One of the things creative people share in common is that they generate ideas and build on them. Common wisdom dictates that the more ideas you generate, the more creative and/or unique the final product will be. This seems to be just as true for individuals as it is for groups. This post, however, deals with the ways creative individuals think, and what the relationship is to the tools they use to generate ideas. The tools, or idea-generating methods, each person uses say something about his or her way of creative thinking, and affect how that person comes up with ideas and focuses on a final idea. It’s possible, however, that the opposite is also true—that how a person prefers to generate ideas and then narrow them down affects the idea-generating tools that are selected. Or, it could be a little bit of both.

In any event, it seems to me that people tend to fit one of three main idea-generating models. It also makes sense to me that if we understand better the way we tend to think, this will help us to become more effective creative problem-solvers. Which one of these three types of creative thinkers seems most like you?

  • The Listmaker approaches ideas in an organized fashion, setting criteria ahead of time that ideas need to meet before they are added to a collection for consideration. Ideas tend to be written down in notebooks or on memo pads, but they might also be collected beneath headings on a bulletin board, dry-erase board or chalkboard. Sticky notes containing ideas might be adhered to a board beneath topic headings, for example. If you prefer to use a tablet or smart phone, you will likely collect your ideas, bullet-fashion, in categories. When it’s time to narrow down your options, you’ll weigh one option against another and choose the one that appears to be most effective. You’d be correct to conclude the Listmaker is likely analytical.
Office Supplies - Notepad by Jeroen van Oostrom
Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom /
  • The Relationship Builder approaches ideas intuitively, drawing connections between them that may be in opposition to each other, or similar. This type of thinker tends to think more visually. Mind mapping, where shapes with text inside them are connected to each other with lines representing relationships, may be especially appealing. The Relationship Builder may also use sticky notes, but in a different way than the Listmaker. Instead of determining ahead of time what categories ideas need to fit, the Relationship Builder will generate ideas randomly, and decide later how they are connected. The Relationship Builder is just as likely to use a sketch pad as a phone or tablet app to create a visual representation of ideas. When choosing ideas, the Relationship Builder will look for areas where ideas cluster, since that usually represents more fully-developed thinking.
Image courtesy of  Photokanok /
Image courtesy of Photokanok /
  • The Walking Magnet approaches ideas randomly, collecting ideas and inspiration everywhere. Like paper clips attracted to a magnet, ideas tend to stick to this person, so it’s essential for a variety of collection methods to be available. A nightstand notebook or journal next to the bed is handy, but a note-taking app on a phone or tablet, or a spiral memo pad inside a briefcase or purse, is essential. Sticky notes are perfect for collecting random ideas, too. The Walking Magnet will have folders filled with newspaper or magazine clippings, or links to Web articles or photos using an app such as Evernote or a software program like Microsoft OneNote. Pinterest is an ideal canvas for the Walking Magnet. This type of thinker tends to force-fit ideas together, finding a random connection between them that makes sense, or will simply choose an idea based on emotional appeal.
Image courtesy of iosphere /
Image courtesy of iosphere /

Obviously, inside everyone live all three of the above thinkers, but one of them likely predominates. There is no right or wrong about any of these ways of creative thinking, as all three result in idea generation and the necessity to choose what seems best for the situation and/or is most appealing. If you examine the ways you generate ideas, what type of creative thinker do you think you are? Are you a combination? Do you believe how you generate ideas determines your idea-collecting tools, or do you think the tools you use tend to make you think in one of the above three ways? The answer, I suspect, will remind you of the argument about what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?”

  1. I think that I am an idea magnet. I tend to glean from all kinds of things, although I often use nature as my go-to if I have no ideas. I write them down on whatever is handy, and so lose some of them sometimes. I am also an emotionally creative person, as I choose whatever ‘hits my fancy’ at the time–depending on my emotions about that item/thing/project. And that is unusual for me, since I am not a ‘touchy-feely’ person at heart!

    I think that the tools that I use make me like the magnet. I collect from whatever tools I am using and go from there!

    Nice post!

  2. Paige @ Little Nostalgia

    This was really interesting! I’m a combination list maker and walking magnet. I’ve found that I get so many ideas that I need to write them all down before I forget. Haha. I also like to keep myself organized so I can get a lot of things done each day, which is where my daily to do list comes into play.

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