The two types of thinking that we need to think about thinking

There are two modes of thinking that we switch between to be able to be creative and run our lives. The main one is critical thinking which most of us use most of the time to rationalise and run our lives. But there is another mode of thinking too that is quite different, equally as important but often overlooked…

Critical thinking
Critical thinking is what we were taught. It is instilled within our civilisation. It is the essence of the scientific method which as we know is to put up a theory and then attack it. If it still stands up then maybe we have something. That is the scientific method.

Critical thinking is great for our judicial system. Someone puts forward a hypothesis such as ‘we believe this man committed a crime’ and critical thinking takes over to test the hypothesis. The problem with critical thinking is that it needs a hypothesis before it can do anything. In science we need the initial theory before we can begin to examine it, attack it or design any experiments.

This is why many people can’t seem to come up with any ideas as any new thoughts are stifled by critical thinking. If they or anyone around them comes up with an idea has it immediately vetted, criticised and thrown out. This sort of behaviour destroys creativity. In a brainstorming meeting, the person who put forward the initial idea in that meeting may have been onto a winner if the idea had been explored and associations drawn from it rather than knocking it down. But we don’t nessesarily need others to stop us being creative, we’re critical of ourselves and filter thoughts through our critical thinking, therefore never gettig to the big idea. The most ridiculous and impractical suggestions during a creative ideas session are by far the most important.

We associate this type of thinking with the ‘left brain’ because many of its attributes are located in the left hemisphere. Critical thinking is also known as being sceptical or being a sceptic. Most of the time it is healthy to be a sceptic. It means you’re checking facts as you go along, evaluating your beliefs and are able to weigh things up to make accurate value judgements. (Don’t confuse critical thinking or sceptical thinking with cynical thinking. Being a cynic means that you assume the worst and expect failure. We have no time for cynics here.)

Possibility thinking

The other mode is possibility thinking or creative thinking. The vital difference between the two modes are that critical thinking asks, ‘is this true?’, while creative possibility thinking asks, ‘is this useful?’. Creative thinking is interested in possibilities, it looks for meaning and personal significance. It likes to tie facts together and give them context (that is what we call ‘story’). It dreams and imagines what could be rather than looking at what’s actually there. It is unfettered by reality, language or time. We associate this type of thinking with the ‘right brian’ because many of its attributes are located in the right hemisphere. Operating in this mode of thinking most of the time would be unproductive and dangerous. But when coupled with critical thinking in the right measure at the right time it becomes the powerhouse of our creativity.

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4 comments on “The two types of thinking that we need to think about thinking

  1. Nice post. Sadly, critical thinking is not taught in most schools and, therefore, the propensity for fostering the first part of this equation, i.e., synaptic development, is truncated. In order to do quality creative thinking, its important to have either innately or evolved through sheer determination, the will to think as a discipline first then as a pastime subsequently. Good thinking requires practice!


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