Section 2: Creativity


One example of creative thinking by connecting existing ideas comes from a small sticker that said;

Knowledge says that a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom says that you do not put a tomato in a fruit salad.

A creative approach would be to ask WHY NOT?

A creative outcome would be to make a salad with cut up apples, peaches, bananas and tomatoes. The result of such a salad may not taste good to all people – creativity does not always lead to success or failure.

Creativity was coming up with the novel approach, not looking at will it be good or not. Perhaps, if the tomato fruit salad is not good, creativity might lead one to try other combinations using pineapple, kiwi fruit, mangoes, etc. along with tomatoes.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves solving problems systematically and includes identifying relevant information and the sources, determining the value, consequences, and importance of this information and using personal values in arriving at a solution.  With new information becoming constantly available, it also includes the flexibility to incorporate new ideas and information (even if we disagree with it) in the decision-making process.  Ultimately, critical thinking results in selecting the best and relevant information and flexibility in modifying it to fit the present situation

To think critically an individual must set aside personal prejudices and be willing and able to accept evidence that supports an opposite view, entertain both sides of an issue, only accepting what can be supported by evidence and basing decisions on available facts not future or present conjectures or personal biases.

We may be able to improve creativity by understanding the process, nurturing the process and strengthening the various tools needed for creative thinking.  Creativity in science is closely related to creativity in our everyday lives.  Science uses new facts/information produced by research in combination with the existing facts to find a better answer/explanation than by using only the old information.  As more facts are discovered through experimentation, they are combined with the old to develop a new and more accurate explanation of a natural phenomenon.  This process has led to development of new tools, new machines, new treatments, etc.

Existing knowledge in science only forms a framework to point to experiments that will produce data that can be analyzed and interpreted to reach new and better solutions/explanations.  Several other processes are needed :  what is the basic question/problem to be solved/answered, which fields of science contain the relevant parts of the framework to be used, how to assemble them to determine the experiment(s) that are needed, collecting the data from the experiment(s), how to analyze the data, what conclusion do the data when interpreted reveal, etc.  Creativity is often used in the interpretation of the data: which data are most important, arranging the data in different ways may result in the correct conclusion, what are the patterns/trends that the data show.  Once a solution has been reached it is related back to the original question to see if it is valid

Creative Thinking Skills

Creative thinking involves multiple skills, and without them solving problems creatively becomes be very frustrating. You cannot bake a cake without some previous skills, measuring, using a mixer etc.   Just as in baking, learning simple, basic skills will increase likelihood of success when one is confronted with a situation that needs creative thinking to solve.

Another example would be the steps needed to becoming adept at performing a kick-off in football. Developing the various skills needed comes from practicing with real footballs and not just practice in the mind.

Some of the individual skills needed for kick-off proficiency are:

  • Learn and practice correct position football on kicking tee correctly
  • Learn and practice starting point for the run up to make the kick
  • Learn and practice the run up to get footwork correct
  • Learn and practice proper kicking motion
  • Learn to watch opponent as the kickoff is made

The more each step is practiced the better the actual kick-off.

While mastering an individual skill (step) through practice, creativity could lead to a new and improved way of performing that step.  Practice also allows multiple repetitions of a skill, until it becomes more ingrained, more reproducible and more of a habit, as well as being a more efficient use of time. Trying out and finding a creative technique in practice also is less stressful and more likely to lead to success than trying creativity in a real-time situation.

For example :

Different kickers have slightly different methods – to try techniques used by another kicker to see if it improves your kicking.

  • Place ball on side rather than on end
  • Place ball on side at an angle and not parallel to yard markers
  • Try new and different variations to see if they are better

Once mastered, all the steps need to be put together to be successful kicker.  Collectively the skills make a successful kicker, BUT mastering only one or two steps does NOT! Different skills are needed for different proficiencies.  These skills must be identified and then practiced often to develop individual tools/skills to become adept at an activity.

Proficiency at designing and carrying out experiments in science is NOT same as kicking off and needs DIFFERENT skills that also must be practiced and learned.

A skilled kicker needs new and different skills to be a skilled researcher and vice versa

A successful free-safety needs very different practiced and learned skills than a kicker.

Mastering the steps to become a successful kicker does not make a successful free safety nor a critical thinker.

Just as successful kicking, creative thinking also involves practicing and strengthening several skills.  Among these skills are :

  • Flexibility – do not get locked into only one path, try new approaches
  • Perspective – view from various angles
  • Innovative – try new ideas, combine old ideas
  • Do not fear being wrong
  • Relaxed thinking play with information, daydream, take a break and come back
  • Practice making wild, unusual ideas in your mind
  • Do not look for a SINGLE right answer different people may come up with different but equally correct solutions
  • Reward yourself for coming up with something creative, no matter how small

Creative thinking can be demonstrated in the following examples

Following along the football analogy, a beginning kicker begins practicing at a shorter distance and when that is mastered, moves onto a longer distance until that on is mastered, etc.  Thus the kicker gradually builds up her/his skill at kicking longer distances.

Creative thinking involves multiple skills, and without them solving problems creatively can be very frustrating. Practicing and learning simple, basic skills will increase likelihood of success when one is confronted with a situation that needs creative thinking to solve

Word games (word puzzles) provide a method whereby several different skills used in creative thinking can be practiced and strengthened.  For each skill short words can be used initially.  Once the skill has been mastered at this level, longer and longer words can be used to build up that particular creative skill.

Different types of word games can be used to highlight different skills.  Becoming proficient at solving one type is like a football kicker only becoming proficient at football placement.  By practicing with several different types of word puzzle, a wider range of skills can be developed and strengthened.

One type of puzzle that illustrates several of the skills used in creative thinking can be shown by the following LETTER INSERT type of puzzle.  This puzzle type has two sets of letters separated by a single blank.  The object is to find the single letter that, when placed in the blank will make the longest word possible.   This puzzle type involves identifying patterns of letters hidden in a string of letters.

Skills involved in solving this type of puzzle are :

  1. find which letter could be the first letter of the word
    1. Ignore the extraneous letters
  2. Find a letter that, when inserted into the blank, will complete a word
  3. Try other letter combinations to see if a longer word can be made.


 In solving this type of puzzle, one should keep an open, flexible mind and be able to move away from misdirections and preconceptions when they appear not to lead to a solution.

For example, seeing the letters PERI (peri- is a prefix for many words) could misdirect the puzzle solver into thinking only of words that begin with PERI.  However, adding the next letter given to make PERIA- is not likely to form the beginning of a word.

Also, not getting ‘stuck’ in one way of thinking is necessary to begin looking at other possibilities

 There are three potential solutions :

  1. The correct word could be produced by using various combinations of the letters to the left AND right of the letter in the blank to form the word.
  2. The correct word could be produced by having the letter in the blank be the FIRST letter of the word. (i.e. use only letters to the right of the letter in the blank to form the word.)
  3. The correct word could be produced by having the letter in the blank be the LAST letter of the word. (i.e. use only letters to the left of the letter in the blank to form the word.)

Flexibility is needed to try all three of these possibilities when placing a letter in the blank.  Focusing on only one type of solution, e.g., always thinking that the added letter must be the first letter of the word and using only the letters to the right of the blank to complete the word, may not yield a correct solution.

First, one should notice that the letters ONE are part of the letters given.

Since they spell a three-letter word, the hidden word must be longer than three letters.

One skill is to find a letter that will form a word when placed in the blank.

Placing the letter W in the blank produces PERIABAWONEIGDR

This reveals the three-letter word ‘WON’, which satisfies one criterion – forming a word. But we know (above) that the hidden word must contain more than three letters.

A second skill is in finding the longest word possible.

Continuing the process of inserting letters,  placing a B  in the blank produces: PERIABABONEIGDR

This reveals the four-letter word ‘BONE’. Which satisfies one criterion – forming a word.  While this solution is a longer word than the first, BONE may not be the longest word possible.

Inserting the letter T in the blank produces PERIABATONEIGDR.

This reveals the word TONE, using the solution scheme of the inserted letter being the FIRST letter of the word.

However, the flexibility of using letters from BOTH sides of the blank produces the word ATONE, a longer word than BONE and thus, a better solution.

…..However, not accepting ATONE as the only solution, we also see the word BATON is produced by the added T.

Inserting the letter L in the blank produces PERIABALONEIGDR

Once again, one inserted letter produces two words   LONE   and  ALONE.  But are there other words?

If we continue using letters to the right of ALONE, we find there are no words that have  ALONEI,  or  ALONEIG.     However, if instead of moving to the next letter to try inserting in the blank, we look to the LEFT of ALONE,  we find BALONE, but not giving up, we move one letter farther to the left we find  ABALONE

By being flexible in our thinking and not stopping after FINDING the first or the second solution we may continue the process and find more and BETTER solutions.

Go to Section 3: Transcript