Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Creative and Critical Thinking and Testing Part 1

I was asked a question recently regarding which style of thinking to use when at different phases within testing, creative or critical and I started to think deeply about this.  I quickly sketched a diagram to explain my thoughts to the person who posed the question.  Then I thought I need to explain my thinking behind the diagram and started to write an explanation for each section of the diagram, this has turned into a rather long research paper and as such I thought I would share my finding on my blog.  This will be a series of blogs since I think there could be too much information to digest in one reading.

I do not know if my thoughts and my concepts are correct but the best way to find out is to publish and await peer review. Thanks to @simtesting for spurring me to get this blog post started. So your comments, opinions and thoughts would be most welcome.

Where to start?  The first thing would be to show the diagram that started it all off.
The diagram can be download here

Some of the terms I use for stages may be different to what you use but as this series of blogs goes along I will try to explain what I mean by them and also what the diagram represents.

This diagram shows the emphasis of thinking for each testing stage.  The larger the area the more of that style of thinking should be used. To summarize when reviewing documentation you should be more focused towards critical thinking with a small amount of creative thinking. During the test planning stage this is reversed with more effort placed upon creative thinking rather than critical. When execution your testing there is a balance between being creative to find more stuff to test and thinking critical about what you experiences and the theories you are forming.  After you execute your testing you need to be critical of what you have observed and see if there are any problems with the testing you carried out and see if the information you have captured holds up to critical analysis.   Finally you need to report on your testing and you need to find creative ways to present your information without overloading the recipient and confusing them with meaningless data.  To do this you should have a strong slant towards thinking creatively but also keeping in mind a critical viewpoint of what does that information really represent and how it may or may not be misinterpreted.   Then repeat the cycle again and again!!

This series of blogs will look at each of these stages and give examples of how we might be able to improve the style of thinking required for that stage.

To start with it may be a good idea to define what critical and creative thinking are so that we can give context to the subject.

Defining Types of thinking:

The first thing that needs to be done is to look at what we mean by critical and creative thinking to ensure we all understand the same meanings.

“Critical thinking is the active, persistent, and careful consideration of beliefs or knowledge in light of evidence and creative thinking is the generation of new ideas. Critical and creative thinking are fundamental to human intellectual progress and artefacts thereof. Depending on context and purpose, critical and creative thinking skills can be interdependent or separately applied.”  
Creative and Critical Thinking Definitions 

Critical Thinking

“Critical thinking is skilled and active interpretation and evaluation of observations and communications, information and argumentation.”
Critical thinking: It's definition and assessment. Point Reyes, CA: Edgepress Fisher, A. and Scriven, M. (1997).

"the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” 
Defining critical thinking

Or in simple terms it is a way of thinking that can help you decide if a piece of information is always true, sometimes true or partly true or false.  It is a way of thinking which allows you to question the statement(s) being made.

There are main forms and practices of critical thinking.

One I personally use is
  • Recognize the argument – (ask is there a problem here?)
  • Analyse the argument – (If there is a problem, why is there a problem)
  • Evaluate the argument – (Does the problem cause significant impact/risk/danger)
  • Reasoning – deductive, inductive (What solutions could I offer – deductive) (Who can help me resolve or disprove that there is a problem – inductive)

This way of thinking has its roots within scientific research methods and is good for proving or disproving assumptions and statements.

To learn more about creative thinking and how to apply it, there is a good practical guide available here.

Creative Thinking

“Creative thinking is the generation of new ideas.”
Creative and Critical Thinking Definitions 

 “Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.”
Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996).

Many people see creative thinking as mainly artistic and that they are not creative thinkers.  However being creative is more than art and it can apply to all areas of your work.  The difficulty is being able to focus on innovation and treading a path that has not been mapped.  A little bit like what we do when exploring.  (Can you spot the connection yet?) .

I highly recommend that people watch the Ted talk by Ken Robinson on Schools Kill Creativity, and read his book called Out of our minds.

Summary of the styles of thinking

Creative is divergent – different direction, off the accepted path
Critical is convergent – bringing ideas/thoughts together.

We need to be mindful that critical thinking is important but we should not forget about creative thinking, there is a balance that needs to be made. Which has more influential benefit depends on the context and the stage you are at in testing.  The rest of this series of blogs will look closely at each stage and offers some thoughts on which type of thinking may offer the most return.

The next blog article will look at defining the stages before looking closely at each stage in turn.


Updated to include diagram as suggested by Michael Bolton in the comments

What do you think?
Which do they prefer?
The original one or this one?

Diagram can be download from here.


  1. I'd like to offer my definition of critical thinking: thinking about thinking, with the intention of avoiding being fooled.

    I'd also like to suggest a creative and critical idea: try illustrating the Test Stages you've identified in a loop, rather than in a line—with the goal of emphasizing the iterative nature of creative and critical thinking.


    ---Michael B.

  2. Hi John,

    Great work in structuring and illustrating the activities. It's a good checklist for similar processes. ...

    Inspirational - thank you!

  3. Thank you Michael and Jesper for your comments.

    Michael I will have a look at your idea of producing a loop diagram. I think I have an idea that may work now need to be creative and design it ;o)

  4. Hi John,

    A thought provoking read - thankyou.

    The one part where this loses cohesion for me is the generalised, and non-specified use of the term 'testing'. In particular with the Execution phase. For example : Exploratory is highly creative whereas System Integration is almost all critical.

    Kudos though as you have ignited interest and discussion and that can only be of benefit to the community at large.


  5. Thank you for your comment Simon. I see your point regarding the use of the term testing. In my mind the definition of testing in this context is exploratory. I think part 5 may give more information on this since the first part is an overview of the concept and idea. Does that help to clarify a little of the thinking behind my use of the term 'testing'?