A shortlist of creative thinking tools must include the work of Edward de Bono.
Dr Edward de Bono has written many books on productive thinking. He is responsible for coining the term ‘lateral thinking’.
Lateral thinking allows your creativity to sidestep the impossible, into new realms of potential. One if his best known lateral thinking tools is PO, the provocation operation. Using a PO statement, the group imagine a scenario which sparks off ideas. In this sense, PO is a bit like ‘suppose’.
For example, ‘PO cars have square wheels’ sparked off a discussion about how to make this happen. This led to ideas about a self-adjusting suspension, which were actually developed on modern 4x4s.
Using metaphors has long been recognised as incredibly creative. A metaphor compares something (e.g. a clock) to something which it is not (e.g. a ticking timebomb). In this instance, the metaphor gives the user a powerful sense of urgency.
Another important feature of metaphor is its ability to make the mind of the user active. In order to truly understand the connection, you must imagine it. This ability to engage allows the user to participate, and therefore can be very memorable.
Think of Shakespeare. His plays are full of incredible metaphors and imagery, and somehow his work is remembered 500 years after it was written.
As a metaphor exercise, try asking a question such as “In what way is our project like an elephant?”. The answers given will unlock different perspectives on the subject and spark new ideas.
The Personal Ideas Pad or PIP from The Accidental Creative is worksheet which actually guides you through the productive thinking process. Here you list your challenge, its main subjects, and use brainstorming to generate as many related words as you can. Lines connect these new words and this network will inspire new ideas.
The Creative Whack Pack from creativethink.com is another easy-to-use tool for productive thinking. This is available in a card version or as an iPhone app. You select a card at random which suggests a creative thinking strategy, for example ‘See The Obvious’ or ‘Take the Second Right Answer’. Although a quick hit and a bit like using Tarot cards, they are another effective way to see a problem in a new light.
Like all productive thinking sessions, any negative statements, criticism, or the fact that the idea might be impossible are best put aside for now. Critical thinking has its place, but not during imaginative playtime for the mind. During these phases you want to leapfrog obstacles into new ideas. Being negative or analysing will close doors too early and prevent excitement from building. So let these sessions be free and enforce a strict ‘positive only’ rule.
There’s nothing worse to a creative than feeling stuck. Try these tools next time it happens. Your mind will enjoy being playful, and can quickly become a fertile soil on which to grow new ideas.