The essence of creativity lies in associative thinking


The essence of  the the term “creativity” – as coined by modern day educators and business professionals – lies in associative thinking.

The word “intelligent” would probably have popped up in your mind when you read the first sentence of this blog post. Because this is what was advocated by mainstream media – creativity = intelligence

Creativity IS intelligence.

But few figure out the supporting pillars buttressing creativity.

What is creativity?

Few people, even till today, can answer that.

Some might define creativity as having the power to create.

But what is created? Is it something entirely new? Or is it something that is, well, simply refined and modified? Either way, how does one arrive at one’s creation?

It’s through associative thinking.

But what exactly is that?

It’s the ability to draw associations (hence the term) and patterns across elements.

Sounds abstract? I feel the same way previously too.

So, let’s now use a few examples to illustrate this:

1. Association by memory: For example,you see a giraffe which reminds you of a scene in a movie which you have watched previously where a giraffe was attacked by an aggressive lion. Now when you put a giraffe and lion together, what do you get? A prey and a predator. So, what role can a prey and predator do in a stage play? Say, in a script which you are writing? Well, the villain in the play can be a carnivorous killer who hunts animals for fun, while the heroine is a vegetarian who resists all temptations to eat meat. And they were a couple at the start of the story, which is an interesting start to a story or a musical, wouldn’t you say? And this idea arises because of your first visual of a giraffe which in turn triggered one of your particular memory.

2. Association by colour: It has been reported in an article that orange is one of the most underutilised colours in advertising. However, orange is a unique blend of colour between red and yellow. Being a child of two of the most vibrant colours in the entire colour spectrum,  wouldn’t orange inherit the strengths of its parents? Orange, moreover, stands for sociability and warmth. So, it would be great to associate its use in file folders for business proposals, attire, footwear and headgear to facilitate communication. Maybe orange is not a great colour to boost sales? But surely it boosts communication? And aren’t sales about interpersonal communications?  If orange can be linked to sociability, why not sales and business? And if it’s associated to sales and business, why not advertisement? Sounds confusing? Associative thinking can be complex at times. But when mastered, it is omnipotent.

3. Association by  ideas: Say, a teacher may be discussing the disadvantages of “over-preparing” with a student, where the latter does not understand. The teacher, then has to think of various scenarios where over-preparing backfires. Hence, one has to link the term to various contexts whereby the term is applicable.  Students often have problems doing this, especially for their discursive, expository and argumentative essays – as well as for the conversation components of their oral exams. Besides explaining the meaning of the word to students, an educator can encourage them to relate the word to their daily life and experiences, as well as what they have read or heard about. This is one form of learning through self-reflective and associative thinking. Due to some students’ lack of reading or knowledge, they have to be guided closely in the initial phases for this teaching technique to work. However, once mastered, the students would have found and developed a tool that they can use for life, even as conversation starters.

4. Association by patterns: Using associative thinking, one can do many things – including streamlining of processes. News curation is one such creation. How does it work? Just look at and see for yourself (I am a news curator myself and my website where I curate news on global trends and happenings can be found here). Members of the website are able to form a webpage whereby they are able to source news from various channels into one or several portals of their own. This is especially useful for teachers who like to source news for students, as well as individuals who have interests in various areas, such as psychology or business. On the part of the user, curating news rather than creating them saves them time. Moreover, not everyone can be great news content providers, not only because we have limited outreach (unlike news wire agencies) but also the fact that we lack the resources required for credibility (such as the necessary statistics or surveys undertaken by researchers). Hence, leveraging on news websites while specialising on one’s own preferred topics is great.  On the part of the readers, they can find websites that cater to their specific interest and niches, and this type of specialisation is something that mainstream media does not provide.

I have also shown 4 techniques of associative thinking, although there are numerous other ways that couldn’t be covered in a single blog post. Nevertheless, these 4 techniques should be more than sufficient for one to embark on the journey towards developing their creativity.

P.S.: For some of the memorable quotes on creativity, here it is.

3 thoughts on “The essence of creativity lies in associative thinking

  1. Associative memory is involved in, heuristic (intuitive), pre-analytic thinking, where time/space distance information are united, in order, to form a novel (not existent/hypothetical) set. Analysis, which follows, evaluates this linearized set for deeper structure – to form an abstract idea. Creativity is related to broad activation through associative/heuristic networks, allowing seemingly unrelated information to be related. It is also related to psychological construal (construal level theory).


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