It is not unusual to pose almost any question in a search engine and find information regarding that problem. It may be on a popular website or in a forum; but somebody has posted either fact or opinion and there are probably hundreds if not thousands of pages for that problem. So, let’s not consider accuracy of that information but just agree that there are potential solutions available. We can add to that resource the social media and expand the possible solutions. So, why do we need to think about the problem in the first place? It seems to me that it is the fact that our problem and circumstances are unique to us and only we can reasonably expect to tailor a specific answer to such a particular issue. For example, if we have a have a medical issue we can go to Web MD or the Mayo Clinic websites and get some background material. But, that is all you can expect as these sites or any others do not know who you are and what your history is. If we trust that they have the solution we may be on the way to the hospital unnecessarily.
So it would seem reasonable that independent thinking can be useful at times and can be supplemented with available online resources. But, it is increasing obvious that by default, the tendency is to seek information outside first because it is so easy. Ask Siri or any other dumb phone assistant and you have an answer. It may or may not be correct but you have an answer. Now, let’s consider the creativity aspect of thinking. That is, being able to develop an idea that is new and novel for you. If it already exists and you were not aware of it, it is original. (Please see my post on original ideas here).
Some time ago I had the opportunity to teach a course on invention and creativity at a local college. In that course I used creative thinking as an exercise in tapping past learned knowledge to develop new ideas. One of the activities involved using a paper clip and coming up with as many ways to use that paper clip as possible. Although ostensibly childish, it allowed out of the box thinking and strengthened neural networks. It frees the brain and permits synthesis of new and novel thoughts. Of course now we can simply search for paper clip ideas and find many ways to use a paper clip.
So, my observation for this post is that although the information is all around us, there is no substitute for thinking first and seeking information last. After all, you may come up with a really new way to use a paper clip!