Honing Your Intuition With Critical Thinking

Since I stress the analytical parts and critical thinking so much, I rarely speak about one common topic of design. It is the big mystical “creativity” that many designers cherish so much.

Although, I disagree with how the term is generally used, the ability to come up with ideas from scratch is of course a great asset for every designer. I don’t believe creativity is something a few chosen ones are gifted. Nor do I believe that you have to have your best ideas under the shower or on a walk. But there are certain situations, that stimulate our mind more that others. So, how can you understand and nurture creativity with the tools of analytical thinking?

Goodbye, you mystical creature!

Like I said creativity is neither a transcendent gift, nor is it exclusive to the people we tend to talk about as “creatives”. There are a million instances where people are creative without anybody noticing it. If your plumbing breaks – you will set off a call – but then you will get creative to solve that problem for the time being.

MacGyver is a great example of crazy creativity without any interest for beauty. Business problems often demand creative solutions, too. Any reaction to a given problematic situation that transforms it in an unexpected manner can be called creative.

Creativity is the most natural form of problem solving in humanity. Methods, processes, analytical thinking are all ways to navigate to quite predictable outcomes. Those tools work great when you tackle large problems or a lot of people are involved to make sure everybody has the right objectives in sight. But the one “spark” – that one idea you hear about – has the quality to change the status quo completely.

Everybody has the ability to be an inventor, a creative genius. When a situation forces us to, we are always creative. It is in our blood. But in everyday life we enjoy being comfortable with our situation and the tools around us. We become lazy. There are people that are less lazy than others and there are hundreds of reasons for that. I won’t go into them – that would only result in dangerous (yet perhaps creative) speculation.

So, what makes the concept of creativity so interesting? Many people pride themselves with the term. Being creative stands for being able to change the world a priori – only by trusting your gut and intuition. This concept of creativity is nothing but a seductive fantasy of power. And it can be hurtful in the long run.

Instead I asked myself: if creativity is something immanent in every human being, can it be trained? Can you exercise the “creative muscles” in your brain?

People engaged in a lot of problem solving are more likely to come up with creative solutions. Could the reason be, that they have a deeper pool of experiences and concepts from the past? They would be able to source their experiences and apply them to new situations. So it seems creativity can be trained. If it can, shouldn’t it also be possible to support it, foster it, or maybe even plan it?

Hone your intuition with critical thinking.

Creativity is rooted in our collected experiences and knowledge. As we information, we start to combine and synthesise it. We build a well of abstract knowledge, that shapes our perspective, approach and attitude towards the world. Creativity is nurtured by this pool. In this way creativity is strongly connected to our intuition. Both are informed by learnings of the past and result in what seems like a priori action or idea.

That means, the best way to improve your creativity is to hone your intuition. Honing your intuition can be achieved in steps: Input and reflection. Input sums up all experiences and knowledge. Reflection is the critical analysis of the gathered knowledge and experiences.

In the danger of sounding cheesy: To start honing your intuition, you l you have to live a rich and full live first. Collecting experiences can happen by accident, but also by intention. Always keep your eyes open. Focus on the details of the world around you – also on details that have nothing to do with our profession.

As with experiences, knowledge comes in different forms and from the most unexpected places. Acquiring knowledge as a designer does not only mean learning skills and business matters. There are few disciplines that demand and benefit more from a broad general knowledge as Design. Learn about useless things. Soak up all information that seems only slightly interesting to you. Again, epic cliché: To shape the world, you first have to know and understand it.

All experience and knowledge is completely useless, if you don’t internalise it, interpret it and distill the real value from it. Knowing about something and understanding something are very different things. To support your creativity you have to examine all the input. That means nothing more than using your critical thinking abilities.

Revisiting an experience and analysing your reactions and feelings can show you unexpected perspectives. The most exciting part of all this, is the moment when you suddenly start to see connections. Often, completely unrelated knowledge starts to form patterns and continuity. Intentional critical thinking can help you to sort, join or reinterpret all the sourced knowledge in new ways.

You don’t need to have all knowledge at the top of your head later on. Reflection and critical examination help to internalise the patterns and concepts. You sort through them and remember the nuggets. They become part of the well that fuels your intuition. Your intuition is the main driver of what they title creativity. By training your gut under the guidance of your brain, creativity will arise.

There are more ways, to support creativity with the help of critical thinking. You can use thinking-tools to set up a playing field for your intuition. You can also “activate” your high-alert creativity with little setups and thought experiments.

In the next edition of newsletter I will describe some of those tools in detail – including the “Golden 2x2 Rule” and “Intuition Pumps”

If you have any questions, ideas or comments, contact me directly jump over to Twitter!