The Family as a Think Tank: A Place for Creative Thinking

In the mind or in the heart, on the front porch, in the margins of scratch paper, or even in shadows on the wall just after ‘lights out’. Where does creative thinking happen? All those places and more.

In Byrd Baylor’s book The Table Where Rich People Sit, a family thinks together at the kitchen table. Mountain Girl, as she is called, has requested a meeting, and the subject is money. She asserts they don’t “have enough of it.” Together, they record all their earnings. The list grows, taking its own shape. The family realizes they don’t just get paid in money, but with sunsets, howling of coyotes, and changing color of the shadows on the mountainside. They decide if the leaders of the world could share a plate of cookies around an old beat up table like they do, there’d be more harmony in the world.

Harmony, that special place families strive towards. They seek to work together to achieve common goals, from who takes out trash, to working a puzzle, to bigger questions like how to fit five growing people into three small bedrooms.
Finding that place where ideas culminate begins the journey towards more fulfilled, imaginative lives. As much as we think they just appear, ideas, creativity, and critical thinking don’t happen on their own. A secure foundation of organized freedom must be set for ideas to emerge.

A Family Think Tank
A think tank by definition is an organized group performing interdisciplinary research. Since their inception, thinks tanks have left lasting impressions on public policy. Like The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, varied examples exist of members bringing individual talents to discuss, debate, explore ideas and make change.

Setting the stage for family creativity can look like a think tank, an organization of imagination, problem solving and thinking. With a family think tank, we encourage an environment where ‘lightbulb moments’, when it just seems to click, spark more often.

Think Tank Puzzle Pieces
Original think tanks were unique establishments. Recognizing the value each unique mind brought to the process, the primary goal remained on improving the decision making process.

Thinking of our families as think tanks, we recognize each member as a valuable piece of the think tank puzzle. Together, investigate family dynamics and strengths each person, regardless of age, brings to your creative table. Perhaps you have a discovery specialist, or an expert in asking “why?” How about a movement expert to lead your active break times, or a kitchen connoisseur to tickle taste buds?

As your family grows, experiments and shares together, roles will likely change over time. Encourage exploration within the roles. From this place, confidence to venture outside comfort zones will emerge.

Finding Solutions Together
Members of think tanks are often the technological, social, and scientific problem solvers of the world and need to be able to “think outside the box”. They discover solutions because, as the adage goes, “two heads are better than one.”

So everyone can be heard in a respectful and equal way, perhaps use a “talking feather” or a beanbag to designate the speaker. Arrange predictable times to ‘check in’, discuss ideas, and discover solutions together.

Simply Puzzled
Noam Chomsky says, “Discovery is the ability to be puzzled by simple things.” Common among people described as “creative” is that they all enjoy discovery and being simply puzzled.

Children delight in simple things. Encourage natural sense of wonder by appreciating that enchantment. In family think tanks, being puzzled and enjoying discovery together leads to ideas and solutions. If you can, schedule times to explore and be puzzled together. Make conscious efforts to model wonder about things like the inner workings of the telephone or incorporate a small daily brainteaser. Laugh heartily and appreciate your discovery together.

Ideas Change the World

Ideas change the world. Not just ideas of the major think tanks of the world, but ordinary families thinking extraordinary things, together in extraordinary ways. Viewing our family members as unique thinkers, each with something valuable to offer, we learn from each other and move towards creating solutions that make our families happier and more productive. We’ll count our discoveries and think and play together at the table where happy, creatively rich families sit.