Analyzing requires you to disassemble a topic, examine its parts, and explore their connections. Certain creative thinking strategies can strengthen such analysis.

Using Socratic Questions

The philosopher Socrates taught not by lecturing but by engaging students in conversation that made them think. You can use his questions to analyze ideas.


How could we summarize this point?

What’s another way of saying that?


What are the assumptions underlying this idea?

Are any of these assumptions unwarranted?


What causes this situation to occur?

What is this situation like, and how?


What would the opposition say about this idea?

What counter arguments can we come up with?


What will result from this assumption?

How can this idea be applied in a new way?


Why are we asking this question?

How does this question apply to the situation at hand?

Your Turn Freewrite about a topic that you are currently studying. When you run out of ideas, apply one or more of the Socratic questions to your topic and continue freewriting.

Counterfactual Thinking

Counterfactual thinking means asking “what if” questions. Einstein used counterfactual questions like those below to arrive at his factual theory of relativity:

Einstein’s Counterfactual Questions

  • What would it be like to ride on a photon (a particle of light)?
  • What would it be like to ride in an elevator in free fall?
  • What if space and time were one thing?
  • What if matter and energy were one thing?

Your Turn Choose a topic you are currently studying and write four counterfactual questions about it. Select one question and begin freewriting.


Provocative Thinking

Provocative thinking takes a step beyond counterfactual thinking by intentionally attacking assumptions. To apply this kind of thinking, first list your basic assumptions about a situation. Then ask questions that overturn the assumptions, as in the following example about cell phones:


Provocative Questions

Cell phones should be designed to match the needs of most users.

How can we design a cell phone for people who don’t want one?

Cell phones should fit comfortably in a pocket and be easy to hold.

What if you couldn’t hold your cell phone? What if you wore just a receiver and its features were in the “cloud”?

People want multimedia on their phones.

How would a text-only cell phone work?

Everyone wants his or her own cell phone.

How could we rent cell phones by the day?

Teachers think cell phones are distracting to students.

How can we make cell phones central to education?

Your Turn Choose a topic that you are currently studying. Write down as many assumptions as you can about the topic. Then create a provocative question for each assumption.

Reverse Thinking

Reverse thinking turns a situation on its head. Imagine that the effects are the causes, the problem is the solution, the opposite position is valid, and so on. Reverse thinking can break through conventional barriers to new ideas.

Conventional Wisdom

Reverse Thinking

A group should learn about a topic from the most knowledgeable person.

The person who is most knowledgeable about a topic should learn from the group.

Wikipedia demonstrates why people should trust experts instead of consensus thinking.

Wikipedia demonstrates why people should trust consensus thinking instead of experts.

The world needs more brilliant specialists to further their fields.

The world needs more brilliant generalists to connect multiple fields.

The best scientists think critically.

The best scientists think creatively.

Your Turn Choose a topic that you are currently studying. Write down the conventional wisdom about the topic. Then create a reverse-thinking statement for each conventional thought.