Delivering a creative thinking workshop, I was eavesdropping on conversations at five tables full of attendees. I gave each table a specific focus for identifying new ideas. One group was starting to use one of our creative thinking exercises. As they began, one participant apologized for suggesting an idea that he introduced by saying, "This doesn't fit the question, but here's an idea."

I was startled, but his statement is actually common.

Even though creative thinking exercises and strategy questions are intended to help people approach familiar situations in new ways, they can easily become new boundaries to constrain thinking. This happens when people become so focused on answering ONLY the targeted creative thinking question that they self-censor any ideas not directly addressing the question. When this takes happens, creative thinking exercises becomes just that many more boxes to shut down ideas that are off the beaten path.


As I explained to the group (and will explain to future workshop groups), creative thinking questions and strategic thinking exercises are simply starting points to launch new ideas. They should inspire, not limit thinking. Someone in a creative thinking group should not have to justify a new idea that doesn't answer a specific question. Likewise, another group member shouldn't use a creative thinking question as a club to beat down a new idea because it appears off track relative to what a group is addressing that minute.

With all the roadblocks to new thinking that float around us all the time, the last thing that should ever happen is for a creative thinking question to be used as one more “NO” to new ideas.

Creative thinking questions should inspire great thinking, not conspire to box it in and limit it.

Make sure to use them for good, not evil! – Mike Brown

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