What Kind of Creative Thinker Are You?

What kind of creative thinker are you?

If that strikes you as an odd question, it stems from my belief that we all have the capacity to creative!  In fact, “creativity for all” is the underlying the message of my TEDx talk, Cracking the Code on Creativity:  The Secret to Full-Blast Living.

Moreover, there are many different ways to be a creative. In fact,  there are four different types of creative thinkers!  When each member of a team knows what kind of creative thinker they are and contributes to the team’s problem-solving process, the team is more likely to produce successful solutions to complex problems. That’s because successful teams know how to leverage the different types of creative thinking.

Knowing about the different types of creative thinkers was one of the top takeaways from my recent talk on Igniting Your Creativity At Work to the Women in Travel group at the international travel company, Travel + Leisure Co.  It’s also one of the ways that students in my Creativity, Innovation, Collaboration class at Yale University are able to design, develop and implement innovative projects

Let’s explore this topic together so that you can discover what kind of creative thinker you are.

What is Creativity?

For starters, we need to debunk a few of the myths surrounding creativity.

Creativity is much more than an elusive quality that is the province of artists.  Rather, creativity is a highly-valued skill set that drives a significant portion of the global economy. Indeed, the IBM survey of global CEOs reveals that creativity is the #1 skillset for navigating the uncertainties of the global economy.  And the World Economic Forum ranks creativity as the third most important skill for the future of work.

Here is my definition of creativity:

Creativity is problem-solving plus passion.

The Creative Thinking Skillset

Creativity encompasses a mindset: open to new ideas, flexible, able to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty, pushing beyond the obvious solutions. It is also a skill set that one can cultivate.  In fact, in my class at Yale, I teach two frameworks that enhance one’s creativity and ability to generate innovative solutions.

One framework is Design Thinking, the human-centered design process that is taught at Stanford University’s d. school.  The other framework is Creativity Problem-Solving (“CPS”).  CPS originated with advertising executive Alex Osborn in the 1940’s and has been taught at SUNY Buffalo’s International Centre for Studies in Creativity since the 1950s.

Both of these frameworks follow a process for tackling problems for which there are no obvious answers in order to come up with innovative solutions.  Here’s how my students applied these frameworks in last fall’s virtual class to generate four innovative solutions to the problem of how to keep classical music alive and relevant in the time of COVID.

Types of Creative Thinkers

Many people associate creative thinking with brainstorming, i.e., the process of generating lots of wild, crazy ideas.  But there is a lot more to creative thinking than brainstorming!

One helpful model of the different types of creative thinking is The FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile.  This model was developed by Dr. Gerard Puccio, a professor at SUNY Buffalo’s International Center for Studies in Creativity.  It presents four different ways to manifest your creative thinking that correspond to the four big areas of CPS.

Read through each one to see what type of creative thinker you are!

Clarifier:  Let’s frame the right problem!

Clarifiers are the members of the team who make sure that you are solving the right problem.  In fact, Einstein is famously credited with saying that if he had one hour to solve the world’s most pressing problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes coming up with the solution!  Thus, clarifiers

  • ask questions and dig into details
  • identify areas that have not been well thought out
  • research the context and background so that they can understand the exact nature of the problem to be solved.

Clarifiers make sure that the team does not jump prematurely into a solution that ultimately will not work.  Sometimes, they get bogged down in the details. However, clarifiers can overcome these tendencies by getting comfortable with ambiguity and learning when to let go.

Here’s an example of how my students approach clarifying

Ideator:  Let’s have fun with new ideas!

Ideators thrive on coming up with lots of new ideas, no matter how wild or crazy. They tend to focus on the big picture and are not concerned with details


  • see the big picture
  • love generating new ideas,
  • thrive on variety and are flexible thinkers who see many possible solutions.

Their wonderful imaginations contribute a sense of fun to a project.  At times, ideators might overwhelm their team mates who want to move on to a viable solution.  However, ideators can learn to slow down and channel their energy to finding the best ideas to develop.

Ideation can take many different forms.  Here are three examples of brainstorming sessions that helped my students generate ideas for potential solutions.

Developer:  Let’s make this better!

Developers focus on crafting the best solution to a problem.  They will take an idea from the ideation phase and look for the ideal solution.

Developers like to:

  • have time to develop and improve ideas
  • assess potential solutions to examine their pluses and minuses
  • plan and break down the necessary steps for implementation.

Developers make sure that the team’s solution will actually work.  In their quest for the perfect solution, they may get bogged down.  However, they can observe the value of implementation and learn how to move on.

Developers solicit feedback from numerous sources in optimizing their solutions.  See how my students improved their projects in the development phase.

Implementer:  Let’s do it!

Implementers are energized by action and tangible outcomes.  They will take a solution and figure out what needs to be done to achieve the desired result. They find allies who will help with implementation. They also figure out how to overcome roadblocks to successful implementation.

Implementers are good at

  • making decisions
  • selling ideas
  • being where the action is.

Implementers may rush to get to the finishing line and can learn the value of slowing down to incorporate the ideas of their fellow collaborators.  You can read how creative my students were in implementing their projects.

One more type of creative thinker:  Integrator

What if you relate to all four types of creative thinkers?  You may be an “integrator”!  That means you are able to use qualities from all four areas when you set out to solve a complex problem. Thanks to their flexibility, integrators are excellent team members who can work with any of the four thinking styles.  In fact, integrators often focus on the team’s dynamics and may not share their own ideas.  To overcome this tendency, they can learn to feel comfortable making their own decisions and contributing to the team’s process.

Bottom Line: What type of creative thinker are you?

Of course, these are general tendencies! You probably have characteristics in more than one area.   After reading these descriptions, which type or types of creative thinking resonate with you?

Once you understand your unique way of being creative, see where you can make the biggest contribution to your team. Moreover, by knowing about the different styles of creative thinkers, you can appreciate the value of all four styles.  And finally, as my students at Yale have learned, see how your team can leverage each style and empower all members of the team to contribute what they do best.