From Competendo - Digital Toolbox
Revision as of 14:02, 20 March 2023 by Nils.zimmermann (talk | contribs) (Facilitation of Creative Thinking)
Jump to: navigation, search
Creativity is a crucial competence for indivdiuals. It is the core ingredience for becoming able to act proactively as an active citizen, for finding new visions or for fixing concrete problems, for increasing understanding of complex problems and for cooperation with other people or groups. Creativity is a process innate to our brains, one that can be stimulated through activities, for example in groups, or by creating the right conditions for it, through facilitation. Here the creative challenge for education is beginning.


Often, this involves establishing new connections where there have been none, and exploring the potential of seemingly unrelated topics. Creativity is as much about providing answers to particular needs as it is about redefining the questions that guide the search for answers. Ultimately, building upon previous knowledge and experiences is the essence of most creative deliberation.

Therefore, in many ways creativity is about exploration: exploring the knowledge that we already possess, exploring our environment and the rules within it, and exploring the problems that we face in order to understand and tackle them in new ways. Learners must develop ambiguity tolerance, overcome their discomfort with unclear situations, and any tendency to go into "fight or flight" mode or avoid uncertainty. That means constructively dealing with 'mental unorder' and disruption.

Views on Creativity

The notion of creativity is often framed by discourses on social or economical innovation or educational modernization. Creative industries are viewed as a solution for post-industrial societies. Creative citizens are seen as innovators who find social solutions to problems that classical politics and businesses cannot deliver, whether that is creating new jobs, lowering unemployment rates, or resolving political or social problems. Many perceive creativity also as a key competency that helps individuals navigate a complex world by adopting new technologies and to cope with them. As a kind of tool for adaptability. These intentions often appear as a (top-down) demand or request: we need more creative citizens and employees.

An alternative perspective on creativity emphasizes on creativity as an instrument to support individuals for developing their individual freedom and autonomy. In this view, creativity helps as many people as possible explore their capacity as creators. They wish to unleash creativity in humans by removing the barriers and limitations that society imposes on us.


In reality, creativity is a mix between all these intentions. As the interest in creative societies, creative industry, and creative citizens grows, a diverse group of actors are influencing teaching curricula and educational approaches. In the encounter with AI and the ever-improving automation of processes, the question of the special quality of human creativity, which has long been thought about in theory, is now also being raised in practice. How strong or weak is artificial intelligence really? How can human beings make use of it to remain creative themselves or to better develop their own creativity?

Many educational methods and approaches advocate for governments and grassroots activists' involving creativity more consciously in their competency development programs– from Entrepreneurship Education to Education for Democratic Citizenship to Cultural Education. This has consequences for facilitating creativity insofar as the predisposition of our values is affected.

Facilitating creativity is a deliberate activity, and facilitators should be aware of how specifically they want to influence education. In this handbook, we would like to emphasize the facilitation of creativity as a process of empowerment.

Creativity for Freedom

Beyond any utilitarian intention - whether implemented bottom up or top down – we see developing creative individuals as standing front and center. The Latin “creare” means to shape. People throughout all ages of history, and likely in all cultures, have commented on the ability of a person to start things, to create and therefore to change their environment. It was seen as a kind of special privilege of humans, often even legitimating their closeness to god(s) and their responsibility for the earth. The deep roots of this term also underpin our idea of democracy. In democracy, each individual is legimated and should be allowed to become a co-creator. Hannah Arendt built a bridge from Aristotelian thought to the conditions of democracy today: “The miracle of freedom is enclosed in this ability to begin.”[1]

Freedom is the fundamental goal of human social activities. The participatory revolution of democracy sought to change power systems based on the idea of a self conscious citizen. As such, it is precisly democracy's self-conscious citizens and their ability to initiate change by envisioning, connecting, discussing, deciding, and working on common issues that should be strengthened and supported by schools, civil society organizations, and governments in order to contribute to and foster democratic ideals.

The concepts of co-creating, participation, and independence have direct consequences for education: if everybody should be free and able to become a co-creator, then the goal of education is to empower individuals to be involved and ideally to innovate, which in turn means having a bigger impact, one which may even affect the creativity of the social system. Creativity should be perceived as an instrument for the self-empowerment of self-responsible, socially minded, and individual citizens. It starts with the attitude of seeing oneself as capable, powerful, and with the legitimacy to create.

Empowerment for creativity's sake also poses a challenge for facilitators and teachers. For example, it requires them to shape a participatory and resource-oriented learning culture, actively involving participants in the learning process. Facilitators and teachers must further develop an attitude that appreciates non-conformism, divergent ideas, and proactive learners. Allowing learners to add new insights in the form of noise, altered needs, disobedience, or new insights. Opening the process, allowing participants and facilitators to shape it together. As such, they need both an ability to communicate, negotiate and apply goals and processes with learners. Last, facilitators or teachers need methodological competency in opening learning processes up to creativity, and at the same time to aligning these with other learning goals.

Creative Thinking: Interplay of Different Ways of Thinking

Facilitating creativity cannot be done by simply putting knowledge on the agenda. Rather, creative learning processes also need to address the skills, knowledge and attitudes people will need in order to act as self-responsible and active citizens in the society. Together, these form a creative competence. Acknowledging the extensive research on creativity and the diversity of models aiming to describe creativity, we focus here on a basic understanding of the creative process.

Penaluna/Coates/Penaluna describe the creative process of two phases following 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.


Creativity seems to be the result of these iterative processes of Divergent and Convergent Thinking. 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.”[2] 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? [3]

More: Divergent and Convergent Thinking


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.

Facilitation of Creative Processes

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. [4] It is an evolutionary developed ability to make connections with help of a bipolar style of thinking shifting between “blind variation” and “selective retention”. [5]. Creative learning processes imply both intellectual and physical development. They keep our competences and dendrites developing.

Fluid and Open Process

The creative process is also an interplay between conscious and deliberate stages and less conscious and non-deliberate phases. They cannot exist in isolation from each other. As creativity is a process that starts by thinking proactively, it is luckily not possible to control creative processes in learners’ brains. For example, we cannot pinpoint the moment where an insight appears in the mind of the learner, and different ideas and problems overlap. We might conclude that designing learning processes should involve an understanding of creativity as an open process. Knowledge of the process and the particular challenges that may arise in certain stages allows facilitators to increase the likelihood that creative insight will appear. In 1926, the creativity pioneer Graham Wallas defined creativity as “the art of thought” and delineated four stages of the creative process :

Creative Process Stages



A conscious and deliberate phase in which problems are investigated in all their facets, intellectual resources are accumulated to provided a basis for constructing new ideas, research is given full attention, and the problem is analyzed in depth.


A less conscious process that deliberately inserts breaks into the concentrated effort of the workflow, voluntarily leaving problems unfinished, and incorporating relief and rest. Keeping participants' minds open ("mindwandering") for inspiration, taking a break from the intense process of thinking in order to refresh the mind, maintaining perspective and returning to the task with a different state of mind.[6]

Illuminating a new formation

An Aha moment follows the incubation phase. The “flash” moment of insight happens after gathering all the elements (preparation phase) and letting them float freely (incubation). It can be enforced but not controlled. Sometimes it happens immediately, sometimes as a result of diverse smaller insights. Stimulating illumination and raising learners' awareness of the nature of the process makes its occurence more likely.


A conscious and deliberate phase for testing the validity of an idea, setting down the idea in clearer form, planning it in detail, adapting it, and applying it.

Facilitation of Creative Thinking

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

Creative Competence

Creativity requires an attitude of curiosity to explore social surroundings. Basically, it is the ability to connect new things with old things, to build unexpected connections, and to develop new solutions to a problem or challenge. Since exploring the world and trying to understand the connections that guide it are essential for personal development and social experience, one could conclude that creativity is an essential competence in continuous learning, with strong connection to Learning to Learn.

Within the context of groups, communities, or society, create individuals' ability to make connections means a proactive adaptability to social change and ability to recognize synergies and create some new quality out of what already exists in discourses and groups.

Crucial for this social dimension of creativity is a mindset that demonstrates a willingness and ability to generate ideas and a motivation to think and share new solutions.

Creativity includes certain analytical and reflective skills required for exploring new insights, as well as an ability to to implement these insights through activities – here creativity is understood as a methodological competence.

Modelling creative competence for educational purposes can try to articulate the essential aspects of this key competence in a systematic way. Different competence frameworks did this differently. For instance:

  • Council of Europe's Reference Framework Competences for Democratic Culture is not mentioning "creativity" explicitely, although describing some related aspects.
  • EntreComp describes creativity mainly as a skill in order to "develop creative and purposeful ideas" and mentions "better solutions to existing and new challenges", "explore and experiment" or "combine knowledge and resources".
  • OECD sees "creativity" in the context of "thinking, but also instrumental in order to "develop new". It is integrated as element of one of the three key competences: "creating new value".
  • LifeComp is putting "creativity" in a context to "critical thinking" (as one of three sub-competences under this label, L 2.3): "Developing creative ideas, synthesising and combining concepts and information from different sources in view of solving problems"

Another approach in order to find out, what all contributes to creativity is, to distinguish between the factual, methodological, social and personal competencies included in creative competence in different contexts. This allows for the facilitation of creative competencies in a targeted and conscious way in these contexts. It helps with planning and during learning processes, and can assist facilitators and learners in developing criteria for evaluating achievements.

Task-specific Factual Competence

Identifying adequate solutions for tasks and problems based on the knowledge of a specific field, as well as how that field is systematically organized and externally related to other fields:

  • Applying knowledge and practices from different domains
  • Transferring knowledge from other fields to the specified learning field
  • ...

Methodological Competence

Acting consciously, competently, and in a goal-oriented way. The ability to choose methodologies and to evaluate outcomes:

  • Adapting approaches and concepts to the needs of the circumstances and actors
  • Structuring and visualizing complex topics and seeing them from multiple perspectives
  • Assessing and combining information and experience
  • Experimenting with innovative approaches
  • Perceiving several ideas and opportunities
  • Assessing and evaluating different solutions according to criteria such as success or needs fulfillment
  • Shaping spaces and organizing processes to unleash creative potential
  • Organizing and moderating creative and targeted processes
  • ...

Social Competence

Living in relation to other people and actively shaping social relations. Reflecting different interests, needs and tensions. Team and conflict management skills:

  • Developing analytical, reflective, and empathic listening skills
  • Finding solutions for situations that pose challenges to communication
  • Participating in collaborative ideation processes
  • Developing a diversity conscious and constructive attitude toward others’ thoughts, needs, and ideas
  • Developing an ability to deal constructively with nonconformist, contrary, and divergent opinions
  • Involving others in the creative process in a participatory way
  • ...

Personal Competence

Acting autonomously in a self-organized and reflective way: observing and evaluating challenges, requirements, or options. Assuming responsibility:

  • Maintaining an attitude of curiosity toward others and the world
  • Developing an ability to find inspiration in different ways
  • Envisioning a future goal
  • Keeping a proactive attitude of adaptability to social change: perceiving oneself as able to influence change
  • Thinking inside and outside of norms
  • Fostering a playful attitude , open for disruptive processes
  • Balancing an ability to process divergent and convergent information
  • Thinking of challenges and problems in a solution-oriented way
  • ...

The grid design was inspired by: Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) [7]

Inspiring Handbooks and Sources from the Community


  1. H. Arendt: Denken ohne Geländer – Texte und Briefe; 2005 Munich; p. 85
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Zaidel was reviewing research on people with neurological deseases: Dahila W. Zaidel: Creativity, brain, and art: biological and neurological considerations; Review Article Human Neuroscience;; 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; 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.;
  5. Donald T. Campbell: Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67, 380–400, 1960
  6. Zedelius CM and Schooler JW (2015) Mind wandering “Ahas” versus mindful reasoning: alternative routes to creative solutions. Front. Psychol. 6:834.
  7. Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB): K.Hensge, B. Lorig, D. Schreiber: Kompetenzstandards in der Berufsausbildung; Abschlussbericht Forschungsprojekt 4.3.201 (JFP 2006)

Book: Creativity Handbook

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. He writes and works on the topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Coordinator of European projects, in example DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship, DARE network.

Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience.

Marta Anna Gawinek-Dagargulia

Marta Anna Gawinek-Dagargulia

Facilitator, coordinator of empowerment programs, author and program manager in the fields of cultural activism and civi education. Lives in Warsaw (Poland), head of SKORO association.


Also interesting:

Our Handbooks Creativity-book-cover.png

N. Zimmermann, E. Leondieva


Read more