani, 2008). Challenge intrinsic motivation, which pertains to overcoming challenges and tackling complex tasks, also promotes novel and useful creativity more than enjoyment intrinsic motivation (Leung et al., 2013; Runco & Chand, 1995).

Creative individuals also have higher levels of serotonin and dopamine, while increased levels of norepinephrine is believed to decrease creativity (Ram-Vlasov, 2016).

Explicit Instructions

The use of explicit instructions is thought to enhance creativity, yielding higher originality scores when given to talented, non-gifted children, but not affecting gifted children who may automatically engage in creative thinking processes (Runco & Chand, 1995). Furthermore, individuals are capable of increasing flexibility and overcoming functional fixedness with explicit instructions. Runco and Chand (1995) emphasize the need for educators to avoid designing tasks where “clearly defined solutions are available” (p. 248).


Constraints can facilitate creative thinking, as limitations may produce novel ideas, direction, and objects (Candy, 2007). Technological tools and platforms have constraints which shape learning processes and outcomes; constraints create a more manageable creative space for the learner, imposing restrictions on one’s “ability to think, perceive, and create” (Candy, 2007, p. 366). Candy (2007) discusses constraints as part of a context, genre, or platform; the chosen domain maintains “a set of boundary constraints within which the artist works” (p. 366). Choices made within this space create a distinctive individual style (Candy, 2007).

Klein and Dytham imposed limitations on traditional PowerPoint presentations, challenging individuals to present a series of 20 slides only containing images and excluding text (PechaKucha, n.d.). The presentation consists of showing each image for 20 seconds and oral presentation of ideas. Now recognized globally, pechakuchas are “limiting and liberating” (Candy, 2007, p. 366), and a platform to communicate creative ideas.

Measures of Creative Thinking in Research

  • Unusual Uses Task (1967)
  • Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (1962)

Creative Thinking and Technology in Societal and Educational Contexts

Creative thinking has been identified as a vital skill effecting personal and professional success, leadership ability, mental health functionality, and intellectual and emotional prosperity (Henriksen et al., 2016). Digital media has altered the manner in which information and ideas can be shared, supporting creativity and innovation at the global level, while “transforming how culture, art, and knowledge emerge within disciplines” (Henriksen et al., 2016, p. 31); technology is “…driven by human creativity, and in turn provides new contexts and tools for creative outputs” (p. 27-28). To prepare learners for this reality, educators must create opportunities for learners to engage with technology, use creative approaches to repurpose available tools, and evaluate how the creative use of tools aligns with their pedagogical approaches (Henriksen, 2016). Sarsani (2008) also identifies the pressing need move away from learners reproducing existing knowledge and place them in positions of creation instead, whilst developing skills and openness required to receive and employ emergent technology.

The need to merge creativity and technology in curricular guidelines is further supported by Henriksen et al. (2016): “…the dual-goals of teaching creatively with technology, and teaching for enhancing creativity with technology should be identified by [curricular] guidelines” (p. 33). When strategies to enhance creative thinking are integrated with the use of technology, outcomes may result in significant shifts in ideas, thinking, and the use of technological tools.

Creative Thinking in Local Practices

BC’s revamped curriculum for K-12 education integrates several of these values by formally including creative thinking as a core competency (BC Curriculum, n.d.). As learners progress through the education system, expanding their repertoire of skills, knowledge of diverse ideas and concepts also develops, and as proposed by several of the aforementioned theories, this allows for recombination to occur, facilitating creative ideas that are expressive, innovative, and productive (BC Curriculum, n.d.). Creative thinking also appears as part of the core competencies for communication, critical thinking, personal awareness and responsibility, and more explicitly in curricular outcomes of applied design, skills, and technology.

The following section examines creative thinking as part of BC’s curriculum (n.d.) and excludes aspects of learning unrelated to the creative thinking process.

BC educators are experimenting with creative thinking, which is organized into three sections:

  • Novelty and value – ideas are new to the learner, their peers, or the community; value is gauged in terms of enjoyment and accomplishment, problem-solving ability, self-expression, or influencing others’ thinking.
  • Generating ideas – ideas are generated through play, by engaging with others’ ideas, and inclusion of problems, constraints, interests, or passions. This process derives from unconscious thought, although explicit instructions can help learners shift from explicit to implicit knowledge, thus enhancing combination and recombination of information to nurture creative thinking. Incubation is also identified as necessary in generating ideas.
  • Developing ideas – refers to the evaluation, development, and refinement of creative ideas. It focuses on developing skills such as perseverance, evaluating failure, and generating additional creative ideas to address other problems that may arise throughout the process.


Creative thinking provides more specific guidance for educator’s to blend creativity and communication activities, the use of technology, and self-reflection of the learning process in the following four sections:

  • Connecting and engaging with others to share and develop ideas – use of informal and structured conversations to increase exposure to diverse perspectives and assist divergent thinking.
  • Acquire, interpret, and present information (including inquiries) – learners engage in inquiry learning, using technology as a presentation platform to various audiences.
  • Collaborate to plan, carry out, and review constructions and activities – learners collaborate face-to-face or using technology.
  • Explain/recount and reflect on experiences and accomplishments – learners engage in self-reflection and discuss the learning process with others.

Critical Thinking

Creative thinking complements critical thinking processes and focuses on developing decision making, analytical, problem-solving, inquiry, and self-assessment skills in the following three sections:

  • Analyze and critique – analyze and judge a process or product, employ explicit and implicit criteria to draw conclusions, consider multiple perspectives, and practice self-reflection.
  • Question and investigate – learners engage in inquiry and investigation, explore questions and challenges to major issues or problems presented in educational, personal, and social contexts, and focus on strengthening the following skills: questioning, planning, information gathering, interpretation, and synthesis.
  • Develop and design – learners create or transform products and methods, as well as possible solutions to problems, events, issues, and needs, explore possibility, monitor progress, and modify their work using criteria and feedback.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

Creative thinking requires particular learner traits, which are presented in the following two sections:

  • Self-determination – learner’s value their individual ideas, and find purpose and motivation.
  • Self-regulation – learners take responsibility for their choices, set goals, monitor progress, develop patience, and persevere in difficult situations.

Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies

The creative thinking process is employed as part of the design and innovation cycle, appearing in the following sections:

  • Defining – learners choose a design opportunity, consider key features, potential users, and identify success criteria and constraints.
  • Ideating – learners generate ideas and explore ideas of others, finally selecting an idea to pursue.
  • Prototyping – learners develop a plan, explore and test different materials for effectiveness, create a prototype and engage in an iterative process.
  • Testing – learners test prototypes, review peer, user, and expert feedback, implement changes, and retest.
  • Making – learners select appropriate tools, technologies, and materials for production.
  • Sharing – learners decide how and with whom to share their product, evaluate personal and social effects of sharing, and identify new design problems.

Current Assessment of Core Competency Profiles

A set of profiles containing “I” statements (from the learner’s perspective) amalgamates the facets in each of the core competencies. These profiles can function as a model for learners’ self-assessment and can easily be transferred to formative and summative assessment rubrics for educators.


Educators should evaluate theoretical evidence provided in this chapter and incorporate approaches to foster creativity whenever possible. Educators’ self-reflection of their practice and adopting the following traits will also support creative thinking in learners:

  • A willingness to take risks and encourage creative potential in learners (Kim et al., 2015).
  • Model creative thinking and encourage learners’ exploration of ideas (Horng et al., 2005).
  • Use of creative learning objectives and explicit instructions, thereby increasing learner motivation (Leung et al., 2013).
  • Provide a safe learning environment, promoting inclusivity and pleasant interactions, eliminating negative stress (Lubart, 2001; Saebo et al., 2007).
  • Provide learners time and space to develop ideas, refrain from interrupting or judging; guidance, open-ended extension questions, and sharing personal experiences allows learners to feel more comfortable taking risks (Horng et al., 2005).
  • Engage in opportunities to explicitly transfer creative interests into creative approaches, lessons, and activities using technology (Horng et al., 2005).
  • Provide as many opportunities as possible for learners to choose and discover (inquiry); support any attempt to create (Kim et al., 2015).

Additional Strategies to Foster Creative Thinking

  • Creative training by using Guilford’s (1967) Unusual Uses Task; for example, “What can you do with a paperclip?” (Ritter et al., 2014).
  • Use of constraints in learning activities and criteria, i.e. time limits, resources, technological tools, etc.
  • Use of analogies and practice with conceptual combinations to expand learners’ knowledge (Kim et al., 2015).
  • Use of cross curricular examples, allowing learners “opportunities to speak [and] to follow their own interests (Sarsani, 2008, p. 166)
  • Incorporate drawing, especially at the secondary level, which predominantly uses reading and writing (Kim et al., 2015).
  • Incorporate technology to develop visual depictions to improve communication and representation of ideas, such as tablets/i-pads, diverse presentation platforms, and movie/drawing/painting/editing applications (Kim et al., 2015).

Creative Thinking Learning Objects

Expose learners to other’s ideas, increase divergent thinking, ask open-ended questions, promote inquiry, and facilitate elaboration: Socrative Poll Everywhere

Collaborative learning online: Google Drive

Annotative thinking and learning: Thing Link Genius Web Annotator

Presentations, videos, and sharing ideas: Emaze Haiku Deck Knovio Go Animate

Individual/collaborative concept maps, and infographics: Mindmeister Piktochart

Helpful Links

Access blogs and research articles pertaining to creative thinking in the classroom: Creative Education Foundation

Creative thinking challenges: 5 Classic Creative Challenges


Creative thinking is an intriguing process and prevalent part of societal and educational contexts. This chapter presented theory and evidence, local practices, the role of technology, as well as possible strategies and learning objects to promote creative thinking. The cycle of creativity will continue to impact technological advancements, which will reciprocally result in the emergence of creative thinking processes and increasingly complex innovative initiatives.  


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