Creative thinking

Creative thinking is a way of approaching problems or opportunities in unexpected or unorthodox ways. In this article, we cover some of the common techniques used in creative thinking and how they can be applied to your brand or business. 

Creative thinking

How this guide raises your game.

1. Understand why creativity can help grow your business. 

2. How to make the best environment for creativity.

3. Learn from our creative and innovation process.

Every business faces the challenge of winning customers by solving their needs or winning against competitors. Creative thinking techniques help you come up with new, unexpected and unique ways of meeting these business challenges.

You can have a strong competitive advantage if you are the first to market with a novel solution to a customer problem. Or first to occupy a new position in the market ahead of  your competitors. 

This ‘first mover’ advantage comes from being able to generate ideas and solutions by the use of creative thinking. 

Post it on wall with light bulb illustration to highlight creative problem solving

Get started with creative thinking 

We recommend the first step you take is to clearly define the problem which needs to be solved.

You should try to frame the problem in a positive way. It is worthwhile starting the question with the words “How to …”. So “How to persuade more customers in (customer group) to try more (product)?” is a good problem definition. Or “How to switch (customer group) from choosing (competitor) to (product)

It is also worth making sure you are clear on what the real problem is. Not “losing sales” but “convincing customers of the need for (benefit)” for example.

The technique of interrogating a problem with with word “Why” to diagnose underlying problems is often used at this stage. We have a whole blog post on problem definition and 5 why’s you can access here if you want ro read more about this. 

But once you have your problem outlined, what then? Well, two areas we highly recommend are to develop a creative thinking mindset and to set up a creating thinking environment. 


Creative thinking Idea generation

Creative thinking mentality

To build creative thinking skills requires developing habits and practices that put you in a more creative frame of mind.

It’s often said that we lose our creativity as we get older. Our minds get more fixed and closed as we enter adulthood. Many creative experts suggest looking back to childhood and the world of play as a great place to be more inspired when it comes to being more creative.

A lot of common creative techniques originate from the world of childhood behaviour. This includes the previously mentioned 5 why’s technique.

Child playing with coloured paints


But there are many other similar techniques that can help you get in a more creative mood. Creativity is often driven by curiosity and a lack of knowledge of what the answer is. So asking ‘naive’ questions or thinking through the problem from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about the subject can often lead you to novel or new solutions.

Example – write a future headline

As an example, one brand we worked with was trying to set out it’s 5 year brand vision.

That’s actually quite challenging to articulate or even imagine. So we set them the task of writing the vision in the form of a future headline. We asked them to mimic the style of various newspapers, magazines and online sites.

So what would a tabloid writer say about your brand in five years time? What would a sports journalist write? What would the press manager of your biggest customer write in their in-house magazine?

When you take away the existing pre-conceptions of what the brand is and see it from a very different perspective you help build a creative thinking mentality.

Be creatively ready

Something else to consider is that creativity can hit you at any time. We highly recommend always having a notebook or note taking app nearby so when an idea hits you, you can capture it.

When you start to build up a portfolio of useful creative thoughts, you will suddenly find those thoughts inspire more thoughts and you create a wave of creative thinking. 

Creative thinking environment

The other common technique to encourage more creativity is to look at the environment where creative thinking takes place.

In bigger business, when a team is set a challenge to come up with a different or breakthrough innovation plan, it will often head ‘off-site’. Somewhere that is not their day to day normal environment. This change in the physical environment can subtly alter the way your creative brain works by providing new stimulus.


Trial run with someone you know

In agencies and businesses which specialise in creativity, they will often have rooms dedicated to being creative. Filled with materials to help you draw, make music or whatever it takes to get your creative juices flowing, the environment around you can make a big difference to your creative thinking.

Get out more

Of course, you also don’t always have to stay in the same creative space. Often when the brain gets ‘stuck trying to solve a problem, a simple change of scene can help. Go for a walk or a run, visit a new coffee shop or sit in a different part of the office. This can often help jolt your brain in to new ways of thinking.

The creative / innovation process

There are many books you can read on creativity and creative thinking. Probably the most well-known is Edward de Bono’s book on Lateral Thinking*. In this he outlines four types of creative thinking tools – idea-generating tools to break current thinking patterns, focus tools to review the idea search area, harvest tools to create more value from ideas, and treatment tools to build in real-world constraints.

In reality, most businesses operate this as a two-step process. The first step is an idea generation or ideation session to get the most number of potential ideas out. The second step is then an idea screening. This is a culling / refinement process to get to the one or more ideas which have the greatest chance of success


Step 1 – Idea generation

Most people would recognise this as ‘brainstorming’. A group of people come together to generate multiple ideas of how to solve a problem. The terms brainstorming dates back to 1942 when advertising executive Alex F Osborn first coined the term.

There are many ways to run brainstorming sessions.

We recommend you identify someone as the role of facilitator to own the process of running such a session. Make it clear their role is to manage the process. Their purpose is to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to participate and that the process is followed and the required outcomes delivered.  

Creative thinking - person holding black marker about to write an idea

Example idea generation activities

When you have articulated the problem, some examples of how you could generate multiple ideas from different perspectives include

  • How would “x” do it? Where “X” might be a celebrity, a politician, a competitor, an alien, a member of your family and so on. It doesn’t really matter who the “x” is too much. But for example, how would “Donald Trump” sell more dogfood? Or how would “your grandmother” attract more visitors to your cafe for example can generate new and outside the box thinking.
  • Pictures and word associations – Often, people can articulate ideas with visuals better than they can with words. So another option is to ask brainstorming participants to take images out of magazines or from websites. Then ask them to use these to make a collage or mood board to come up with a different solution. Or you can pick say five random words – zoo, dog, disco, shirt, glasses – and ask teams to give an answer to the problem by telling a story that has to use those words.
  • Use opposites – Let’s say your creative challenge is how to attract customers to a new store opening. Rather than come up with ideas straight away, you could tackle the problem from the opposite point of view and say ‘what if we wanted to keep people away’? This might spark different ideas about what you could do to solve the original actual problem of building appeal for the opening. 
  • Vary the attributes – Depending on the product or service, you could also look at the adjectives that describe the product and see if the lens on the problem changes if you play around with them. What if it was bigger or smaller? What if it was faster or slower? How about if we made it men-only or women-only?


Quantity counts

These are only a few examples, there are many places online you can go to get more ideas.

The important point is at this stage you are going for quantity of ideas. There is no judgement or screening at this point.

In fact the more ridiculous or outrageous the better. The idea is that when you generate more ideas, you spark ideas in others.

When one of your idea generation methods starts to run out of steam, take a quick break and then come back and use another method. 

It can be a tiring process for those involved to come up with many new ideas, so many time and energy levels. 

Keep reminding those involved, that somewhere among all those ideas, there will be a winning idea.

Workshop post its generic contents

Step 2 – Idea screening

The next stage then is usually to start to screen or filter out the ideas.

Look for common themes that come out. Start to group ideas that sound similar together. Ask the team who came up with the ideas to do a preliminary vote on which ideas sound most exciting or engaging to them.

Each idea then needs to go through a refinement process where it is either discarded, merged into another idea to create a bigger idea or polished so that it can become the basis for a future plan.

This idea can then be taken into market research and form the basis for new parts of your brand management approach.

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Three-brains and creative skill development

We believe the best marketing and e-commerce activation pulls knowledge from many areas of the creative world. But most marketers or e-Commerce managers don’t get trained in creative skills. So there’s a huge opportunity to raise your game by having a good level knowledge of key creative skills you can either grow for yourself or know how to find and use professionals.  

If you want to raise your creative game through creative skills development, contact us or read more about our coaching and consulting services.

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