At first thought, creative thinking and critical thinking skills differ significantly. They're two very different schools of thought; one primarily requiring the use of the left brain to think more logically (critical thinking), while the other utilizes the right brain (creative thinking) to generate ideas. In an abstract manner, we often assume that the seedbed of genius lives in creative thinking. However, further study shows that it is not that simple.
School may teach us critical thinking first, but many of today's employers are seeking more employees with creative thinking skills. But for sure, there is also a place for critical thinking skills at work and creative thinking skills while in school, too.
The differences between the two schools of thought are obvious, but could they also be complementary in one way or another? Or can a person really only be either creative or critical?
The Differences Between Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking
Creative thinking engages a person's imagination and cultivates an out-of-the-box mentality. It requires being comfortable with random ideas. To think creatively is to embrace the process of brainstorming, welcoming change, novel ideas, and seeing things from a variety of perspectives. True creative thought doesn't judge but remains very open to options.
When we engage in creative thought, we use our creativity to think of great or even fantastic solutions to difficult problems. We hope that the perspectives that limit our choices and solutions are smashed right out. For someone who hasn't developed or been allowed to develop their creative thought, thinking ‘outside the box' can seem almost impossible. We can't deny that in many cases, very limited solutions are often brought to mind simply by the perspectives we're really subscribed to.
Real creative thought embraces possibilities, imagination and remains open to exploring options that have never been once thought of. It utilizes lateral thinking and breaks out of norms and confinement. It also doesn't follow a straight line and goes where ideas may take you.
Critical thinking, on the other hand, is the opposite of the creative thinking process. It requires thinking vertically and will generally utilize a linear process in order to arrive at the best possible solution.
To think critically often requires becoming selective of one's thoughts. Since it requires the examination of information at hand, it necessitates judgment of the given data. From these data points, the critical thinker then evaluates whether to use or throw away the information at hand. After all, not all gathered information can be utilized in the application of critical thinking to any particular circumstance.
If creative thinking enhances an individual's imagination to think of out-of-the-box ideas, critical thinking only considers facts and evidence that are present and then further even judges these as usable or not. Critical thinking is highly selective and focused. It stays in its lane until the best solution is found and chosen. Critical thinking also requires stringent concentration, mostly as it is a purposeful pursuit of discovering the best possible solution. It is calculated and hardly aimless. Randomness is unwelcome and unhelpful to the process.
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How Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking Can Complement Each Other
Regardless of how differently both processes work and, as explained by science in its origin in the different sides of the brain, the truth is that neither form of thinking can exist or especially excel without the other.
Critical thinking necessitates creativity, especially when it is time to go beyond our own perspectives. Critical thinking may require objectivity, but as a matter of fact, excellent application of critical thinking skills will also naturally ask us to think differently and out of the box.
Regardless of whatever information we're handed with, it still requires us to examine and judge whether such data are relevant at all. If not, naturally, we'll seek ways to acquire more relevant data. Gathering information that could potentially lead us to the best solutions will always be part of critical thinking. This is a similar work of the creative process, which easily makes critical thinking skills impossible without creativity.
On the other hand, creative thinking may be diffuse, accepting of ideas, and always explorative, but at some point, creative geniuses, too, did make a stand and made a choice to execute their own creative ideas. Creativity can't thrive without some application of critical thinking.
At the end of the day, no matter how many great ideas our teams can come up with from a brainstorming session, we still rationalize every single idea, organize and classify them, and focus on the ones that will truly lead us to our purpose and mission. Great application of creativity still requires the purposeful pursuit of critical thinking in order to weed out less useful ideas and give priority to the ones that will be productive, making these the best creative solutions to problems.