Types of Thinking: Elevate Your Problem-Solving Skills

Understanding the different types of thinking and their characteristics can help your team learn to become more diverse and train members to push their boundaries.

Have you ever thought about how you think? When you look at a problem or a question, what method do you use to solve it? Do you look at the problem in its context or do you focus on likely outcomes? Do you brainstorm as many possible solutions as you can or do you try to locate only one? And do you rely on past experiences or do you seek to find a novel way forward?

These aren’t necessarily easy questions to answer. We’re so used to just thinking in our way that we never stop to really analyze how we’re thinking, or what types of mental tools, processes, or assumptions our way of thinking relies on. 

But in actuality there are a number of different types of thinking that most of us use. And being aware of them, also known as metacognition (thinking about thinking) is extremely beneficial, as we shall see, for not just our own development and growth, but also for building strong and resilient teams.

It’s important to remember that these “types” aren’t the same as identity or personality types. You can use different types of thinking throughout the day or within the same problem. But we do tend towards some types over others, based on other factors like our emotional state, our upbringing, our education, or our environments.

Why learning about different types of thinking is important

So why are learning about the different types of thinking helpful? There’s really two ways to approach answering this. The first is from the standpoint of individuals and learning about their own way of thinking.Higher levels of thinking include thinking about the ways and methods that we use to think. And being aware of our thinking can open us to new ways of thinking and expanding our mental horizons.  

Therefore, for personal development, it can be useful to learn about different types of thinking and how to be more aware of your own thinking processes. And if you can train yourself to think in different ways, that can make solving problems a lot easier, or at least open yourself up to multiple points of view about how to solve something.

But there’s also crucial applications on teams as well. Training yourself to think in different ways is challenging, and that’s why we work on teams. Teams gather and combine their thinking and skills in order to solve problems that can’t necessarily be solved alone.

For teams then, understanding these types of thinking can make them more aware of their team members’ thinking and problem-solving abilities. As a result, this can lead to greater understanding between members when they are solving problems or are conflicted about how to proceed. It is also likely to make teams more conscious of forming a team that thinks in diverse ways. 

In other words, knowing how we think is a major part of our personal development and coming to terms with who we are as individuals. Which therefore makes it equally important when finding balance on a team and making sure that it can achieve success and remain resilient.

So now let’s get into the different types of thinking and what they mean…

Types of Thinking

These are the most basic types of thinking that are generally agreed upon. There are some others (which we will look at later on) that we separated from this main list, in part because they encompass types on this first list, and so might be considered as “categories of types of thinking”. 

1. Critical Thinking

This is probably one of the most well-known types of thinking on this list. Critical thinking involves asking questions and probing the underlying validity and assumptions behind statements or ideas. Critical thinking is very concerned with investigating the origins of claims and how they come about, and whether they come from hearsay or misinformation.

A good example of critical thinking is assessing information and ideas on a team. A critical thinker will challenge ideas and poke holes in arguments in order to see whether the idea really holds up. This is not because they are against the idea, but rather because they want to verify that the idea rests on solid logical and factual grounds. This can be very useful in pushing the team to come up with new and better ideas.   

2. Creative Thinking 

That brings us to creative thinking, which is also one of the more popular types of thinking. Creative thinking is always engaged with coming up with something new: new ideas, new theories, new solutions. The impetus for this way of thinking therefore, is to use ideas and information as a springboard for entering the creative process, always pushing towards the innovative and the new.  

Many of us think that creative thinking is only for a certain type of person–creative geniuses or artists. But we all engage in creative thinking on a regular basis. When we hit on a new idea or a new method of doing something, even if it’s just a small daily activity, or when we simply brainstorm by ourselves, we are engaging in creative thinking.       

3. Analytical Thinking 

Analytical thinking is one of the most common ways of thinking. Analytical thinking is about breaking ideas and solutions incot component parts and creating methods for categorizing and examining those parts using evidence and logic. 

The most well known examples of analytical thinking come from science and math. The scientific method is an example of using analytical thinking to examine phenomena and propose new theories. Data analysis, too, is about breaking large sets of numbers into easily analyzable parts. But proposing a method for examining a problem on the team, or trying to look at a problem by breaking it down are also ways that analytical thinking appears most commonly on teams.

4. Abstract Thinking 

Next on our list of types of thinking is abstract thinking, which is about making relations and connections. Abstracts thinkers can pull together seemingly disparate ideas together, and they can also reveal the hidden meanings behind concepts. This is because they are attune to abstract concepts that are divorced from specific objects, like love and power, as well as cognizant of broader theories.

Abstract thinking is also useful in puzzle-solving, since abstract thinking has no problem dealing with figurative language and symbols. So on teams they make very good problem solvers who can easily see something from multiple perspectives and find the connections between different ideas.  

5. Concrete Thinking

Sometimes placed in counterposition to abstract thinking, concrete thinking is also known as practical thinking. In contrast to abstract thinking, concrete thinking looks at ideas and problems very literally and pointedly. Concrete thinking doesn’t get carried away with context, analysis, or brainstorming. Its goal is to find the simplest solution as quickly as possible.

Concrete thinking can be very helpful when it comes to manual or mechanical tasks. But even on larger issues that require a lot of thought, concrete thinking can help cut down the amount of overthinking that sometimes occurs on teams and cut straight to the point. 

6. Divergent/Lateral Thinking 

Divergent thinking and convergent thinking are two types of thinking that are more concerned with how you find solutions and answers. With divergent thinking, the method is to find as many different solutions as possible in order to spark new ideas. Sometimes you even stray far away from the original problem in order to look for inspiration. This type of thinking is therefore often connected with creative and abstract thinking. 

A good example of this way of thinking is the quintessential brainstorming session, where lots of ideas are thrown out and then slowly whittled down until a core idea emerges. Divergent thinking can thus be seen as a useful way of thinking at the beginning of a project because it gathers a range of ideas.

7. Convergent/Vertical Thinking 

In contrast to divergent thinking, convergent thinking, or vertical thinking is about finding one single path forward by combining ideas or eliminating them, through logic and analysis. Convergent thinking is very organized and focused on efficiency, but there is also some elegance and artfulness to it, since it does require combining and merging different ideas together.

Convergent and divergent thinking don’t have to be seen as opposed to each other. In fact, they seem to be more compliments than substitutes. It’s easy to see how during a big meeting, you may want to use divergent thinking to get the team to brainstorm a lot of new ideas and think creatively, but then convergent thinking to bring everyone together. 

Two more types of thinking: sequential & holistic

There are also two more types of thinking that are sometimes placed with the other types of thinking on this list. However, I chose to place them separately because I think they are a little bit different. For one, they are more about overall viewpoint and process, and so they might be better called “categories” instead of types, since they could include many of the types listed above. 

8. Sequential Thinking (Linear Thinking )

Sequential thinking deals with problems step by step. So it encompasses many of the types on this list that are more logical–such as analytical thinking, convergent thinking, etc. But even more creative personalities may use sequential thinking when it comes to breaking larger processes up into smaller steps (e.g. brainstorm→outline→create→edit/review→final product). 

Sequential thinking is often at play when delegating tasks and roles on a team. Everyone is given a smaller part of the larger project, and everyone is made aware of their role and deadlines within the larger schedule or method of getting the whole project completed.

9. Holistic Thinking

Last on our list of types of thinking, holistic thinking is about looking at the big picture and seeing how each component part fits into the larger whole. This is often attributed to management, or leaders. However, I would argue that all team members need at least some holistic thinking abilities in order to see how their actions fit in with and benefit the rest of the team. 

We can see holistic thinking in action easily when we imagine a meeting at the beginning of a project, when the team is discussing its goals, desired outcomes, and proposed path to success, which then leads to splitting up roles, assigning tasks, and figuring out the details and processes of getting there. So like with convergent and divergent thinking, sequential and holistic thinking really compliment each other and are both necessary for successful teams. 

While we have discussed several types of thinking, it’s essential to recognize that these are not isolated categories. People often engage in different modes of thinking, combining elements of critical thinking types, types of thoughts, and different thinking styles.

Understanding these different types of thoughts can enrich our problem-solving skills and make us more versatile thinkers. Whether you lean towards analytical, creative, or any other thinking types, being aware of different thinking modes can significantly enhance your cognitive abilities.

Conclusion: Types of Thinking in Relation to Diversity on Teams 

As we have seen, there are a lot of different ways of thinking, and many of these blend into each other. We tend to categorize them as separate, but like we said earlier, many of us use different ways of thinking on a daily basis. Still, many of us are trained to think in specific ways about problems, and it can be difficult to switch easily. Which is why it is good to train ourselves to notice when we think in a certain way, and to try to broaden our minds by looking at problems differently.      

On teams, certain problems do require specific ways of thinking, or combining many ways of thinking at once. That’s why it’s good to have diverse teams made up of people who can think in different ways. We often associate diversity with people having different experiences, and the reason is that having different experiences is connected with thinking differently. 

Having a well-rounded team of different types of thinkers will allow you to look at problems from multiple perspectives and come up with better and more innovative solutions. It will also allow your team to foresee more problems and to stay resilient in the face of new challenges.

One way to challenge your team to be aware of how they think is through team building. Team building activities, like the ones at Invite Japan, are designed to test teams to think in different ways, and to combine their skills and perspectives in order to succeed. And the more you do team building, the more you’ll see your team members becoming aware of their own thought-processes, as well as those of their team members.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Cognitive Biases Affect Different Types of Thinking?

Cognitive biases can significantly impact the way we think and make decisions. These mental shortcuts or “rules of thumb” may lead to flawed reasoning or judgment. Understanding how cognitive biases influence various types of thinking can help individuals and teams make more informed decisions.

What Role Does Emotional Intelligence Play in Shaping Our Thinking Processes?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, as well as those of others. It plays a crucial role in shaping our thinking processes by affecting how we interpret and respond to situations. High emotional intelligence can enhance critical, creative, and analytical thinking by providing a balanced perspective that considers emotional factors.

Can You Explain the Relationship Between Cultural Background and Types of Thinking?

Cultural background can have a profound impact on one’s preferred type of thinking. Different cultures may prioritize certain thinking styles over others, such as analytical vs. holistic thinking. Being aware of how culture influences thinking can help teams become more diverse in their problem-solving approaches and lead to more innovative solutions.

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