Creative Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

Man writing on notepad in office
••• Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Most people associate creativity with the arts such as writing a novel, painting a picture, or composing music. While these are all creative endeavors, not all creative thinkers are artists. Many jobs require creative thinking, including positions in the world of business and science. Creativity simply means being able to come up with something new. If you can create something, not only will you enrich your personal life, you’ll have an advantage in whatever field you enter. The first thing you need to do is recognize your own creativity.

What is Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking means looking at something in a new way. It is the very definition of “thinking outside the box.” Often, creativity in this sense involves what is called lateral thinking, or the ability to perceive patterns that are not obvious. The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes used lateral thinking in one famous story when he realized that a dog not barking was an important clue in a murder case.

Some people are naturally more creative than others, but creative thinking can be strengthened with practice. You can practice creative thinking by solving riddles, being aware of (and letting go of) your assumptions, and through play. Play connotes anything unstructured and relaxing such as daydreaming.

Creative people have the ability to devise new ways to carry out tasks, solve problems, and meet challenges. They bring a fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to their work. This way of thinking can help departments and organizations move in more productive directions. Hence, their valuel to the company.

Creative Thinking and the Job Search

Some job descriptions state that creative thinking is required for the position. In that case, you should come to your interview prepared with specific examples of how you're able to demonstrate your creativity, just as you would with any other skill.

However, many employers want creative thinkers even though they haven't articulated it. In those cases, think about how your creative nature has helped you in the past and how it might be an asset in the job you're seeking. You can also showcase your creativity in your application materials, providing examples or using such words as “fresh and innovative” to describe your work.

If you're looking for creative opportunities as a means of personal fulfillment, you can find satisfaction in surprising places. Any job that allows you to put your own spin on your work will end up being creative.

Examples of Creative Thinking

Opportunities for creative thought in the workplace vary from the obvious artistic position to the highly technical one. Generally, anything that involves an “aha” moment is considered creative. Here are some examples of jobs that entail creative thinking.

Artistic Creativity
You don't have to be an artist for your work to have an artistic element. Perhaps you arrange retail displays for maximum impact or, shape the path of an enticing hiking trail. If you work for a small company, the artistic task might fall to whoever agrees to do it. These tasks include designing logos, writing advertising copy, creating the packaging for a product, or drafting a phone script for a fundraising drive.

Creative Problem-Solving
Creative problem-solving stands out as innovative. A creative problem solver will find new solutions, rather than simply identifying and implementing the norm. You might brainstorm new ways to cut energy use, find new ways to cut costs during a budget crisis, or develop a litigation strategy to defend a client. These all entail creative thinking on your part.

Creativity in STEM
Some people think of science and engineering as the exact opposite of art and creativity. However, the opposite is true. The field of STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and math) is highly creative. For example, designing a more efficient assembly line robot, writing an innovative new computer program, or developing a testable hypothesis are all highly creative acts. In fact, the history of science and technology is filled with projects that did not work, not because of errors in technique or methodology, but because people remained stuck in assumptions and old habits.

STEM needs radical creativity in order to flourish and grow.

Creative Thinking Skills in the Workplace

A - F

  • Arranging a retail display for maximum impact
  • Brainstorming at a staff meeting to set a strategy for the next year
  • Brainstorming ways to cut energy use
  • Coming up with new procedures to improve quality
  • Composing a new fundraising script for volunteers
  • Composing dialogue for a television or radio commercial
  • Constructing a research model to test a hypothesis
  • Creating an exam to test student knowledge
  • Creating packaging for a product
  • Designing a logo
  • Developing a lesson plan for the U.S. election process that will captivate students
  • Developing a litigation strategy to defend a client
  • Devising a computer program to automate the billing process
  • Devising a more efficient way to process travel reimbursements
  • Devising a social media platform for a cell phone

G – Z

  • Generating themes for a fundraising campaign
  • Generating unusual interview questions to assess candidate skills
  • Identifying ways to cut costs during a budget crisis
  • Increasing staff productivity by devising performance incentives
  • Pitching retail products to customers in an innovative way
  • Proposing a new look for a clothing line
  • Proposing behavioral changes for a patient who is overweight
  • Redefining job responsibilities for an employee who is out sick
  • Redesigning  machinery on an assembly line to enhance productivity
  • Restructuring a filing system to facilitate easier retrieval of information
  • Revising the construction process when a contractor fails to show up
  • Suggesting a way to improve customer service
  • Suggesting new ways of communication to alleviate marital conflict
  • Identifying new ways to increase the number of blood donors
  • Writing compelling copy for a print or online advertisement