Abstract faces

What does a creative thinker look like?

Many people tell me that they are not creative. They typically divide the world into two groups: those who they see as creative arty types, and the rest who, like themselves, have to make money and be responsible. Yet creative thinkers are now in more demand than ever in business, science, education and government, as innovators, problem-solvers, and as leaders who can inspire and enable change. It’s time to ditch those outdated stereotypes of arty creatives.

Here, PermissionToPlay’s Kevin Mann gives his perspective on how to spot and encourage creative thinkers.

Kevin Mann

If you think someone who is not ‘arty’ is not creative, think again. Everyone has the potential for creativity. Problem-solving is an inherent part of everyday life, from writing up a grocery list to making investment decisions or choosing your newest recruit. And problem solving is the essential nature of creativity. Recognising that is the first step to seeing what creative thinkers look like, how to recruit them, and how to cultivate them.


Here are a few ways to spot and nurture the innovators your business needs.

Person looking at infinite reflections in mirror

Look inwards

You might be analytical and considered, or a daydreamer who relishes new experiences, or even all of the above, but more than anything you are creative. These and many other personality traits underpin what enables us to innovate. To neglect your own creativity is to miss out on one of the best investments of your life. Every breakthrough in science, medicine, technology, and business is fuelled by creative processes.


Acknowledging and encouraging your own creativity allows your mind to think about things in new ways. By allocating time to challenge your mind, play cognitive games, or engage in discourse with people whose opinions are contrary to your own, you increase the number of connections in your brain and receive neurochemical rewards for success. When you engage in these kinds of activities, you don’t seek out any particular outcome, so every outcome you arrive at has the potential to expand your mind and change the world.


Creative thinkers are abundant, but it is difficult to notice them if you fail to notice the creative thinker within yourself.

Young Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein
Young drop-outs Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein

Take your blinkers off

Steve Jobs was a college dropout who backpacked through India, gaining insight from sources many businesses don’t even have on their radar. Even Albert Einstein dropped out of school at fifteen, but no one today would contest the brilliance of his mind and the lasting impact he has had upon the world.


When looking for new employees, it is natural to narrow your focus to a very specific set of skills. While it is important to consider candidates’ qualifications and sector experience, it is vital not to blinker your scope too much. Keep an eye out for the unusual and the different in prospective candidates’ backgrounds.


Shinkansen bullet train

Shinkansen bullet train

Japan’s bullet trains owe their distinctive streamlined and quieter form to an engineer’s love of birds. Eiji Nakatsu turned to the kingfisher’s bill to solve the 300 km/h Shinkansen trains loud shockwave in tunnels known as “tunnel boom.”


Expanding your scope doesn’t have to mean interviewing every Jack and Sally who wanders in off the street. Change up your interviews; ask questions that give people a chance to open up about more than just their job skills. Keep your standards for what they know, but re-evaluate how you uncover their potential to think innovatively and solve problems.


Creative thinking comes from variety of experiences and knowledge. Look for people that widen your team’s knowledge bank rather than copies it.

Relaxed office environment

Create free-thinking space

While there are benefits to dressing professionally, adhering to strict 9-5 schedules, and running meetings in a structured manner, certain elements of traditional workplaces stifle creativity.


Think back to your school days: what class did you hate the most? You may have said maths or physics, maybe English. But what specifically did you hate? Just as poor educators present interesting material in boring uninspiring ways, so businesses with great innovation potential stifle imagination, collaboration and curiosity.


Innovation requires a level of independence where employees feel they have the space to solve problems and then have a voice to share these problems, challenges and solutions.


Enable a culture of innovation by designing more variety into your workspace; creativity will soon shine through. Let different people run meetings; allow for discussion; encourage socialising among co-workers. Building relationships with the people you work with keeps your minds engaged with one another in less stressful environments, which boosts productivity, decreases anxiety, and fosters collaborative creative thinking.

Three people talking in street

Final thoughts

Finding creative thinkers is not as hard as it may seem. The best way to start is by looking in the mirror. As you encourage your own ability to think creatively, you will find yourself engaged with the creativity in those around you. Changes to your workplace that free creativity through less restrictive environments will benefit you as much as your prospective employees.


The next time you encounter a problem and can’t think up a solution, have a little faith, relax, and listen. The solution, or the person who knows the solution, is likely right in front of you.


PermissionToPlay delivers creative thinking training that helps teams gain the skills, mindsets and confidence to solve problems differently, generate original ideas more quickly, and build a culture where innovation can flourish.


If you would like to find out more about how our creative training packages can benefit your business, contact us today or call us on +44 330 311 0034.


Kevin Mann

A self-confessed creativity buff, Kevin helps teams acquire the skills and confidence to be highly inventive by delving into the creative thinking methods and techniques of today’s leading innovators. Previously, he was a marketing director and strategist with over 20 years’ experience supporting organisations going through major change, from start-ups to large mergers and break-ups. He has worked across diverse sectors, from financial services and tech to charities.

A more playful business is a more adaptable business