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The power of analysis and creativity has always remained a priceless jewel of human cognition capabilities. Resultantly, the debate on the benefits and drawbacks of critical versus creative thinking and the link among them is not new. Notwithstanding the diversity of opinions, both critical and creative thinking are the catalyst of human progression and growth.
The question, however, is how these two concepts are related? Whether critical thinking facilitates or hampers creativity and vice versa. There are no easy answers. Below we have looked at some of the many things to consider when trying to understand the rich concepts of creative vs. critical thinking. Needless to say that the points discussed below are neither exhaustive nor conclusive by any measure and just an effort to build discourse on the subject.
Does critical thinking facilitate creative thinking?
- The path from problem identification to problem solution
Critical thinking provides a mechanism to understand and identify the problem(s) (NC State, n.d.). It helps people (leadership and others) to purposefully analyze and ponder over the factors, trigger(s), source(s), and eco-system to understand the nature of the problem and identify the problem in the first place. Such an understanding is a precursor to thinking about the solution(s) which often require creative thinking. A lack of ability to identify problems will result in a lack of ability to identify solutions. Therefore, it won’t be an exaggeration to suggest that critical thinking is a path to creativity.
- Judgement opens up the mind to new avenues of thought
Making a judgement frees up the mind to think through more coherently. When a person (who could be a leader) is unable to make a judgement and decide, it can result in uncertainty making it difficult to concentrate on thinking more openly and divergently about the possibilities to move forward. In hindsight, not reaching a judgement could hamper or hinder creativity.
Critical thinking serves as a tool to reach or form a judgement about a problem, situation, phenomenon, or circumstances, which could result in a decision of some sort (NC State, n.d.). Once the judgement is formed and a decision is made, it becomes much easier to consider options and think creatively.
- Objectivity allows being open and think divergently
One of the reasons critical thinking could induce creative thinking among people (leaders and otherwise) is that being objective gives confidence. When people use the power of critical thinking, they will feel confident that they have the capabilities to evaluate the risks and rewards carefully. Leaders may also think that thinking critically will ensure that there is less risk as they would have considered the possible implications before taking any action. Therefore, critical thinking will boost the feeling of reduction in the probability of risk occurrence and failures associated with creative ideas. As such, people with critical thinking capabilities will likely be more open to thinking about new ideas and propositions.
Does critical thinking hamper creative thinking?
- Analysis paralysis
Among the drawbacks of critical thinking, the first one is that it could make people (leaders or otherwise) become too immersed in analysing the situation, problem, phenomenon, or circumstances making them slow or uninclined to take the next step and think beyond analysis. Too much critical thinking may push the leadership in a vicious cycle of ‘analysis paralysis.’ It could lead to thinking about convergence and not consider divergence (NC State, n.d.).
While critical thinking is necessary, its excessive use could induce a tendency to be not creative and avoid being open towards the situation at hand. Therefore, in hindsight, at times critical thinking may hamper creativity.
- Focusing on linearity could result in losing sight of non-linearity
In some cases, critical thinking may result in a tendency of thinking linearly resulting in losing sight of complexity and the benefits of non-linear thinking (NC State, n.d.). With linear thinking, people may start looking at the relationships among the known variables and the linear effects of variables. Such a situation will mask the reality from being seen and reaching conclusions that make people think that the situation does not require any creativity at all. It, thus, could hamper creative thinking.
Linear thinking will hinder thinking divergently and various possible avenues of actions, which if considered could be evaluated for reaching a better judgement.
- Probabilities can create a smokescreen against possibilities
Critical thinking enables forming a judgement about probabilities and their strengths (NC State, n.d.). It enables people (leadership or otherwise) to consider the chance of occurrence of a positive or a negative event and the confidence level associated with it. A strong probability of a negative outcome may (in some cases) dissuade people or leaders from thinking of possibilities and thinking creatively. Or a weak probability of a negative outcome may create a smokescreen against the dangers, risks, and people can think from their comfort zone. It may affect creativity and thinking of possibilities.
The role played by critical and creative thinking is crucial for individual and organizational development. While there is a strong link between the two, an understanding of how they interact and affect the outcome is important to maximize the value that both these capabilities offer. As such, we have reviewed some of the many aspects of critical vs creative thinking and highlighted a few constraints and considerations. In doing so, we conclude that in today’s time of information abundance, having an ability to synergically use critical and creative thinking is essential for growing professionally as well as personally.
NC State, (n.d.). The Synergy of Creative and Critical Thinking