How do I think creatively?

How do we think both Creatively and Critically without tripping over ourselves? It’s so common to be to critical to start or have no “good” ideas. Let’s take a look at the brains that drive how you think and solve problems.

The Right and Left Brain

Recently, I’ve been leading meetings that need to involve both the Creative (Right Brain) and the Critical (Left Brain).

The Right Brain is amazing at coming up with novel ideas, exploring the unknown, seeing things in new ways, and much, much more. In contrast to that, the Left Brain is amazing at constraining ideas to what is known, limiting risk, calculating knowable factors, and overall: putting a stop to creativity.

Your Thinking Systems Diagram

Decomposition Meetings (or Decomp)

For meetings like a Decomposition Meeting (a meeting where work is broken down into manageable pieces to ensure value is delivered to customers earlier than later), the Critical Left Brain is the necessary and primary Brain leading the charge. However, teams can fall into trying to create solutions or iterate on what hasn’t even been built yet. It’s fun to see something, find an issue and fix it before it even gets built… right?? The truth is: while this is a “helpful” way to think, this can be detrimental to breaking down the work and making it actionable.

The more effective approach is to ship it with the lower fidelity earlier and iterate on it after you’ve provided a base level of value to customers. So, for a Decomp, we need to keep ourselves primarily Left-brained. How can we do that? 🤔


Ideation is another meeting that healthy Product Teams pracice where the team hears a Problem Statement before the meeting and comes with ideas. In the meeting, ideas are presented and the team can “Yes, and…” those ideas into other ideas as well.

Next, the team will draw up a Story Map for how it fits into their current product for each idea. Then they will name assumptions around each idea, basically critically tearing it apart and calling out all of the things that ”might could” go wrong.

This meeting is a great example of how a team will need to start with a primarily Right-brained approach and then be able to shift to Left-brained and back again throughout the meeting.

The Brain Switching Problem

This can be very cumbersome! It’s easy to have someone jump into an idea or iteration or “What if?” only to be metaphorically smacked in the face for having an hair-brained idea (so, not right- or left-brained? 😜).

The same happens in reverse as well, where someone is thinking Left-brained and another stops them in the middle with new ideas. This can be frustrating because now, their risks that they named feel invalidated and they feel that they need to be even better at being critical, which can lead to anger and confusion for everyone.

Oh dear, so what do we do?

  1. Have the conversation with your team about the Right and Left Brain and it’s impact on your meetings.
  2. Identify to your team when you are entering Creative thinking or Critical thinking.
  3. If you are still experiencing issues, here are some more advanced tactics that you can employ to guide people to using the correct side of their brain.

Tactics to Engage the Right Brain

  • Say “Imagine a world where…”, “What if there were no…”, “What if we could change anything…”
  • Draw an idea with only pictures
  • Play some music

    • Perhaps someone’s favorite song
    • Perhaps just in the background
  • Tactile things that they can hold/feel to engage the senses

Tactics to Engage the Left Brain

  • Ask a few riddles
  • Talk through an idea that has been drawn
  • Talk about metrics or math
  • Think about statistical significance
  • Ask questions

    • “What could possibly go wrong with this…”
    • “What are the risks you see here?”
    • “Are we thinking small enough, can this be broken down?”
    • “Ooh, that’s a good idea! What problem does that solve?”

Josh Friend

A.D. of Software Engineering at Ramsey Solutions. I build mostly using Ruby on Rails, React, Laravel, and Kotlin/Spring Boot. I always wanted to be an inventor when I grew up, so now I enjoy providing simple, intuitive solutions to complex problems.

Nashville, Tennessee

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