Creative Thinking Business Tools

Even if you don’t consider yourself creative, you can learn some useful skills and techniques to help you tap into creative ‘right brain’ thinking and bring a new perspective to problems in business or indeed in your private life.

Let’s have a look in detail at some popular business tools for creative thinking.

Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is a term for a problem-solving approach that uses an indirect and creative approach, applying reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not flow naturally using traditional thinking and step-by-step logic. It involves looking at the problem or situation from unexpected angles, challenging, thinking “outside the box “. The term was coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono.


We have discussed brainstorming in detail in our earlier lesson on decision making, so will just summarise it here. 

Decision Making

Brainstorming or “thought shower” as it is now sometimes called, combines a relaxed approach to problem-solving with lateral thinking. It can be carried out in several ways, and is useful for involving everyone in the team, no matter how senior or junior they are. Junior team members, who are not immersed in the detail of management on a daily basis, often come up with the most effective ideas.

Conventional analytical processes limit imagination, so participants are encouraged to contribute whatever comes into their mind without any evaluation or consideration.

Unconventional ideas are built on, there is no judgment, comment or criticism of the idea. The intention is to unlock unconscious ideas, and to evaluate them at this stage will stem the flow of creativity.

Ideas do not have to be fully formed as thought-through proposals, just thrown into the arena to be discussed and developed later. Part of the success of brainstorming is due to the fact that the contributor does not have to present a reasoned solution with all details thought through.

Brainstorming brings team members’ different experiences into play and produces a rich seam of ideas that can be explored, which means that better all-round solutions to the problems may be developed. It also helps with buy-in from team members for the solution chosen, it helps team members bond, and solve problems in a positive, rewarding environment.

Mind Maps

Mind Maps, developed by Tony Buzan. are a way of showing information visually, in the same way that the brain maps concepts, in a non-linear, interconnected view.

Mind Maps make use of colour, images and symbols to help stimulate the brain’s recall.

They are usually created around a single word or text, placed in the centre, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added.

Buzan suggests using these principles;-

  • Use plain paper in a landscape position.
  • Write your theme in a circle, in colour, in the centre of your page.
  • Draw a short line from the circle and write your first thought, in one or two words.
  • Add branches to the line for connected ideas. Don’t add to the end of the branch, this will close the idea down.
  • Start a new branch from the centre circle when new unconnected ideas, occur to you.
  • Use lots of images.
  • Print words in capital letters.
  • To give structure, printed words should be on lines and each line should be connected to other lines.
  • Print words one to a line.
  • Use colours to help memory recall and stimulate creativity.
  • Be spontaneous
  • Use colours for different branches and ideas.
  • Highlight associated words with the same colour. This help see connected areas
  • When your ideas cease, scan read your map and put it away. This helps your mind to come up with new ideas when you are not thinking about it

The 6 Thinking Hats Game

This is a technique developed by Edward De Bono, a designer of constructive and conceptual thinking methods.

Six coloured hats are used to symbolise different thinking emotions or direction.

White hat- Information, data

Red hat –intuition, emotion

Blackhat -Negative, cautious

Yellow hat –benefits and advantages

Green hat –creativity, alternatives

Blue hat -process review

In ordinary, unstructured thinking, people move from critical thinking to optimistic in response to what is happening, without structure. This technique introduces parallel thinking, everyone has the same agenda at a given point.

So a meeting may begin with everyone metaphorically wearing the Blue hat to consider how the meeting will be conducted, and to decide objectives. The group then moves to Red hat mode, to collect opinions and reactions.

Then everyone adopts the Yellow hat to consider the benefits, then the Green hat to generate ideas and solutions. White hat thinking allows information to be considered and finally Black hat thinking is used to develop criticisms of the proposed solution.

Or the group might plan the first few hats then the facilitator will see what seems to be the best direction to move.

Another way of using the technique is to allocate a particular hat to each of six people in a discussion. The person wearing the white hat has all the data, the person wearing the Blackhat has to put forward arguments against the proposal, while the yellow hat must propose arguments for the proposal.

This can be illuminating if the Blackhat is given to someone known to be for the proposal and the yellow to someone known to be against. This can force people to re-evaluate their stance, once they start to think differently

Blue sky thinking

Blue sky thinking is usually used to describe a session held by a team who are looking for visionary ideas “What if we could do anything?” There are no clouds; the sky is obvious blue.

There will be a group of people looking for an opportunity with fresh eyes. They may be seeking the successful resolution of a serious and urgent business problem or looking for ways forward for a company. In the latter case, the session may be part of the development of the company’s forward strategy.

Or the question might be “if anything was possible, what product or service would we offer to our clients “. Ideas would be thrown out without regard for any existing problems or issues, such as lack of cash or ability, technological problems, competitors etc.

So creative ideas are not limited by current thinking or beliefs, there are no preconceptions, no obstacles, ideas may be suggested that may have no immediate application. As many ideas as possible are generated in a session where no ideas are rejected. They may be in the realms of fantasy, involve a quantum leap, or be a dream wish

The idea being that once you know what you would love to achieve, then you can start to solve the individual issues that prevent you from getting to your goal. You can bring the idea into the realms of possibility, grab the essence of it and try to use it to find a real solution.

So, although creative thinking techniques may sometimes look a bit strange, you can see that there are sound principles behind them. Even if you are a little sceptical about their potential, approach them with an open mind and prepare to be surprised and delighted.

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