Creativity and Innovation

The Importance of Creative Thinking in Ministry

creative-thinkingIf I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.                                                                  Albert Einstein

We have all experienced the pressure in our western culture of coming up with the ‘right answer’. From early years our educational system focuses more on memorization and rote answers than on the art of seeking new ways of looking at things. We are rarely asked to discover insightful questions, nor why this would be a pursuit worthy of our efforts. Quizzes and exams reinforce the value of correct answers…it is little wonder most of us are uncomfortable with not knowing.

This aversion to asking creative questions is linked to an emphasis on finding quick fixes and an attachment to black/white, either/or thinking. This mindset also explains why many people are locked in to historic ways of doing things even though they don’t work and haven’t worked for many years. The rapid pace of our lives seldom provides us with opportunities to participate in reflective conversations where we can explore creative questions and innovative possibilities before reaching key decisions. Many of us develop a belief that ‘real work’ consists primarily of quick decisions, and decisive actions. This explains why we encourage leaders who are “doers” and not “thinkers”. It contradicts the idea that ‘effective work’ in the twenty-first century consists of asking deeper questions and being involved in strategic conversations on important issues.

Our reward systems further reinforce this dilemma. Leaders believe they are being paid for fixing problems rather than fostering creative thinking and participation. Between our deep attachment to the answer – any answer – and our anxiety about not knowing, we have inadvertently thwarted our collective capacity for deep creativity and fresh perspectives. Unfortunately, given the unprecedented challenges we face today, we need these skills now more than ever.

All of us have the opportunity to translate our unique personal perspectives and views of the world into new ideas and concepts that might be useful to us and to others. We can help other people to think beyond their existing mental boundaries or provide fresh insights that can take their thinking to entirely new planes. The key is to be prepared to regularly ask “why” and “how” questions and consider the answers. Children are very good at this. Unfortunately, the willingness to ask questions is often quashed by parents, teachers and other adults, and they learn to accept rather than to challenge. Ironically, to develop creativity as an adult, you have to adopt much the same approach you probably had as a child. It involves opening your mind to different interpretations and even making yourself vulnerable to annoyance, frustration and possibly ridicule on occasions – but the knowledge you will build can be worth it.

Spend a few minutes to reflect on the following …

  • Where do you rely on either/or thinking in the way you approach issues?
  • What possibilities may open up if you approached competing priorities with a both/and view?
  • How can we gain benefit from both these approaches that appear to be in tension?
  • How does your concept of ‘real work’ affect your priorities?
  • How would your priorities be different if you delegated more of the fixing problems to others and centred your efforts on asking deeper questions and fostering breakthrough thinking?
  • Who do you have in your circle that constantly refreshes your creative capacity and the ability to develop fresh perspectives?

This article has been adapted from The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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