The Business of Thought

If you’re an imaginative thinker, sometimes succeeding in an analytical environment means abandoning your greatest strength.

By Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University


“If a major hurricane hits an area, what will happen to the price of ice after the storm?”

A) The price of ice will decrease.

B) The price of ice will increase.

C) The price of ice will remain the same.

The answer is: B) The price of ice will increase.

Why? Because of the hurricane, there is a high demand for ice. Power outages cause people to buy ice to keep their food cold, as refrigeration and air-conditioning are both reliant on the electrical grid, which is susceptible to interference in a major storm. As a result, because of the high demand, companies will increase the cost of ice.

This was a question on an exam in an introductory level microeconomics class at business school. While I was taking the exam, I called my professor and asked him how much rainfall there was. He shook his head at me and answered, “It doesn’t matter.”

His answer made me even confused than before and a little embarrassed. After excessively overthinking the circumstances, I confidently circled A) The price of ice will decrease, only to later discover that my answer was incorrect.

The Struggle of Creativity in a Test-Based World

Student taking a test (Image via US News)

My train of thought held that since hurricanes mean a significant amount of rainfall, and ice is made from water, more water would lead to more ice, thereby reducing its price, right?

I made a lot of people laugh that day, but I wasn’t really amused by my answer. I thought logically, recognizing the problem of the hurricane and the issue of mass amounts of water. I contemplated the science of freezing water and how a lot of water would result in a lot of ice. I recognized the economics of surplus and how when there is a large amount of product, the cost of the product diminishes.

In the education system, it’s pretty easy to fake your way through subjects that you don’t like or that you aren’t so great at, because a lot of learning is about being a good test-taker. The students who can perform best under pressure, or the ones who know how to navigate a multiple-choice exam, are the ones who get the highest scores. For the creative over-thinkers like myself, these test-taking strategies don’t really work.

As you get older, you are taught to think more analytically, which decreases levels of creativity. Children are proven to be the most creative group of thinkers, though their ingenuity only diminishes with age. In 1968, George Land conducted a study in which he tested the creativity of 1,600 children. He tested them again and again as they got older, and their test scores lowered; their creativity declined as they began to think logically.

Compared to cognition that is required on a daily basis, creative thinking is exercised less often. And, as a creative person, I find it challenging to turn it off when having to think rationally, such as on an economics exam. I spent a lot of time believing that I wasn’t as smart as my peers because of this tendency but in reality, creativity is just a different kind of intelligence and can actually enhance analytical thinking.

I’ve been called crazy, histrionic, an over-thinker, a dreamer, and even a little weird. When I tell people that I’m in business school taking classes that are mostly math-based, they can’t believe it, because most people have subscribed to the left-brain/right-brain myth—that a person can either be imaginative or analytical, but not both. I want to emphasize the word myth.

For instance, musicians are extremely creative. Lyrics typically arise from emotion and melodies invoke a feeling, but there are logistics to music. Rhythm, figuring out patterns and the structure of notes are all the result of critical thinking, which is why mathematicians and musicians often share many similarities.

Isaac Newton, one of the most significant figures in the scientific revolution, defied existing logic when he discovered the theory of gravity and wrote the laws of motion that define modern physics. That takes a lot of creative thinking.

Creative thinkers are often very analytical, but their thoughts aren’t about observing the status quo or seeking conformity.

The creative thinker’s logic makes sense to themselves, their own experiences and the people they relate to. Isaac Newton’s ideas weren’t always so popular. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Creativity is an open-ended method to problem solving, unlike analytical though, in which there is always one correct answer. Yes, for the purposes of that economics class my answer was wrong, but maybe in some alternate universe, the heavy rain from the hurricane filled up swimming pools with rainwater, which allowed the people to make endless amounts of ice, so much so that they were making snow cones and ice sculptures that were given away for free.

The left side of the brain is extremely overrated, while the right side is undervalued. People like to call scientists the designers of the future, but really, every single person is shaping the future no matter what they do. Humans were given the gift of having the capability to think both logically and inventively, because both sides work better in cooperation with each other.

Many people naturally gravitate toward a certain end; some work well with numbers, while others are more in tune with their emotions. In a comparison of these two types of people, one is not smarter than the other, nor is one more powerful than the other, nor more educated. It’s time to crush the stereotypes and understand that everyone has the ability to think both critically and creatively, and instead of pigeonholing thought into one of two categories, both methods should be praised, and above all, their cooperation should be more highly prized than their independent use.