Although many believe that critical and creative thinking are complementary notions, how they are mutually supportive and whether they can and should be nurtured in tandem are matters of dispute.
In our view the key to these questions resides in understanding that creativity— at least in the context that is most relevant to educators— is purposeful. Educators want to support students in generating ideas and products that ultimately serve some personal, aesthetic or practical purpose. Seemingly purposeless imaginative tasks—say, coming up with dozens of different ways of using a paper clip—are ultimately to empower students to go beyond the obvious when confronted with real-life challenges or problems. Even the arts have their purposes—whether it is to create an evocative experience for the viewer, represent a sensation in a novel way, or express one’s deepest intuitive feelings.
As soon as we admit that creatively must ultimately be purposeful, we can then begin to talk about the criteria to consider when determining how best to advance our purpose and how well our various attempts have met our objective. Here is where creativity and critical thinking merge. Critical thinking is centrally concerned with making assessments among options in light of relevant criteria. The creative artist or innovator is always asking herself (if only inside her head) is my approach working, how can I represent it more powerfully or efficiently or evocatively. These assessments may come only after the artist has spontaneously generated some ideas, but they must at some point be made. A famous creator remarked that the mark of a creative genius is the number of efforts that artist has rejected.
Being creative requires that one be critical as well. And the reverse is true. Critical thinking efforts will be very limited if the person is without imagination, refuses to looks at things in novel ways, or never pursues untested avenues. In short, creativity and critical thinking are essential dimensions in any effort at effective thinking and, as such, need to be taught in tandem.