Five ways to apply creative thinking in business

Love to come up with smarter, more innovative strategies and solutions for your business? Discover five ways you can apply creative thinking.

Entrepreneurship requires passion, determination, a certain doggedness, and the ability to innovate. Running a small or medium enterprise takes a huge equal amount of courage and a pinch of madness too (I speak from experience!). However, the most important attribute ought to be creativity.

Creative thinking is a way of looking at problems and situations from a fresh perspective. It is often called ‘thinking outside the box’ and is all about avoiding the more normal, the most orthodox, the prosaic solution, and instead thinking of innovative ways to tackle a problem.

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Creative thinking can also be seeing patterns where none might be visible to others, and making connections between people, products and concepts that no one has before.

Everyone has the potential to be creative

Being creative can seem like an insurmountable task, and often it is assumed that people are either born creative or not. However, it’s completely possible to develop creativity and a creative way of thinking. Everyone has potential to be creative; it just needs to be harnessed, nurtured and strengthened.

One way to do is to foster new neural connections by learning new hobbies and practising challenges. Learning a new art form has been shown to be one of the best methods to develop creative skills for problem solving, something that is of immense value in running a business.

Five ways to apply creative thinking in business

There are other ways that creative thinking can be developed and applied in your own business. Here are five.

1) Put your thinking hat on

Creative thinking is about bringing divergent and convergent thinking together. Divergent thinking is finding many answers to a problem, and techniques such as brainstorming and mind mapping are effective in mapping out the mundane, eliminating them and then starting to see new connections and patterns.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is finding the single best answer to a problem. De Bono’s six thinking hats is one such technique where one person or different team members have clearly defined hats or roles which can be switched around to look at the same situation from different perspective.

It is a great parallel thinking technique applied in businesses and organisations to find the unique solution.

2) Iterate

Creative thinking is fundamentally a cyclical, non-linear process. The key is to be flexible, and adapt the solution to the problem, so to speak, rather than force a solution.

Iterative thinking accounts for unpredictable user behaviour and patterns, by adapting the approach at any stage of the process, being non-judgemental and open-minded to possibilities and opportunities.

3) Be positive

When we are happy, content and engaged then the imagination network that involves areas deep inside the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe (medial regions) is fired. It is this positive state of mind that is the trigger for creative flow.

Discover the five elements of happiness (and how to get more of it)

4) Daydream

Allow yourselves the freedom to daydream. We have been so conditioned to believe that we are wasting time or not being productive when we sit idle but it is exactly the opposite. The incubation of ideas can happen in this instance and it is this that is the impetus for creative thought.

5) Collaborate

While some researchers have stressed on the need to only find collaborators who are like-minded, and partnerships where there is no conflict whatsoever, I would disagree. It is as important sometimes to work with people who are not completely in agreement with you. It is the discussion, the strife, the opposing voice that can also help refine our own beliefs, and values.

An effective partnership, whether in real-life or whether in spirit, is one which stimulates the creative juices, fosters the creative spirit, and inspires a stronger belief in our own ideas.

Give yourself space and time to think

The key to creative thinking is really finding the space and time to think. Research has discussed in depth about the value of solitude for inspiring creative thought and process:

  • Ester Buchholz, a psychologist, psychoanalyst and author of ‘The Call of Solitude’, emphasised the need for some alone time to let our thoughts wander, to figure things out, and to arrive at innovative solutions.
  • Artists and writers such as Bergman and Hemingway have waxed lyrical about the need for this time where you can confront your emotions head on, grapple alone with the feelings and thoughts, live with them without being able to ignore them to create something beautiful and original.
  • Psychologists Long and Averill note in their paper “Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone” that one needs to be alone to go through this process of self-transformation, where one does not feel self-conscious and obliged to play any roles, and have the time and space to focus on their thoughts.
  • Einstein talked about long walks where he could listen to what was going on inside his head, Kafka about sitting still and letting the world unfurl itself at your feet, and Picasso stressed that without loneliness, no serious work is ever possible.

It’s crucial to find a regular time everyday to do something creative, take a walk or just put up your feet away from the desk to daydream. Creative solutions are more likely to emerge when we observe, engage and are mindful of our surroundings.

Love more creativity tips? Read how to be more creative – five tactics that work

Dr Pragya Agarwal, a mum of three, an Architect and Printmaker, is the Creative Director of Hedge and Hog Prints and founder of a social enterprise, The Art Tiffin, supporting mental health and well-being through creativity.

Pragya has been a Senior Academic for more than a decade, is an experienced speaker, and has written for The Guardian, Prospect, Times Higher Education, and several academic journals and books. She also mentors school and University students.

Photo by Sherry Zhu