Creative Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

Man writing on notepad in office
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Most people associate creativity with the arts like writing a novel, painting a picture, or composing music. These are all creative endeavors, but not all creative thinkers are artists. Indeed, many jobs require a lot of creative thinking, despite having nothing to do with the arts. Creativity simply means being able to come up with something new. If you can do that, not only can you enrich your own personal life, but you’ll have an advantage in whatever field you enter.

You just need to recognize your own creativity.

What is Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking means thinking about new things or thinking in new ways. It is “thinking outside the box.” Often, creativity in this sense involves what is called lateral thinking, or the ability to perceive patterns that are not obvious. The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes used lateral thinking in one famous story when he realized that a dog not barking was an important clue in a murder case.

Some people are naturally more creative than others, but creative thinking can be strengthened with practice. You can practice creative thinking by solving riddles, by becoming aware of and letting go of your assumptions, and through play—anything unstructured and relaxing. Even daydreaming can help.

Creative people can devise new ways to carry out tasks, solve problems, and meet challenges. They bring a fresh and sometimes unorthodox perspective to their work and can help departments and organizations to move in more productive directions.

Is it any wonder many employers seek candidates with creative thinking skills for many different jobs?

Creative Thinking and the Job Search

Some job descriptions will simply state that creative thinking is required for the position. In that case, you should come to your interview prepared with specific examples of how you're able to demonstrate your creativity, just as you would with any other skill.

However, many employers want creative thinkers even if they do not say so in those words. In those cases, think about how your creative nature has helped you in the past and how it might be an asset again in the jobs you want. In those cases, you can also showcase your creativity in your application materials, or you might decide to use other words, such as discussing your “fresh and innovative” work.

If you are looking for creative opportunity as a means of personal fulfillment, know that you can find it in sometimes surprising places. Any job that allows you to put your own spin on your work could be creative.

Examples of Creative Thinking

Opportunities for creative thought in the workplace vary from the obviously artistic to the highly technical and yet inspired. Generally, anything that involves an “aha!” moment at some point is creative. See if anything on this list inspires you. Maybe you are already more creative than you thought.

Artistic Creativity
Your job title doesn’t need to be “artist” for your work to have an artistic element. Perhaps you arrange retail displays for maximum impact or shape the treadway of an enticing hiking trail. Other jobs are sometimes assigned specifically to self-described artists, but if yours is a smaller company, the task might fall to whomever agrees to do it.

These tasks include designing logos, writing advertising copy, creating the packaging for a product, or drafting a telephone script for a fundraising drive.

Creative Problem-Solving
Creative problem-solving stands out as innovative. A creative problem solver will find new solutions, rather than simply identifying and implementing the most appropriate standard solution. You might brainstorm new ways to cut energy use, find new ways to cut costs during a budget crisis, or develop a litigation strategy to defend a client. All creative.

Creativity in STEM
Some people think of science and engineering as the exact opposite of art and creativity; those people are not scientists or engineers. Designing a more efficient assembly-line robot, writing an innovative new computer program, and developing a testable hypothesis are all highly creative acts.

In fact, the history of science and technology are littered with projects that did not work, not because of any errors in technique or methodology, but rather because people remained stuck in assumptions and habits of mind. Science and engineering need radical creativity in order to do anything new.

Creative Thinking Skills in the Workplace

A - F

  • Arranging a retail display to have maximum impact
  • Brainstorming at a staff meeting to set a strategy for the next year
  • Brainstorming ways to cut energy use
  • Coming up with new procedures to improve quality
  • Composing a new fundraising script for volunteers
  • Composing dialogue for a television or radio commercial
  • Constructing a research model to test a hypothesis
  • Creating an exam to test student knowledge
  • Creating the packaging for a product
  • Designing a logo
  • Developing a lesson plan for the U.S. election process that will captivate students
  • Developing a litigation strategy to defend a client
  • Devising a computer program to automate the billing process
  • Devising a more efficient way to process travel reimbursements
  • Devising a social media strategy for the new iPhone

G – Z

  • Generating themes for a fundraising campaign
  • Generating unusual interview questions to assess key candidate skills
  • Identifying ways to cut costs during a budget crisis
  • Increasing staff productivity by devising performance incentives
  • Pitching retail products to customers in an innovative way
  • Proposing a new look for a clothing line
  • Proposing behavioral changes for a patient who is overweight
  • Redefining job responsibilities to cover for a sick employee
  • Redesigning  machinery on an assembly line to enhance productivity
  • Restructuring a filing system to facilitate easier retrieval of information
  • Revising the construction process when a contractor fails to show up
  • Suggesting a way to improve customer service
  • Suggesting new ways of communication to alleviate marital conflict
  • Thinking up ways to increase the number of blood donors
  • Writing compelling copy for a print or online advertisement

Related: What is Critical Thinking?

Skills Lists: Employment Skills Listed by Job | Lists of Skills for Resumes

Read More: Soft vs. Hard Skills | How to Include Keywords in Your Resume | List of Keywords for Resumes and Cover Letters