David O'Connor - Director of Learning and Innovation / 14 March 2024

Unlocking Creativity: A Guide to Developing the Skill of Thinking Differently

It's a skill that can be cultivated and honed with practice and mindset shifts.


In a world inundated with information and ideas, the ability to think differently, to innovate, problem-solve, and envision new possibilities, has become an invaluable asset. Thinking differently, or thinking creatively, is not a trait reserved for the select few; it is a skill that can be cultivated and honed through deliberate practice and mindset shifts. Advancements in neuroscience have also helped shed light on how the brain processes information and learns, providing us with techniques to intentionally rewire our thinking patterns, and foster creativity and innovation.

In this article, we explore strategies and techniques to develop the skill of thinking differently, empowering individuals to unlock their creative potential and approach challenges with fresh perspectives.

Understanding Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain's remarkable ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This concept overturns the long-held belief that the brain's structure and function are fixed in adulthood. Instead, it suggests that we have the power to reshape our brains through intentional thought and behaviour. By understanding the principles of neuroplasticity, we can leverage neuroscience techniques to start thinking differently.

Foster a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and perseverance. Neuroscience research suggests that individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, learn from setbacks, and persist in the face of challenges. To start thinking differently, we can cultivate a growth mindset by reframing challenges as opportunities for growth, seeking out constructive feedback, and adopting a learning-oriented approach to problem-solving. This mindset shift activates neural circuits associated with resilience, adaptability, and intrinsic motivation, laying the foundation for creative thinking and innovation.

Embrace Curiosity and Open-Mindedness

At the heart of thinking differently lies curiosity – a willingness to question assumptions, explore new ideas, and seek out diverse perspectives. Cultivating curiosity involves embracing uncertainty, reframing failures as opportunities for learning, and maintaining an open-minded attitude towards new experiences and information.

That said, it is very important to note that curiosity for curiosity's sake is not conducive to thinking differently, we must always strive to go a layer or two deeper by first asking ourselves what is driving our curiosity in the first place, a need to know, or a desire to do different? Framing our thinking through the lens of approaching the world with a sense of wonder and inquisitiveness, we can start to expand our horizons and uncover novel insights that spark creativity in much more meaningful ways.

Challenge Assumptions and Conventional Wisdom

The brain has a natural tendency to rely on cognitive shortcuts and biases when processing information, which can inhibit creative thinking and problem-solving. To start thinking differently, we can challenge our assumptions and cognitive biases by actively seeking out counterarguments, considering alternative perspectives, and reframing problems in new ways. This process engages higher-order cognitive functions, such as cognitive control and metacognition, which are essential for overcoming mental barriers and fostering innovation.

Thinking differently also often requires challenging the status quo and questioning long-held assumptions and beliefs. It's also important not to become absorbed by group thinking which is dominated only by the loudest of voices in the room.

Cultivate Diverse Perspectives and Experiences

Exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences is essential for fostering creativity and thinking differently - it's at the heart of what Common Purpose does. Oftentimes, we wait for the opportunities to present themselves to us as opposed to actively seeking out opportunities by ourselves to engage with people from different backgrounds, disciplines, teams and cultures. 

Setting yourself up for success involves proactively immersing yourself in diverse environments. This will provide you with new insights, expand your cognitive toolkit, and allow you to break free from conventional modes of thinking.

Foster a Culture of Experimentation and Iteration in our Teams

Divergent thinking is the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem, often by exploring unconventional or novel ideas. Neuroscience research suggests that engaging in divergent thinking exercises can stimulate neural networks associated with creativity and innovation. To start thinking differently, we can challenge ourselves more to brainstorm ideas without judgment, explore alternative perspectives, and connect seemingly unrelated concepts. This process activates the brain's default mode network, which is involved in creative insight and idea generation.

Creativity also thrives in environments that encourage experimentation, risk-taking, and iteration. To develop the skill of thinking differently, we should embrace a mindset of continuous experimentation and iteration, viewing setbacks as valuable learning opportunities rather than failures. By testing out new ideas, soliciting feedback, and iterating based on results, we can refine our creative process and uncover innovative solutions to complex problems.

Seek Inspiration from Diverse Sources

Inspiration can come from unexpected places – from art and literature to nature and everyday experiences. To cultivate the skill of thinking differently, we need to actively seek out sources of inspiration that resonate with us, whether it's visiting museums, attending workshops, or simply taking a walk-in nature. By exposing ourselves to diverse stimuli and experiences, we can fuel our imaginations, spark creativity, and generate fresh ideas.

Practice Mindfulness and Reflection

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have a profound impact on brain structure and function, particularly in areas associated with attention, emotion regulation, and self-awareness. By practicing mindfulness meditation regularly, individuals can strengthen neural circuits related to focus, creativity, and divergent thinking. This involves directing attention to the present moment, observing thoughts and sensations without judgment, and cultivating a sense of openness and curiosity.

Also important is taking the time to pause, observe, and reflect on our thoughts and experiences as this can foster greater self-awareness and insight, enabling us to break free from automatic patterns of thinking and discover new ways of approaching problems

Neuroscience offers powerful insights into how the brain processes information and learns, providing us with techniques to intentionally rewire our thinking patterns and foster creativity and innovation. By understanding the principles of neuroplasticity and leveraging neuroscience-based strategies such as mindfulness meditation, divergent thinking exercises, challenging assumptions, and fostering a growth mindset, individuals can start thinking differently and unlock our full creative potential. In doing so, we all have the power to unleash innovation, drive positive change, and make meaningful contributions – contributions both big and small.


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