The Secret About Creative Thinking

The Secret About Creative Thinking

Written by: Tim Hurson

To be creative you have to be able to think creatively. Creativity is a deliberate human activity. The word deliberate means fully considered, and that implies thought. That applies whether you are painting a picture, solving a family problem, inventing a new product, devising a marketing plan, conducting an orchestra, or conducting a sales meeting. All these things can be done un-creatively, but all of them usually produce better results when you take advantage of your ability to think creatively. 

But there’s a dirty little secret about thinking, and particularly creative thinking: 

Most people don’t know what they’re doing when they think. That may seem counter-intuitive, given that we think almost all our waking lives (and much of our sleeping ones), but it’s true. Here’s a thought experiment to show you what I mean. 

If I were to say to you, “On the count of three, I want you to think. Ready? One. Two. Three. Now, think,” what would you actually start to do? What would it look like? What would it feel like? How would you even know you’re doing it? How would you describe it? 

Chances are you couldn’t. And if I followed up by saying, “Now, think harder,” what would you do then? Would you furrow your brow? Would you try to think about more things in less time? How would you actually think harder? 

Finally, if I said, “Now, think more creatively,” what would happen in your brain that was different from before? Again, most people wouldn’t have a clue.

We talk about thinking all the time: 

  • “I think it’s time we moved to another subject.” 
  • “What do you think about this idea?”  
  • “Let’s think it through.” 
  • •“I think I’ll skip dessert.”
  • “I can’t think with all this distraction.” 

But what are we actually saying? What do we really know about thinking—especially deliberate thinking? 

Here’s the problem (you have it, I have it, we all have it): All of us have an unconscious assumption that we just naturally think as well as we can. 

Everyone thinks they think as well as they can. 

How about you? Don’t you assume that you think as well as you can? That your brainpower is more or less a given? That if you’re lucky, you have a good brain that can think pretty well, and that those who are less fortunate have brains that simply can’t? 

I have an acquaintance. She’s a snooty Creative Director at an ad agency. When I asked her if she thought people could learn to think more creatively, she said: “Either you have it, or you don’t.” 

But that’s nonsense. 

Let’s take another look at that statement, “Everyone thinks they think as well as they can.” 

Very few people would substitute any other human activity for the word “thinks”. 

Would anyone say, “Everyone golfs as well as they can?” or “Everyone cooks as well as they can?” or “Everyone plays the violin as well as they can?” 

Only the most naive person would hold such an opinion. Most of us know that with some training, some coaching, and lots of practice, almost anyone can develop their skills. No matter what their starting points, anyone can learn to play golf better, or cook better, or play the violin better. 

So why wouldn’t it be possible to learn to think better? We all know it would be pointless to prepare for a marathon by randomly flailing your arms and legs about in the hope you’d condition yourself to complete a 26 mile race, and yet when challenged to think more creatively, many people do the mental equivalent of flailing about in the hope they’ll magically become more creative. 

But thinking isn’t magic. Thinking is a skill. It’s not a gift given only to a select few (like my art director acquaintance). Sure, some people may be endowed with more potential than others, just as some people have genes for more strength or better teeth. But no matter what your starting point, you can learn to think better—with some training, some coaching, and some practice. 

So the real dirty little secret about thinking is: 

Everyone thinks they think as well as they can. But everyone can learn to think better. 

The truth is there are simple, straightforward ways you can develop your creative thinking skills and train yourself to think better. 

Many of the skills are obvious. You may even be tempted to say, “Is that all?” And the answer is partly yes, partly no. The skills are easy to define and understand. But habits are powerful things, and your habitual thinking patterns, most of which are not creative (sorry about that, but you are human, and we’re all in the same boat), will take perseverance and self-awareness to break. 

Think of it as a kind of bloodless brain surgery. You’ll have to start rewiring your brain to fire a little differently, but it won’t be painful. In fact, most people I’ve worked with find it fun. 

Related: 'Tis The Season for Fixing Problems

Just so you don’t go away empty handed (empty minded?), here’s a tip you can start using right away to help you develop your creative thinking capacity: take notes. I warned you some of these would sound simple, but taking notes is one of the most powerful ways to develop your creative thinking abilities. Think about it. How many times have you had the world’s greatest idea and then forgotten it five minutes later? Haven’t you often wished you’d taken a moment to jot it down? And taking notes can do even more than just help you preserve those flashes of brilliance. The simple process of writing down thoughts and observations has an astonishingly powerful psychological effect. It takes advantage of the basic psychological principle that you get more of what you reinforce. 

By writing down your thoughts, you’re reinforcing having them. And by doing that, you’ll actually start generating more ideas. 

The more you write down your ideas, the more ideas you’ll have to write down. 

Don’t take my word for it. Test it out for yourself. Buy a small notebook, stick it in your pocket, and every time you see or think something you want to remember, note it down. In a very short time, you’ll discover you have far more ideas—and far better ideas—than ever before. It’s kind of like having a second brain.


Elinor Stutz
Sales Strategy
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Elinor Stutz, CEO of Smooth Sale, delivers inspirational keynotes at conferences. She authored three books:  The International Best-Selling book, "Nice Girls DO Get The S ... Click for full bio

An Emerging Theme In Thematic Investing

An Emerging Theme In Thematic Investing

Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are popular vehicles for market participants looking to engage in thematic investing. Thematic investing looks to take advantage of future growth trends, including disruptive technologies. Given that forward-looking approach, stock-picking in the thematic universe is equally as hard, if not harder, than in traditional market segments.

Go back to the late 1990s, before the bursting of the Internet/technology bubble. Back then, investors stood an equal chance of selecting E-Toys over Amazon or some no longer in existence networking equipment maker over Cisco.

“History is littered with examples of prospering industries with no indication of which company will come to dominate the industry,” according to Nasdaq. “This suggests that successful thematic investing is more about selecting baskets of investments rather than single securities.”1

The ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF (DTEC) provides basket exposure to a broad swath of thematic investments. DTEC features exposure to not just one or two emerging technologies, but 10 such themes on an equal-weight basis.

Disruptive Efficiency

The 10 themes represented in DTEC are as follows: 3D printing, clean energy, cloud computing, cybersecurity, data and analytics, fintech, healthcare innovation, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile payments and robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Generally speaking, fund issuers have been quick to respond to disruptive and transformative technologies, bringing products to market to tap these themes. Prior to DTEC coming to market late last year, there were ETFs devoted exclusively to cloud computing, cybersecurity, robotics and other themes featured in DTEC. However, few use the basket approach to themes employed by DTEC.

Related: Getting Paid to Play The Energy Patch

February, a rough month for U.S. stocks, highlighted the advantages of DTEC's multi-theme methodology. Seven of the 10 themes found in the fund finished the month lower, but DTEC was able to outperform the S&P 500 on a monthly basis.

Focusing on individual themes can be rewarding over the long-term, but not all investors have the risk tolerance for such a strategy. Consider this: the Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index jumped more than 48% in 2017. That type of performance is enough to seduce many investors, but that same benchmark slipped 7.60% in February, generating monthly volatility of 34.10%.Said another way, that robotics and AI index's February slide was more than triple the loss experienced by DTEC during the month.

More Advantages

While it probably is not accurate to call the indexes devoted to individual disruptive themes “old,” many use old school weighting methodologies. For example, the two largest components in the ISE Cloud Computing Index are Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) and Inc. (AMZN). Only two members of the S&P 500 have larger market values than Amazon while Netflix currently has a larger market cap than Wal-Mart (WMT) and McDonald's (MCD).

Holdings subject ot change as of 12/31/17

For its part, DTEC not only equally weights its 10 disruptive themes, but its 100 components as well, potentially reducing single stock risk in the process. As the chart below confirms, equally weighting stocks is rewarding across sectors and market capitalization segments.

Past performance does not guarantee future results

Annualized returns for the past 10 years show seven of the 11 S&P 500 sectors, when equally weighted, outperform cap-weighted equivalents, according to S&P. Three of those seven sectors – financial services, healthcare and technology – are prominent parts of DTEC's roster.

1 Source: Nasdaq Dec. 28, 2015

2 Source: ETF Replay data


An investor should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus which contain this and other information call 866.675.2639 or visit Read the prospectus carefully before investing.

An investment in the ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF (DTEC) may be subject to substantially greater risk and volatility than investments in larger and more mature technology companies.

There is no assurance that the market developments and sector growth based upon the themes discussed in the article will come to pass.

ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF shares are not individually redeemable. Investors buy and sell shares of the ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF on a secondary market. Only market makers or “authorized participants” may trade directly with the Fund, typically in blocks of 50,000 shares.

ALPS Advisors, Inc. (AAI) has engaged IRIS Werks, LLC (IRIS) to produce analysis and commentary on ALPS-advised ETFs. IRIS currently has a compensated business relationship with AAI. AAI is not affiliated with IRIS.

The content and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and not the views and opinions of AAI.  In addition, AAI assumes no responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the content written by the author.

There are risks involved with investing in ETFs including the loss of money. Additional information regarding the risks of this investment is available in the prospectus. Past Performance is not indicative of future results.

The fund is new and has limited operating history.

ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc. is the distributor for the ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF. AAI is affiliated with ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc.

The author is not an investment professional and this article should not be considered investment advice. While the information and statistical data contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable, the author takes no responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the content. Additionally, this article should not be relied on or be the basis for an investment decision. Information that is historical is not indicative of future results, and subject to change.

S&P 500®: A capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

S&P SmallCap 600®: A capitalization-weighted index that measures the small-cap segment of the U.S. equity market.

S&P MidCap 400®: A capitalization-weighted index that measures the mid-cap segment of the U.S. equity market.

Indxx Global Robotics & Artifical Intelligence Thematic Index: The Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index is designed to track the performance of companies listed in developed markets that are expected to benefit from the increased adoption and utilization of robotics and Artificial Intelligence ("AI"), including companies involved in Industrial Robotics and Automation, Non-Industrial Robots, Artificial Intelligence and Unmanned Vehicles.

Tom Lydon
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IRIS Co-Founder and Editor and proprietor of Tom is a frequent contributor to major print, radio and television media including Forbes, The Wall Street Jou ... Click for full bio