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Creativity Comments by Winston J. Brill, Ph.D.

12/01 Creativity Comment

Creative Thinking, a Special Thinking?

Many people claim that creative thinking is a special kind of thinking, and that it’s possible to learn that special thinking process.  However, I have yet to see any evidence of a special process when we think of great ideas.  It’s just ordinary thinking.  If you can read this page, you already are an excellent thinker, making connections between letters, words and sentences.  You demonstrate great thinking abilities when you decide on a better route to work or when you modify a cooking recipe to offset an ingredient that you forgot to purchase.

An idea is the result of making connections.  It’s a great idea when the idea provides some valuable use.  Connections that lead to great ideas usually aren’t as obvious as making connections between letters and words.  But even with great ideas, frequently the connections were obvious, in retrospect.

I’ve interviewed many extremely creative people in a wide diversity of disciplines.  Not a single one uses someone’s published “thinking method.”  That’s not to say that they don’t have their own methods. Beethoven (I didn’t interview him) needed to continually wash his hands while he was thinking up his compositions.  He was compulsive about it.  But I’d bet that if a young up-and-coming musician would have asked Beethoven, “What will it take for me to become a great composer?” the response would likely not have been, “Wash your hands a lot.”  Some of the people I did interview mentioned that they got their best ideas while taking a solitary walk.  Others find that they make their key connections in the heat of argument. 

Further evidence for creative thinking being ordinary thinking is the “genius” astrophysicist (for example) who is far less creative than his/her spouse in unstopping a plugged sink.  Was the genius’ special thinking method somehow unobtainable in the kitchen?

These are some of the reasons that attempts to learn how to think creatively seem to be a waste of effort; in fact, these exercises divert people from the real forces that drive creativity.  Do you know anyone who became significantly more creative after learning some thinking method?  I don’t. 

But, perhaps you can change my mind. Send an email to if you have something to offer on “learning how to think creatively.”  We will consider publishing your views in a future Creativity Comment.  You can be named or remain anonymous—your choice.

©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.