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Creativity Module 11:

Enhancing Flexibility

Introducing an Idea

Background Information:

Flexibility is defined here as generating many categories of ideas. For example, categories might involve color, thickness of blocks, shape, tree, toy, articles of clothing, etc. The category color might contain objects that are red, blue, green, etc.; the category tree (pine, oak, walnut, etc.); toys (truck, ball, doll, etc.) and so forth. This definition is distinguished from thinking flexibly, also called cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to shift gears, see things in more than one way. A flexible thinker would be able to think about one thing in multiple different ways. An inflexible thinker would be thinking about things in one way and not having an open mind to other thoughts or opinions. But it is important to be aware of this distinction in definition; creativity related flexibility relates to generating different categories of something



Good Bad Interesting (GBI)

Creative thinking involves considering your central theme, idea or challenge, and thinking about what's good about it, what's bad about it, and what's interesting about it. Generate as many examples of each as you can think of but try to be fairly equal about it. Too much of one or another demonstrates bias in your thinking. This is not about finding the 'right' answer. It's about looking at all the possible interpretations of an idea.Most people react to a new idea by either liking or disliking it. The Good Bad Interesting exercise forces creative thinking to generate multiple perspectives on an idea. It shows that ideas can be seen as good, as bad or as interesting, depending on the particular frame of mind you are coming from. Any idea can be looked at in a different way by reframing it. The idea changes in the mind of a person depending on how they are looking at it. This is important to remember in all interactions among people with opposing view points as they generate different categories of ideas.

How are they alike?

The “How are they alike?” activity enhances flexibility, generating numerous categories. Using the list: orange, apple, banana, potato, rock, water, air, Ask how an orange and an apple are alike? They are both fruit (nominal category). They both grow on trees (intrinsic functional category-what they do). They are round (perceptible category). You can eat them both (extrinsic functional category-what you do to them). How are an orange, apple, and banana alike? Keep adding an object. Commonalities change as you add more objects and the commonality becomes more abstract.

In a study by Denney(1975) categories changed as a function of normal and intellectually challenged youngsters matched for mental ages ranging from 5 to 11 years. The normal range youngsters used nominal and functional concepts as opposed to perceptible concepts when asked to pair pictures of objects. Interestingly, Reisman (personal unpublished investigation) when clinically diagnosing mathematically gifted and challenged first through third graders, found that adhering to Bruner’s developmental theory of representing curriculum (enactive or concrete, iconic or picture, and symbols levels) led to differentiated results. The younger students could compare more objects at the enactive level (e.g., handling an apple and an orange) than at the more abstract levels (e.g., pictures or words).

Absence thinking.

This technique relies on the fact that we are very good at seeing what is there, but not at all good at seeing what is not there. Absence Thinking compensates for this by deliberately forcing us to notice things not usually apparent. For example, watch people and notice what they do not do. Make lists of things to remember that you normally forget. In other words, deliberately and carefully think about what is absent. This activity is helpful when you are stuck and unable to shift thinking to some other approach. It is analogous to the importance of negative space to artists—especially in sculptures.

Rearrange words. State the essence of the problem in 2 words.


Ex: “cherry picking” instead of “how can we improve the method of picking cherries?”


i.Split the problem into 2 words e.g., cherry and picking.

ii.Split this result into additional attributes e.g., cherry = delicate, crushable; picking = remove, transport

iii.Continue splitting attributes e.g., delicate = damaged, blemished; transport = ship, remove

iv.Examine each attribute for ideas.

v.Rearrangethe attributes.e.g., remove damaged


This activity forces increasing categories of attributes to emerge.



Observe and discuss with colleagues results of this module activities.

Upon completing one of the module’s activities with a group of learners, have them write a short reflection statement for the instructor who will abstract themes from the statements and share them with the group with the goal of enhancing their understanding of creativity flexibility.

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