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    Critical Thinking vs Analytical Thinking vs Creative Thinking

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    Critical Thinking vs Analytical Thinking vs Creative Thinking

    Like most people, you have probably heard the terms critical thinking and analytical thinking. If so, then it’s possible you’ve also heard the term “creative thinking” in the mix from time to time. 

    All three of these terms are often used interchangeably. However, although they share some universal similarities, there are distinct differences between them.

    Many people assume that analytical thinking and critical thinking are one and the same, but that’s not quite right. Some also consider creative thinking to be creativity, and that’s not quite accurate either. What we want to do here is try to separate the individual meanings from each other and show you how they differ, but also how they relate.

    Recipes for Thinking

    Critical thinking as a term is often mentioned as a key skill for employees to have at all levels of an organization. The problem with this is many people either don’t fully understand it or confuse it with the related but different terms of analytical and lateral thinking. As for creative thinking, the success of any business depends on having someone highly creative on the team. But again, the meaning of “thinking creatively” is often misread.

    Let’s begin to put an end to the confusion with a simple mouth-watering example:

    • Analytical thinking would be identifying the exact ingredients, proportions, and processes involved in the recipe for that tasty cookie you had yesterday.

    • Critical thinking would be considering the criteria for what makes a cookie tasty and then judging the cookie in relation to that criteria.

    • Creative thinking is imagining your own idea of the perfect cookie and then making it a reality for others to enjoy. (If you need to go grab a cookie before you continue reading, go ahead, I’ll wait.)

    So to put it technically (and in a way less likely to induce cravings):

    • Analytical thinking is the act of breaking down complex pieces of information into smaller and more understandable components or principles. It involves systematically dismantling data to decipher facts that can be used to build upon information or provide an evidence-based conclusion.

    • Critical thinking means carefully weighing information or views and interpreting them to make sound independent judgments. It is also cyclical, meaning one can go round and round considering facts to form an opinion, cultivate a conviction, or just determine whether something is valid or makes sense.

    • Creative thinking is the mental process of bringing something new into existence through imagination. It involves the input of facts and sensory stimulus well as interpolation and critical reflection to imagine something that does not exist.

    How Does Critical, Analytical and Creative Thinking Compare to Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy?

    Bloom’s taxonomy is represented by the following taxonomic levels in this domain, arranged from LOTS to HOTS.

    • Remembering: Retrieving, recalling, or recognizing knowledge from memory; when learners use memory to produce definitions, facts, or lists, or to recite or retrieve material.

    • Understanding: Constructing meaning from different types of functions, be they written or graphic.

    • Applying: Carrying out or using a procedure through executing or implementing; relates and refers to situations in which students use learned material through products such as models, presentations, interviews, and simulations.

    • Analyzing: Breaking material or concepts into parts, determining how the parts relate or interrelate to one another or to an overall structure or purpose; mental actions include differentiating, organizing, and attributing as well as being able to distinguish between components.

    • Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing.

    • Creating: Putting the elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.


    The definitions I use in my work with schools for the various levels are:

    • RememberTo recall from the past.
    • Understand: To know the meaning or intended significance.
    • Apply: To bring or put into operation or use.
    • Analyze: To examine in detail, breaking down into its component parts.
    • Evaluate: To make an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations.
    • Create: To bring into existence.

    It’s important to note that any level incorporates the previous levels. Analysisfor exampledepends on first remembering, understandingand applying, without which there is no basis for analysis. Additionallythe lower three levels are considered lower-order thinking skills or LOTS. I think every maths lesson I experienced in school was limited to just these levels:

    • Remember the formula
    • Understand what it is
    • Apply it (dozens of times on worksheets)

    If we really think about it, this type of activity tests a learner’s capacity for multiplication more than any kind of reflective thought, and perhaps that’s why they are referred to as lower-order thinking. If you consider Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and its relation to learning, it represents a shift from teacher to student-centred learning

    The most involvement a teacher can have is when a student is remembering and understanding. Creatingon the other handis an internal process. A teacher can create the environment and provide the opportunities, but it happens within one’s own mind and so it is student-centred.

    The upper three levels of Blooms Revised Taxonomyanalyze, evaluateand createconstitute the higher-order thinking skills or HOTS. These are the soft skills or transfer skills that are the focus of curriculum around the worldand that are in such demand in the workplace of today. They are the foundation of what it means to be college- and career-ready. They also relate directly to our discussion of analytical, critical and creative thinking as they are reflected directly at these levels.

    Perhaps this infographic helps better explain how the three are distinct yet related. As with the lower-order thinking levels of Bloom’s, the higher-order levels also incorporate the previous levels. 


    I mentioned earlier that analysis is dependent upon first remembering, understanding and applying. Evaluation involves considering the analysis and then making a judgment accordingly, and so critical thinking includes and is built upon analytical thinking. Similarly, creating, as a structured process, includes and is built upon both analysis and evaluation and therefore analytical and critical thinking. 

    If you’d like to explore this further, please refer to my work with Creativity Fluency as it explains this in much more detail. So analytical thinking is a step in the critical thinking processwhich is a step in the creative thinking process.

    Analytical Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Creative Thinking as Processes

    All three processes involve facts, but each for different purposes. As we’re about to see, their individual processes reflect this. Let’s return to our previous definitions of each one, and expand on them by providing some action steps for each.

    Analytical Thinking Overview

    Analytical thinking is the act of breaking down complex pieces of information into smaller and more understandable components or principles. It involves systematically dismantling data to decipher facts that can be used to build upon information or provide an evidence-based conclusion. 

    Analytical Thinking Process

    This kind of thinking is about simplifying complexity. We begin first by gathering relevant information. Next, we start to break all that information down into more manageable bite-sized pieces. This gives you sub-categories that you now examine even closer, which makes understanding complex masses of data much easier. A closer examination involves comparison and contrast by looking at data from different sources. You weed out extraneous bits of information, search for cause and effect, and identify patterns and consistencies. The last step is to draw a sound conclusion from the information you’ve processed.  Analytical thinking involves:

    • Identifying an issue

    • Gathering facts and evidence

    • Breaking complex information into smaller pieces

    • Applying logic and reasoning

    • Evaluating viewpoints and opinions

    • Identifying patterns and cause and effect

    • Eliminating extraneous information

    • Drawing and testing conclusions

    • Assessing new knowledge

    Critical Thinking Overview

    Critical thinking means carefully weighing information or views and interpreting them to make sound independent judgments.

    Critical Thinking Process

    Critical thinking involves gathering and organizing information regarding the issue or problem. From there, we engage in asking meaningful and essential questions about what we’re addressing. We can then form our own ideas and theories from our evaluation. Throughout this process, we are also considering existing and emerging information beyond what is present. We are also considering and evaluating the arguments of others as they arise. We explore possibilities and consider various solutions, free from bias and assumption. Finally, when a conclusion is reached, we test it against the evidence, revise it as necessary, and make our judgments. Critical thinking involves:

    • Gathering relevant information

    • Asking meaningful questions

    • Considering alternative viewpoints

    • Applying logic and reasoning skills

    • Revisiting input in a cyclical manner

    • Recognizing bias

    • Avoiding assumption

    • Considering possibilities

    • Testing and revising conclusions

    • Making sound judgements

    Creative Thinking Overview

    Creative thinking is the mental process of bringing something new into existence through imagination. It involves the input of facts and sensory stimulus well as interpolation and critical reflection to imagine something that does not exist.

    Creative Thinking Process

    We define the creative thinking process using the 5 Is of Creativity Fluency, which are identify, inspire, interpolate, imagine, and inspect. It begins with determining what the task is and what we want to create. From there, we seek inspiration from a multitude of external stimuli. Once we start looking for ideas, we begin to see patterns forming, and we begin to connect the dots. This eventually culminates in the birth of our ultimate idea—you know it as the “Aha!” moment. Finally, with our new creative idea in mind, we step back and evaluate it closely. We consider if it meets the original criteria, its feasibility, and whether or not it can be accomplished within our budget and timeframe. Creative thinking involves:

    • Brainstorming and lateral thinking

    • Sharing personal knowledge and experience

    • Moving beyond what is known

    • Using familiar and unfamiliar sources

    • Seeing new possibilities

    • Experimenting and imagining

    • Pattern recognition

    • Identifying connections/relationships

    • Combining opposing concepts/elements

    • Forming mental images/sensations/concepts

    • Giving meaning to experiences

    • Constructing with creative mediums

    • Examining the product and the process

    • Internalizing and applying the new idea

    • Re-examining/revising the idea

    The truth is that a measure of all three skills is necessary for our lives. Often they also compliment each other. None of us thinks critically, analytically, or creatively 100% of the time. Nevertheless, when the time comes to implement one or the other(or all three), we can benefit from having a solid understanding of how to use them.

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Jul 3, 2019, updated September 21, 2021

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