First, we look at definitions of creative thinking and move on to consider theories regarding its nature. We consider the brain as a processor of information, where creativity is explained best by the neuro-physiological functioning of the brain, as the most appropriate of these theories. Whole-brain and two-brain theories exemplify this latter approach. We shall see a connection between the neuro-physiological functioning of the brain and the cognitive theory of creative problem solving discussed later in the chapter. We finish the chapter by examining ideas about analogical reasoning. The theoretical issues raised in this chapter act as a background for appreciating the elements of the next chapter, which introduces the creative problem solving process.
What is creative thinking?
Wertheimer (1945) suggested that creative thinking involved breaking down and restructuring our knowledge in order to gain new insights into its nature. Creativity is something which occurs when we are able to organise our thoughts in such a way that readily leads to a different and even better understanding of the situation we are considering.
Rickards (1988: 225) advocated a view of creativity as an ‘escape from mental stuckness.’ Sternberg and Lubart (1995) argue that creativity requires a coming together of six clear-cut yet interconnected assets: intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment. However, Simonton (2017) points out that there is no dearth of alternative definitions of creativity. These various definitions seem to agree that creativity involves an ability to come up with new, different, and even useful viewpoints. However, any definition of creativity is complicated because the concept is multi-faceted. Let us now turn to consider how creativity is thought to be generated.
Early theories of creative thinking
There are a number of schools of thought as to the origin of creativity (Henry, 1991): grace, accident, association, cognitive, personality.
Creativity is something of a mystery, drawing forth images of wonderful insights, imaginative efforts, illumination, and intuitions that come from nowhere. It seems the work of magic. The idea of genius may add force to this notion since creative artists, musicians, etc. seemed to be endowed with superhuman potential. Creativity, in this sense, is seen as a divine gift.
This is the opposite of it being a divine gift. It rises by chance. Holders of this view offer various types of accidental discoveries such as those of immunisation arising from an interruption in work, radioactivity from the wrong hypothesis, and the smallpox vaccination from observation.
This is the most popular and suggests that applying procedures from one area to another gives rise to novel associations, and that such associations form the bedrock of creative ideas. The notion was popularised by Koestler (1964) under the term ‘bisociation,’ and it underlies the justification for many divergent thinking techniques, such as lateral thinking and brainstorming.
Creativity is a normal human activity. It uses cognitive processes like recognition, reasoning, and understanding. Many inventors work at a problem for years. Research has concluded that ten years of intense preparation is needed for significant creative contributions. Deep thinking about an area over a long period leaves the discoverer informed enough to notice anomalies that might be significant. Highly creative people are strongly motivated and seem able to concentrate over a long period.
Creativity is a state of mind which can be learnt. Some people seem to have a facility for it while others do not, but they can improve with practice.
Mental barriers to creativity have to be removed to allow innate spontaneity to flourish. Creative acts are not isolated acts of perception, they require an emotional disposition, too, for any new idea replaces and in effect destroys the previous order. It takes courage and persistence to brave the resistance that any change seems to engender.
The five perspectives make some valid points, but here we pay particular credence to the cognitive theory.