Intelligent minds and creative thinking

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Intelligence and creative thinking

Intelligence is the ability to see relationships and to use this ability to solve problems.  Creativity on the other hand is the ability to come up with a range of possible new original solutions to a given problem. What makes us different in dealing with a problem is the strategies we follow to come up with these solutions. Geniuses are unique because they use both their intelligent minds and creative thinking to tap the secret of the problems they encounter. Geniuses like Einstein, da Vinci, Edison, and Aristotle shared a set of strategies that very few people use. They had a common pattern of thinking.

Intelligence and creativity

According to author Michael Michalko, “Even if you’re not a genius, you can use the same strategies as Aristotle and Einstein to harness the power of your creative mind and better manage your future.” A set of common patterns of thinking were discovered and during the sixties, so many misconceptions about intelligence and creativity were addressed. Gardener presented his model of multiple intelligence, de Bono introduced in his various work on thinking skills the concept of lateral thinking, and Guilford presented new insights about divergent thinking. Educators tried to use these achievements in psychological research to help learners think creatively and intelligently! Here are some of the key concepts!

  1. Multiple intelligence
    Instead of looking at intelligence from a single point of view, new approaches to intelligence focus on a variety of abilities rather than on fixed sets of abilities.  Howard Gardner(1983) argues that intelligence, particularly as it is traditionally defined, does not sufficiently enclose the wide variety of skills humans display. In his view, a learner who masters mathematical concepts easily is not necessarily more intelligent overall than a learner who struggles to do so. The latter may differ because he may best understand the material:

    • through a different approach,
    • may excel in a field outside of mathematics,
    • or his understanding of the subject matter may be deeper than it really appears and maybe much better than one who easily memorizes these concepts at a superficial level.

    Gardener contends that humans may be endowed with various types of intelligence:

    • Bodily-kinesthetic: this relates to bodily movement and physiology (dance, sport,  movement…)
    • Interpersonal: interaction with others. Sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments, and motivations. Ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group and communicate effectively…
    • Verbal-linguistic: linguistic abilities including writing, speaking …
    • Logical-mathematical: logic, abstractions, reasoning, and numbers
    • Naturalistic: relating information to one’s natural surroundings
    • Intrapersonal: introspective and self-reflective capacities. Affinity for thought-based pursuits such as philosophy…
    • Visual-spatial: vision and spatial judgment. Strong visual memory and often artistically inclined. A very good sense of direction…
    • Musical: rhythm, music, and hearing

    Gardner and his colleagues explored other intelligences such as spiritual, existential, and moral intelligence. And recently there has been a lot of research on another type of intelligence namely emotional intelligence which is the ability to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.
    More recent research shows the importance of the environment in shaping intelligence(Flyn’s effect).

  2. Vertical vs lateral thinking
    De Bono distinguishes between lateral and vertical thinking. He contends that when children are faced with a complex intellectual problem they pick up an idea and follow the path until the solution is reached. Edward de Bono calls this type of thinking vertical thinking. This is the type of thinking that is most often taught in our schools. Lateral thinking, however,  is concerned with the generation of new ideas. It is also concerned with “breaking out of the concept prisons of old ideas.” A lateral thinker explores various paths to discover original creative solutions although a lot of these ideas might appear to be wrong at first sight. He accepts and explores apparently irrelevant facts or ideas. Vertical thinkers, however, put barriers between themselves and any irrelevant idea, any sideway path. In other words, in vertical thinking, you select out only what is relevant. You must be right at each stage in order to achieve a correct solution. In lateral thinking, you may deliberately seek out irrelevant information. You may have to be wrong at some stage in order to achieve an innovative and original solution. lateral thinkers are creative.
  3. Convergent vs divergent thinking
    “In Convergent thinking individuals are said to converge upon the only single acceptable answer to a problem rather than to diverge and throw up as many solutions as they can.”  Fontana (1983) Again in most schools focus is more on convergent thinking. Tests, for instance, are designed to allow for only the right answers, not the possible answers. Classroom activities concentrate more on definite, limited tasks, putting boundaries and emprisoning students in a world of clear cut concepts instead of letting them see the whole picture, the possible and the impossible, the finite and the infinite, the clear and the ambiguous!

Creative thinking in the classroom

How can we make use of all these new insights? How do they relate to the classroom? Well, a number of ideas can be singled out.

  • Variety is paramount
    While some educators are tempted to focus on a restricted set of linguistic and mathematical activities, the outcome can be detrimental for learners, yielding false assumptions about their abilities. Vary activities to get a global view of the potential of your students.
  • Productive, NOT Reproductive
    As Michalko maintains, when we are confronted with a problem, we typically look for a solution by thinking about past problems that we have encountered. Because a certain solution worked previously, we are confident that it works all the time. This is far from being creative thinking. Instead of what they have been taught  to solve a problem, it would be much better to give students the opportunity to ask themselves:

    • How many different ways can I look at the problem?
    • How many different ways can I solve it?

    Let students come up with many different responses although some of them might be unconventional and strange. These responses might be a spell of a creative mind and maybe possibly unique and original.

  • Creative accidents
    A lot of original solutions happen to be a result of accidental encounters rather than the achievement of planned performance. Encourage students to seize any chance to display their genius. Michalko notes that “Geniuses prepare themselves for the chance. Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. That is the first principle of creative accident. We may ask ourselves why we have failed to do what we intended, which is a reasonable question. But the creative accident provokes a different question: What have we done? Answering that question in a novel, unexpected way is the essential creative act. It is not luck, but creative insight of the highest order.”
  • Tolerance
    Convergent thinking can lead to intolerance. What is the “right answer”. Is it the one we personally perceive or is it more intricate involving other variables we are unable to tackle? Students must be aware of the danger of “the-only-one-possible-right-answer-issue”. They should be encouraged to tolerate other visions of the world. Geniuses tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects.
  • Open-ended questions
    Ask open-ended questions that elicit a wide range of answers:

    • ‘Why’ questions to discover the roots of the problem
    • ‘How’ questions to discover different ways to solve problems
  • Alternative solutions
    The next time you assign a problem to your students,  instead of jumping to the first obvious solution, let them take a step back and see if they can find several alternative solutions. At first, this is going to be difficult to do, but with practice, they will be able to come up with many alternatives. A creative mind sees the different angles of a problem which yields a number of possible solutions to choose from and results in a unique original solution.
  • Questions, questions, questions
    Help students develop the ability to ask questions. Formulating questions about an issue leads to a better understanding of the problem and leads to develop critical thinking. Encourage students to use the Socratic method to question assumptions, concepts, rationale, viewpoints, etc to reach a deeper understanding.
  • Students are central
    If we constantly provide students with information, we exclude the possibility that they think for themselves. The situation becomes less open-ended in the sense that they will concentrate only on this information to the exclusion of any new ideas of their own. Teachers should provide only the necessary guidelines for the performance of tasks and no more!
  • Testing
    While it is important to allow for one-right-answer items when preparing tests, it is essential to include tasks allowing for creative production. This will give free vent to students to  uncover their creative and intellectual abilities
  • Study Skills
    Learners should develop study skills that allow for creative thinking in a sort of personal exploration of facts and concepts. Encourage them to learn how to learn
  • The world at large
    Students should transfer the knowledge they acquire from the artificial setting of the classroom to the world at large. They should prepare themselves to confront the problems of the real world which will need novel and original solutions.


  • De Bono,E. (1970) Lateral Thinking, . Penguin Books
  • Fontana, D. (1983) Psychology for teachers. The Mcmillan Publishers Ltd.
  • Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books.
  • Gardner, H. (1993a). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. NY: Basic Books.
  • Guilford, J.P. (1967). The Nature of Human Intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Guilford, J.P. & Hoepfner, R. (1971). The Analysis of Intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Gardner, H.  (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences: Tenth anniversary edition.  New York: Basic Books.  (Original work published 1983)

Gardner, H.  (1994). Multiple intelligences theory.  In R. J. Sternberg  (Ed.),  Encyclopedia of human intelligence (Vol. 2,  pp. 740-742).  New York: Macmillan.

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