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How to Think Creatively and Deeply

The topic of creative thinking is a perennial favorite of the visitors to this website. It is one of my own favorites as well. Add to this the deeper aspects of thinking and we arrive at the first entry in this short tutorial on how to think more creatively.

Deep Questioning

To have deeply creative ideas, you have to get at the roots of things. One way to do this is to think like a child. Have you ever seen a child ask a question, and then follow every answer with another question? It might start with "Why do I have to go to school?" The answer, "To get an education," just results in "Why do I need an education?" Any answer to that will be followed by another question, and another.

While this may be annoying or cute, depending on your mood at the moment, it is a clue to what we need to do to get at the root of things and create new theories and ideas. We have to ask the "why" and "what for" questions that take us to a deeper level of understanding. Let's look at some examples.

Why do houses have windows? To let fresh air in? So we can see outside? Why do we want to see outside? Because it cheers us up to see what's out there? "Purpose" questions quickly point out what is often quietly assumed. We assume we know why we do certain things and why things are how they are, so we forget to ask if these purposes are being fulfilled in the best way. So a window maker might think about how to design a "better" window but take a very narrow view. He might assume it should be similar to existing windows, and assume that what he creates should be a window.

If we first ask the "why" and "what for" questions, we are open to much more creative solutions. If a purpose is to let in fresh air, any venting system can do that, so this could be a separate issue if we choose.

As for the "window" itself, if we want a view of the outside world, we could have video screens that look like windows and show what's on the other side of the wall. We get total privacy, since nobody can look through from the other side. We also get no heat loss in cold climates, since there is no real opening. We could choose to see what's right out there, or with a push of a button switch the "windows" to more pleasant views, in the form of videos or electronic photos that are preselected to best boost our moods.

This is a powerful way to think differently and creatively. For another quick example, imagine others arguing about the best way to wage war. You can ask the important "why" questions to get more creative solutions. Why do we have wars? To defend ourselves? Does that always work? Are there better ways to defend ourselves than going to war? What are we actually supposed to be defending? Our lives? Human rights? Citizen's rights? The economy? Freedom? What do these words mean? I'll leave these questions for you to answer. Think creatively in this area and you might come up with some radically new ideas that will help fashion a better world.

More Methods for Thinking Creatively

Here are a few more ways to think differently and creatively. Some of these are covered in more detail elsewhere on the website. I summarize them here and link to the relevant page if there is one.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Do towns and cities need streets and sidewalks? Is it true that you have to go to work tomorrow morning... or ever?

Explain the Other Side

You can miss a lot of ideas because of reflexively defending our own opinions. Try to mentally take the other side of an issue. Who Knows? You may have better arguments than your opponent.

Consider Purposes

What are some of the purposes of a television? Perhaps they are meant to entertain us or to make us happier? How well do they fulfill these purposes? Is there a better way to pursue these goals?

Try Different Metaphors

A common metaphor is "out of the box" thinking. What about "beyond the ego-word net" instead? A spiritual path might become a spiritual treasure hunt.

Identify Implicit Premises

Arguing about how to fight a war on terrorism requires the implicit premise that we can and should wage war on a method or tactic. But is this really true? Doesn't war imply something that can be won? Could a "war on drugs" end drug use entirely? Could a "war on stupidity" end that?

Ask Silly Questions

Which type of music is the favorite kind of dogs and cats? Could we give the right to vote to smart computers someday?

Take Different Perspectives

Mentally design a house in which you have to move about very little. Imagine how your past self would see you current life situation.

Go Beyond Logic And Words

Sit and meditate on or observe something without thought. You may see things that words prevent you from seeing.

How to Think Creatively - An Exercise

To practice your creativity choose three techniques from above and use each one to generate new ideas. You might want to apply each technique to the same issue, problem or topic. That way you can see clearly how the various ways to think each generate different ideas and thought processes.


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