Creative Thinking

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Creative Thinking
Creative thinking, in terms of idea creativity, is not a mystical talent.
It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.
—Edward de Bono
Growing up with a Japanese father puts a fi re in your belly when it comes
to getting a higher education. I knew I was university bound by the time
I was in third grade. According to my father, there was no other choice
for me. “Th ey can take everything else away from you, but they can’t take
away your education!” Th ese words were etched in my brain. My mother,
on the other hand, was a musician and an artist and was all about having
fun. So using both sides of my brain was something I developed quite
Early in my career, I was certifi ed to teach art and technology. I have
witnessed the changes in the American educational system from kindergarten
to graduate school through the past several decades. Th is chapter
is a response to the growing concern that students at all levels are being
taught to pass tests and are therefore becoming successful at memorizing
factual information and delivering packaged answers. Th is, in turn, leads
to recently hired young engineers and technologists who do not know
how to think creatively to come up with ideas leading to innovative solutions.
Th is is the number one concern I have heard from executives and
senior engineers and technologists. Today’s companies end up paying for
this in the long run.
Contrary to popular belief, innovative ideas are not suddenly produced
in a frenzy of creative activity. Th ere is a defi ned step-by-step process
before an innovation goes to market: (1) problem defi nition (which
we discussed in depth in the previous chapter), (2) ideation, (3) selecting
the best idea, (4) the architecture or building phase, (5) testing and revising,
and (6) implementation. In this chapter, we are going to focus on the second phase: ideation, the generation of ideas. Once the problem
has been defi ned, one can use a variety of ways to think creatively to solve
that problem.
Th is chapter covers basic diff erences between convergent and divergent
thinking. It off ers warm-up brain exercises and successful techniques
of creative thinking such as: (1) brainstorming, (2) lateral thinking,
(3) brainwriting, (4) metaphoric thinking, (5) SAMPER, (6) Synectics,
and (7) TRIZ. When you apply any of these techniques to your creative
thinking sessions, use them as guidelines to adjust as necessary.
Th e reason this chapter is valuable for engineers and technologists is
because in the fi elds of engineering and technology, one way of thinking
tends to dominate. Th e information in this chapter will teach engineers
and technologists how to think like designers, inventors, or entrepreneurs.
Convergent Versus Divergent Thinking
Students of all ages need to learn how to think. If we want to produce
more innovators in this world, we need to tap into both approaches to
thinking. Using both sides of your brain is a way of integrating convergent
and divergent thinking.
In the fi elds of engineering and technology, convergent thinking
tends to dominate. Convergent thinking is logical and critical and is used
when we narrow down decisions. Th is type of thinking works well with
selecting the best idea, after intense sessions of creative thinking have
taken place. Th e next chapter will discuss this narrowing-down process.
Divergent thinking is what engineers and technologists need to
develop to be visionaries and innovators. Divergent thinking is the ability
to elaborate and to think of novel and diverse ideas. Ideation or idea generation
is an example of divergent thinking.
I believe the most important impact a university education has on
potential engineers and technologists is to teach them how to think creatively.
Taking an original approach in solving problems usually brings
about more questions than answers. “Why?” questions are great for inspiration.
“But I’m not creative!” is not an excuse. Th e good news is that
creative thinking can be developed and enhanced when it is threaded
throughout university disciplines. Idea engineering is about engineers and technologists using creative thinking to form a new worldview leading to
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