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November 01, 2015 Sunday 05:31:00 PM IST

Hone your fluent thinking skills

Creative Living

Effortlessly flow a river from the hilltop to the valley. It gently responds to the inherent gravity pulls and exhibits mesmerizing spontaneity as they fall. A joyous experience to an onlooker! So is a person gushing out incessant stream of powerful thoughts! People love to listen to such speakers with awe and reverence. Great artists, philosophers, statesmen, and all creative thinkers repeated the same feat in the past. The prolific ideas and fluent thoughts characterized them as a class.


As a teacher, I have observed many so called “dull” students. Let free, they love to occupy the last benches – the so called “last benchers”. They pay attention to you with great difficulty and often under coercion. They get easily distracted. However, at times they may surprise you with their stunningly creative ideas! They are damn creative! Their eyes glitter in response to your creative suggestions. These “back benchers” are often found successful in the life-after-school. They stand the test of time. Being baptized in fire of failures, they do not wither away in the scorching sun of life. I have seen many of them becoming entrepreneurs contributing significantly towards the welfare of the society. They become highly successful in business, the arts, science, education, politics, and more. They even contribute much better than those intelligent “front benchers”, who often end up with lacklustre careers!


This warrants careful distinction between two types of intelligence: ordinary intelligence and creative intelligence. Ordinary intelligence is something that could be measured using intelligence quotient (IQ). It signifies the power of your brain to think clearly and distinctly. The output of ordinary intelligence is logical conclusions, the right answers, and well-founded inferences. Creative intelligence rather posits large number of creative options. Ordinary intelligence and creative intelligence are two sides of the same coin, called success in life.


It was Joy Paul Guilford (1897-1987) who first distinguished between two forms of thinking: Divergent and convergent (J.P. Guilford, “Traits of creativity” in H.H. Anderson (ed.), Creativity and its Cultivation, Harper, 1959, pp 142-61). Divergent thinking “diverges” in that it is not linear. It is rather lateral, not directed to the only best solution. It seeks multiple viable solutions. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, seeks the logical solution, which is at the same time the “best answer”. True intelligence is “multiple-intelligence”, equipped for both convergent and divergent thinking.


Therefore, high intelligence quotient (IQ) may not suffice to ensure success in life. It is not sufficient when it comes to creative contributions, which usually benchmarks successful lives. We need to develop high values of creative intelligence quotient, to ensure successful career and entrepreneurship.


It is high time that we train the new generation students in creative thinking too, to ensure that they are successful in their globalized work place. They should imbibe the principles of creative thinking along with the logical thinking.


The popular assignment of logical thinking to the left hemisphere of the brain and creative thinking to the right hemisphere may not be accurate. However, students should learn to integrate both the logical and creative functions of their brain. Education is complete only if we equip students for creative contributions.


How to measure creative thinking skills?


There are many standard methods of measuring intelligence quotient (IQ) of an individual. One may wonder how we could ever measure creative thinking skills. There are, in fact, many attempts in this regard from the part of educational psychology.


It was J.P. Guilford, who gave one of the first schemes for measuring creative thinking skills. He suggested that creative thinking could be measured based on the scales of fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration. He developed a “gold standard” for estimating creative thinking skills based on them.


Dr. Ellis Paul Torrance (1915 – 2003) built on Guilford’s research, gave suitable modifications and popularized this method of measuring creative thinking skills. It was later on known as Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). Many consider E.P. Torrance as the “father of creativity research” because of this widely accepted measure of creativity made popular in his name.


The very first measure of creative thinking skills in both these schemes is but “fluency of thinking”. Both Guilford and Torrance consider fluent thinking as a stepping stone to creativity. Those who master the skill of fluent thinking, according to them, will be naturally initiated to creative thinking, creative problem solving, creative decision making, and to creative living. Equipped with fluent thinking, a student may undertake creative assignments; an adult may develop a piece of art or write a book; a parent may identify alternate ways of executing a boring task; a home-maker may become resourceful to rightly choose vacation programs for children. Fluent thinking skills can change the locus of your life for better.


Fluent Thinking Skills


Fluency of thinking, according to Torrance, consists in generating great number of ideas and alternate solutions to a given problem. Quantity of ideas, not their quality, is the primary concern of the first phase of creative thinking. Ideas should flow freely and quickly. They should occur fluently and in plenty. This is just the steppingstone to skills of creative thinking. The quality of the ideas generated is simply unimportant at this juncture.


Fluent thinking can be distinguished from the so called “brain storming”. Thinking fluently requires that one think about related topics. It is a correlated thinking. On the other hand, in brain-storming ideas pop up just like a popping corn in a popcorn machine. Unrelated ideas pop up during a brain-storming session. In a fluent-thinking session, on the other hand, related ideas emerge. It is more comparable to a stream flowing incessantly from the top of a hill. It gushes out and flows down as an incessant torrent. It coordinates different elements of truth, and makes it a whole. Fluent thinkers often access their long-term memory and get in touch with their foundational life experience. This allows them to present a total picture of things in many facets. Thinking fluently is more or less an individual activity, which may be at times done in a group. On the other hand, brain-storming is primarily a group activity, which is at times done at individual level. Free and effortless flow of related ideas characterizes fluent thinking; whereas diversity of ideas determines success of a brain-storming session.


In order to develop the skill of fluent thinking, one should learn the skills to compare, convert, invert, associate, adapt, define, illustrate, explain, identify, label, list, match, outline, paraphrase, predict, summarize, etc. the ideas at hand. It requires much more intellectual prowess, much more than just memorizing ideas as in rote learning. Higher order learning skills are the necessary pre-requisite of fluent thinking.


Fluency of thinking can express itself in many different ways: Word fluency consists in the ability to use larger vocabulary of words to express precisely what one want to describe; associational fluency consists in fluently using synonyms for a given word; expressional fluency consists in easily writing well-formed sentences with a specified content; ideational/imaginational fluency consists in easily developing concepts to meet the challenges of a given task.


How to develop fluent thinking skills?


The fascinating aspect of the fluent thinking skills is that they can be honed. With adequate practice one could systematically open up to the world of creative thinking. Given below are some exercises that would help students to train in fluent thinking skills:


• List different things that share a common property. E.g. Red Colour: Blood, Red Sea, Chinese flag, setting sun, Apple, etc.


• Categorize things into groups: E.g. List food items corresponding to all letters of the English alphabet.


• Pool different types of things sharing similar names: E.g. Round table, Water table, Table of contents, Table land, etc.

• Learn the art of comparison: E.g. A book is like a machine gun, it shoots out ideas.


• Exercise conversion techniques: E.g. Convert a “Lion” into “Dear”: Lion-Loir-Liar-Lear-Dear.


• Invert words to generate different meaning. E.g. A word could become a Sword if you add your “Yes” in front of it.


• Associate an idea with another one to bring about a different sense. E.g. World is round, when it is surrounded.


• Adapt an idea to communicate different senses. E.g. Sky is blue-Sky looks blue- Sky appears blue.


• Define a common thing in numerous ways. E.g. To smile is a way to show your appreciation to somebody; To smile is to move your muscles in a coordinated way so as to please others; To smile is your “yes” to go extra-mile; To smile is to smell nitrous oxide; To smile is to imitate Monalisa.


• Illustrate things differently: It rains clouds weep; It rains as the cloud chuckles; It rains as the clouds pisses; It rains as the cloud wellspring, etc.


• Explain things differently. E.g. Explain different ways to touch your nose with your right hand.


• Label same thing differently. E.g. Give different captions to the same photo.


• Match one thing to many other things to produce different senses.


• Outline the same event to evoke different feelings in the hearers.


• Narrate the same story differently so as to bring them to different climaxes.


• Emulate a well-known rhyme with different melody.


• Predict different outcomes for the same course of action.


• Summarize a text in many different ways


• Write a poem in different physical formats.


In all these exercises, make sure that you allow your ideas to flow freely. Do not allow your inhibitions to obstruct that flow. It is your inner freedom that counts, which will be reflected in your fluent thinking. If your mind is sufficiently free, your thoughts will follow your mind. It makes you creative. Your inhibitions, on the other hand, will chock your ideas. Inner freedom is the true locus of both fluent thinking and creativity.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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