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  • Writer's pictureDannielle K Pearson

Thinking Modes Are you a Creative Thinker or a Critical Thinker?

I often speak publicly about critical thinking.  While I am passionate about the topic what’s most interesting to me are the questions I receive.  Irrespective of the audience the questions are typically the same “how do I get my kids to think critically, what are the five steps you take in the morning to set yourself up to critically think, and how do I think critically all the time?”  In which my answers are typically, be patient, I don’t, and you can’t.   Many of these questions are fuelled by societal conditioning. We are wired to gravitate towards roadmaps and templates, “just tell me how to be successful” and I will do that, whatever “that” is.  Just give me the answer.  Except life isn’t a checklist, or a multiple-choice test, sometimes you need to fill in the blanks.

But maybe we can’t fill in the blanks because our mode of thinking doesn’t allow for it.  I just wasn’t genetically gifted with the type of brains cells that fill in blanks. There is a consortium of tests out there that profess they can pinpoint precisely the kind of thinker you are, just answer 10 multiple choice questions to find out. Maybe you are a convergent thinker, perhaps you’re more abstract, maybe you’re an idealist, or maybe you’re a critical thinker.   Except this is a flawed idea.  In truth you aren’t any of these types, these are tools you employ.

What are the different modes of thinking?

If you google “types of thinking” you’ll get a dizzying list of inconsistent results.  So, let’s start with something simple, what is a mode of thinking, or “thinking style?”  A thinking style is how you prefer to learn.  It’s about your desired mode of taking in information, not how you choose to use it.  This means critical thinking, and creativity, as it is broadly defined, are not thinking styles, or modes, they are choices. 

Most academics agree, there are five thinking styles:

1.     Synthesis: sometime known as “creative” a preference towards playing devil’s advocate and are most likely to prefer counter arguments.

2.     Idealists: propensity to think “big”, lofty, and long term.

3.     Pragmatists: the antithesis to the idealist, search for an immediate payoff, and the “here and now.”

4.     Analytics: detail orientated, and into the minutia.

5.     Realists: what their senses tell them is real, and all they can really depend on.

These styles are influenced by age, gender, life experiences, and even self-esteem.  Your preferred thinking style changes with time and circumstances.  Concepts like divergent (ideation), convergent (creating process & parameters), binary (linear), logic, rational and critical thinking (to name a few) are not thinking styles but expressions of what we do with the information we are taking in.

Are you a Critical Thinker or Creative Thinker?

The central thesis of any talk I give on critical thinking, is that it’s a meta cognitive process.  Take a yoga or meditation class, and you’ll recognise this as mindfulness.  You are a creative, critical, rational, or logical thinker by your choosing.  It may not always be a conscious choice but it’s a choice.  You can take that social media post at face value, or you can question its authenticity, your style of thinking has little to do with that decision. An artist can be rational and think critically, just as a scientist can be creative, and choose not to think critically.


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