Creative Thinking

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Creativity is a process in which inspiration occurs through the interplay of a more associative gathering of inspiration and information and a more stringent process of assessing and sense-making. This can described as a kind of mental table-tennis.

Penaluna/Coates/Penaluna describe the creative process as a process in which two phases follow each other consecutively. After the phase of creating new connections, gathering new experience, and perceiving , rather than evaluating perceptions, a phase of reflection with a re-establishing of a linear logic follows, as well as the goal of making sense and putting some experiences aside to reduce complexity. By consciously and regularly introducing creative disruptions between phases, facilitators can assist in this interaction, while enforced discipline limits dynamics.

A Creative Process: Interplay of Different Ways of Thinking


Creativity seems to be the result of these process. On the one hand it involves more nonlinear, illogical, unordered processing. It involves an ability to reason abductively, and to deal with an “infinite number of possible solutions to a myriad of challenges.”[1] Such abductive reasoning is forming and evaluating explanatory hypotheses on the basis of a set of (different) data: Assembling a theory fitting to the diverse aspects of what one perceived, asking: How can these things go together? [2]

On the other hand, creativity involves thinking in a rather linear cognitive way, discarding irrelevant observations or experiences – it is a kind of deductive reasoning in a “rule based, deterministic,” or assessing way.

The subjective moment when an insight appears takes place in the space between the phases and is generated by making use of both processing styles. It is contingent, which means it often appears by accident. Predicting the insight is not possible, nor is there a recipe for stimulating creativity in a mechanistic way. What is clear, however, is that these two opposite states of mind interact and that creativity involves an ability to make use of both.

In this “table tennis” setting, different mental processes come into play with each other. When the right divergent side controls the mental ball, it will happen in a wild, rather uncontrolled way. On the other hand, the left side will try to hit the ball back in a more precise manner and to take control of the game, make sense of the information, and come up with a strategy. This continuity and stabilizing playing style hedges the right side’s behavior and aligns the play toward results, or products.

An Iterating Creative Process


Creative processes are iterative. Sometimes they are redundant, referring to previous experience and thoughts, and sometimes they proceed toward a goal. To achieve this flexibility, the brain needs to develop structures that allow for such flexibility. This idea of interaction between different parts of the brain, the interaction of different brain functions in a hub-style as well as a flexible, interconnecting way contradicts the assumption of a static work division between mental processes or a static understanding of creativity as located in one certain place in the human brain. [3] It is an evolutionary developed ability to make connections with help of a bipolar style of thinking shifting between “blind variation” and “selective retention”. [4]. Creative learning processes imply both intellectual and physical development. They keep our competencies and dendrites developing.

Facilitation of Creative Thinking

For facilitation, we might take draw conclusions from these insights to encourage creativity:


  1. Andrew Penaluna, Jackie Coates, Kathryn Penaluna: Creativity-based assessment and neural understandings - A discussion and case study analysis; Education & Training Vol. 52 No. 8/9, 2010; pp. 660-678
  2. A. Penaluna, K. Penaluna, I. Diago: The Role of Creativity in Entrepreneurship Education; Chapter 13 of the Handbook of Research on Entrepreneurship and Creativity; Ed.: R. Sternberg/G. Krauss, Cheltenham / Northampton ; 2014; p. 364
  3. Zaidel was reviewing research on people with neurological deseases: Dahila W. Zaidel: Creativity, brain, and art: biological and neurological considerations; Review Article Human Neuroscience; doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00389; published: 02 June 2014; p.4. Jung/Mead/Carrasco/Flores are putting emphasis on the Blind Variation and Selective Retention BVSR: Rex. E. Jung, Brittany S. Mead, Jessica Carrasco, Ranee A. Flores: The structure of creative cognition in the human brain; frontiers in human neuroscience; review article, 08 July 2013; doi: 103389/fnhum:2013.00330 Andreas Fink is supporting this direction: Andreas Fink, Mathias Benedek: Review: EEG alpha power and creative ideation; Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews; 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.;
  4. Donald T. Campbell: Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67, 380–400, 1960

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email:


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