'Imagination is more important than knowledge' - Albert Einstein
The real master of creative thinking is Edward de Bono, who came up with the concept of 'Lateral Thinking' over 25 years ago. This approach, with its attendant collection of techniques, is now hugely influential. Lateral thinking techniques are useful to Jewish groups for ensuring problems are solved and that an energetic and creative mood is created.
'When you come to a roadblock, take a detour' - Mary Kay Ash
The main attitude that is necessary for creative thinking is to approach things in a new light. It isn't worth thinking about things in the same way that you always did if you want to come up with new ways of doing things. There is no point in being scared of having thoughts that aren't 'good' - creative thinking is about being creative first, and evaluating second.
Principles of Lateral Thinking
Generation of Alternatives and Suspending Judgment
"The most basic principle of lateral thinking is that any particular way of looking at things is only one among many other possible ways. With lateral thinking, one is not looking for the best approach but for as many different approaches as possible." - Edward de Bono
"The purpose of thinking is not to be right but to be effective. Being right means been right all the time. Being effective means been right only at the end." - Edward de BonoLateral Thinking separates judging ideas from generating ideas. Evaluating ideas whilst attempting to be creative stifles creativity and gets in the way. Whilst thinking creatively try to have as many ideas as possible - allow them to be as stupid and ridiculous as possible - and only at the end evaluate the ideas. If an idea is completely off-target or impractical it doesn't matter, the aim of creative thinking is to generate useful ideas, and this is best done by allowing as many ideas as possible to flow.
Practically speaking, this all means that when attempting to think creatively, if others start to evaluate ideas, one must be very firm and politely stop comments. When generating ideas, all that is to be encouraged is idea generation and creativity - no pessimism allowed.
"An object or a situation may be described by someone in a particular way and by someone else in a different way. There can be as many descriptions as there are points of view. Some descriptions are more useful than others, some descriptions may be more complete than others. But there is no one description which is correct, leaving all the others to be wrong." - Edward de Bono
Most lateral thinking is done in an attempt to solve some sort of problem, or change some situation in a desirable way. Even thinking of a theme for a seminar or a club night is, essentially to do with problem solving. However, we can see from examples that there are often many ways of describing a problem (the problem with the seminar theme could perhaps be described as "all seminars have a theme so we need one too", or "we need a theme that is fun," or "we need a theme that appeals to our funders," or "we need a theme that doesn't clash with the other things we have done recently," or even just "we need a theme that fits in with what we have done recently"). In lateral thinking, there are many ways of approaching problems, and they aren't right or wrong - the best way to approach a problem is simply in the most useful way.
Work simultaneously with a number of different descriptions of what you are trying to solve if it might help creativity. Looking at things in only one way - even if it is objectively accurate - might not be helpful.
"It is the purpose of lateral thinking to try and restructure any pattern. General agreement about an assumption is no guarantee that it is correct. It is historical continuity that maintains most assumptions - not a repeated assessment of their validity." - Edward de BonoCreative thinking is often necessary entirely because things have been accepted for too long. Just because something is accepted doesn't make it right - don't allow established ideas to go unchallenged. So for example, if a Jewish student group has run a successful seminar at Chanukah every year, it doesn't mean that it is a good thing to do; a successful seminar might nonetheless be blocking other events from coming to fruition.
"In a defining situation one picks out the dominant idea not in order to be frozen by that idea but in order to be able to generate alternative ideas. Unless one can pick out the dominant idea one is going to be dominated by it." - Edward de Bono
Sometimes thinking can be dominated by unspoken assumptions. If these assumptions are made explicit they can be made useful - otherwise they tend to get in the way, and stifle creativity. For example, in attempting to think of new ideas for student projects, Jewish student groups are often dominated by the need to bring in a lot of people. If this isn't made explicit, it can often dominate thinking in a destructive way. Better to try to think of ways to bring in loads of people, and by facing a problem head on generate creativity.
Choice of Entry Point and Random Stimulation
"To start at the wrong end and work backwards is quite a well known problem solving technique. The entry point is the first attention area. Sometimes however important parts of the problem are completely left out. It is only when these parts are brought under attention that the problem can be solved.""Instead of trying to work from within the idea one can deliberately generate external stimulation, which then acts on the idea from outside. With random stimulation one uses any information whatsoever. No matter how unrelated it may be, no information is rejected as useless." - Edward de Bono
Set up a problem in an interesting way. Instead of asking how it can be solved, try to think of what things will be like when it is solved and work backwards, or think about things that seem only tangentially related but that will help in the end. For example, if thinking about how to get more students to events, why not start by thinking about what things would be like if there were loads of students at events, or alternatively, think about how to raise volunteer commitment and then work sideways.
Random stimulation is more useful when working with people with some experience in creative thinking processes. One starts by thinking of something random, say, an elephant. Then try to link the elephant to the problem, say, getting students to events. One might think "elephants clean themselves with their trunks, we could do a 'clean up campus" or 'elephants like hot weather, we could go to the beach'. It works with any object and any problem.
Blocked by Openness
"Thinking can be blocked because there is nothing in the way. Here a particular way of looking a things leads one straight past a better way of looking at them. Because the first way is adequate one does not even consider that there might be another way - let alone look for it." - Edward de Bono
Sometimes an idea is settled on too early, because it is good enough. But good enough can be a problem, because it stops the best solutions from coming through. When practising lateral thinking, ensure that one works to a minimum time limit - either a period of time, or even better, at least 20 solutions to any given problem.
Running a Creative Thinking Session
Setting Aside Time For Creative Thinking
Creative thinking is a skill that needs to be learnt and practiced. Although it is possible to be creative and think creatively at any time, many people are helped by setting time aside for the purpose. Things such as 'brainstorming sessions', when well run, can be wonderful for using Lateral Thinking techniques.
Running a Brainstorming Session
Creative Thinking By Oneself