Creative thinking and logical thinking are usually thought of as opposites–but there’s really more of a connection between the two than we might think. Understanding the relationship between the two forms of thinking can help your team expand its boundaries and think more productively.
When you hear the word “creative” what do you think of? Maybe an artist or a musician, someone who creates and produces their own unique body of work that springs from their own mind? Maybe doing creative hobbies like sculpting or writing poetry–that are outlets for emotions? Or maybe you think of modern “creatives”, like graphic designers, photographers, copy editors who produce original “content” for our digital world.
How about when you hear the word “logical thinking”? Maybe you think of math or science class in school–strict and rigid rules, proofs, one right answer, etc. You might think of data analysts, or lawyers, or accountants–jobs that are well-paying but perhaps more mentally confining in terms of how you can think and act.
We tend to juxtapose creative thinking and logical thinking. We think of them as opposites, on two sides of a spectrum of thought, where one side is free and unconstrained, yet wild–while the other side is cold and hard yet accurate.
This is baked into the way we think about our minds and identities as well. There is a persistent belief in the “left-brain/right-brain” model, whereby people who are creative are “right-brain” people and those who are rational and logical are “left-brain” people, because those are the parts of the brain that are said to hold those functions.
Besides being based on dubious science, it misses the whole point of the brain itself, which is to make sure that everything is working together at the same time. It also misrepresents both creativity and logic as somehow distinct and separate from each other.
As we will show you in the following blog post, creative thinking and logical thinking are not vastly unrelated, or even opposed to each other. In fact, they are both necessary for effective thinking. And for teams as whole, the lesson is that both creativity and logical thinking need to be fused together in order for original thinking and new ideas to prosper.
Creative thinking and logical thinking: what are they?
First, let’s back up a bit and explain what creative thinking and logical thinking actually are, at least according to the most common models of ways of thinking. We will deconstruct these later on, but for now, here is a simple introduction to both:
Creative thinking generally means “thinking outside the box”. That, creative thinking means coming up with new ways of doing things, producing things, or thinking about things. At its core, creative thinking is therefore about originality and innovation.
There are many ways to practice creative thinking–by practicing creative hobbies and producing works of art, music, or writing, or coming up with new processes or methods of getting things done.
As we discussed in a recent blog post, creative thinking really relies on lateral thinking, which is about looking at problems from different perspectives and other contexts, and not following the normal way of approaching problems.
It is here that we can see the first signs that creative thinking and logical thinking are not that far apart. Lateral thinking also involves logical thinking, it’s just using logic to focus on an overlooked part of the problem, or to test one’s assumptions.
But let’s hold onto that thought as we look at logical thinking…
Logical thinking is a way of using logic, reasoning, and analysis to solve problems. The goal is to look at a problem “objectively” (as much as possible) in order to come to a rational conclusion and find the most effective means of solving it.
Logical thinking normally relies on facts and data, which are more objective than emotions or narratives. To make sense of these data and facts, logical thinkers generally use repeated processes and methods (that are in turn based on logical thinking) in order to look for insights and meaning.
But as we can see, already there is a creative space within logical thinking. Facts and data don’t speak for themselves, and require some amount of creative thinking to come up with insights. Furthermore, coming up with new or better processes or methods of analysis, even when based on hard logic or reason, also requires some creativity.
The creativity of logic, the logic of creativity
The truth is therefore that logical thinking and creative thinking are intertwined more than we think. A lot of creative thinkers are also very logical (Davinci, Mozart, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.). Indeed, artists need to use some logical thinking in order to make their ideas expressible and communicable. Poetry, painting, musical composition, design–all types of creative work relies on certain forms and processes.
Likewise, logical thinking requires some creativity. Think of “logical thinkers” like Einstein, Darwin or Newton. They were adept at logic, mathematics and rational thinking. And yet, their work was novel and innovative, and they continue to inspire new scientists and mathematicians. There is a certain elegance to logical thinking, that is evident every time you read a great science paper or a well-written mathematical proof. That’s not just due to reason and logic, but involves creative work as well.
So really what we have to do is give up on the associations we formed with creative thinking and logical thinking. Creative thinking doesn’t just mean art and feelings, and logical thinking doesn’t just mean math and numbers.
Solving any problem requires some amount of both creative and logical thinking. Creative thinking helps push your boundaries and gets you to think outside the status quo, and logical thinking to formulate a process for testing or producing that idea, and for making it communicable to others.
We mentioned lateral thinking, and I think it’s important to bring it up again here. Lateral thinking undergirds both creative thinking and logical thinking, since it emphasizes perspective and how it can change and shift depending on the situation. Understanding your perspective and “where you are standing” in relation to a problem is therefore crucial both for understanding logically how it works, as well as knowing where to look for a new solution.
What this means for teams and what they can do
Using both creative and logical thinking this way, to reinforce and ground each other, can increase your thinking skills, both individually and as a team. Teams that can better merge these two types of thinking, both in terms of the ideas that are presented, as well as in the types of perspectives that your team draws from, will make your team more capable of dealing with challenges effectively and coming up with new ideas.
1. Seek out different perspectives
Getting a good mix of perspectives can increase your team’s ability to think through problems both creatively and logically. Having more perspectives on the team can lead to more balanced ideas, and searching out new perspectives can help push the boundaries of your team’s thinking and lead to better and more precise methods.
2. Stay curious
Curiosity is really the basis of all thinking. When we are curious about the world, we want to think more about it, we explore it, and we search for new reasons and ideas. But curiosity is really critical for creative and logical thinking because it provides new outlets for both.
Teams need new things to work on and solve, but by approaching problems from a standpoint of curiosity, you can keep yourself grounded while looking at it from new perspectives. It’s also just more fun to be curious, which is good for all teams.
3. Let your team explore both creative and logical thinking
This one is pretty obvious at this point, but to really collapse the boundaries between logical and creative thinking and expand your team’s mindsets it’s important to let team members explore both creative and logical thinking. Allow them to brainstorm and think of new ideas, but also encourage analysis about the consequences and a focus on process.
4. Don’t get stuck on assumptions
The lesson here is that assumptions about certain ways of thinking, or certain personality types, are most often wrong. All ways of thinking have value, and we all use a number of ways of thinking all the time. When we leave these assumptions behind–about how certain types of thinkers “are” or “how we should think” about a problem–we can really begin to see ourselves, our team members, and our work in a new light.
5. Try holistic team building
By “holistic team building” I mean team building that challenges teams across a wide variety of skill sets and thinking styles. Team building activities like the ones at Invite Japan are designed to test thinking as well as communication and decision-making skills. They also are based on puzzles, which challenge teams both creatively to think up ways of finding solutions, as well as logically to find the correct answer. In other words, our activities are about combining skills and perspectives in order to work together.