Have you ever wondered, “Where does all the content I consume reside in my brain?” or “Why do I recall some things more easily than others?” Sometimes, my brain feels like a well-organized library, and at other times, it’s like the top shelf of a cupboard just out of reach without a little help.

Throughout my career, I’ve been able to work with self-proclaimed visionaries, c-suite leaders, strategists, and creatives. In conversation when they unveiled a profound strategy or insight about a consumer or business problem during a meeting, I’d double-click into those brief moments of intellectual ability. “What superpower did they just use or unlock?” I’d sit and wonder as some ‘landed their planes,’ paving the runway in real-time. To me, thoughts that build towards a Big Idea (ideas with legs) have their own book of creativity.

What I’ve learned is that their skill is rooted in the art of provocations and assertions, as Seth Godin would describe. These are the questions and practices that ignite our minds. Without them, we risk stagnation or perpetuating the status quo. More critically, our default state—snap judgments on the merits of a situation or idea at face value—dominates much of our behavior to maintain our internal safety mechanisms. This unconscious bias, a defense tactic of our reptilian brain, activates automatically with new stimuli. However, two methods can be used as a creative practice to help focus the 34 gigabytes of data we consume daily into novelty: Lateral Thinking and a “Six Thinking Hats” approach, both coined by Edward de Bono.

Forms of Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking, a term introduced by Edward de Bono in 1967, challenges us to develop original answers to complex questions. It’s about adopting a fresh, creative perspective rather than following traditional, logical steps. This indirect approach to problem-solving encourages thinking outside the box and generating innovative solutions.

Consider a small word study that pulls from our lexicon of creativity as a method to give motion and flow to lateral thinking:

  • Exaggeration: Represents something as better or worse than it really is.
  • Reframe: Expresses words, a concept, or a plan differently.
  • Reversal: Indicates a change to an opposite direction, position, or course of action.
  • Distortion: Alters the form of something during transmission, amplification, or other processing.
  • Pivot: In a business context, completely changes the way something is done.
  • Provocation: Tests to elicit a particular response or reflex.

The takeaway? Creativity, like physical fitness, requires regular exercise. Engaging some of these words in your creative practice can help lead to better outcomes and original solutions.

An Introduction to “Six Thinking Hats”

This method involves six distinct types of thinking, each represented by a different colored hat, focusing on a specific aspect or approach to a problem:

  • White Hat: Focuses on information and data, considering available facts and what needs to be learned.
  • Red Hat: Symbolizes feelings, hunches, and intuition, allowing individuals to share emotions without justification.
  • Black Hat: Represents caution and critical judgment, identifying potential barriers, weaknesses, or risks.
  • Yellow Hat: Signifies optimism and positive thinking, encouraging the search for benefits and value.
  • Green Hat: Denotes creativity and new ideas, seeking alternatives and proposing innovative solutions.
  • Blue Hat: Stands for control and organization, managing the thinking process and summarizing thoughts.

The takeaway? Try putting on one of these mental hats to break the judgment habit. Be aware of the natural tendency to judge ideas (or people) prematurely. Actively find ways in the spaces you contribute to create a more open-ended approach where provocative questions and assertions are welcomed.