The Creative Process
Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a literary work, or a painting).
Scholarly interest in creativity involves many definitions and concepts pertaining to a number of disciplines: engineering, psychology, cognitive science, education, philosophy (particularly philosophy of science), technology, theology, sociology, linguistics, business studies, songwriting, and economics, covering the relations between creativity and general intelligence, mental and neurological processes, personality type and creative ability, creativity and mental health; the potential for fostering creativity through education and training, especially as augmented by technology; the maximization of creativity for national economic benefit, and the application of creative resources to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning.
The Creative process can be broken into stages:
This is the first phase, which most people call “work.” A writer, for example, prepares by writing, by reading, or by revising earlier work. A musician plays scales, chords, or songs; a painter messes with paints or visits an art gallery; an entrepreneur researches problems to solve; a programmer plays with code. In each example, the creative is going through relatively mundane processes.
The reason I say most people call this phase “work” is that these processes may or may not be inherently enjoyable. They’re also fairly mundane and tedious, but the creative has learned that this process is necessary to plant the seeds that lead to…Preparation is the background, experience, and knowledge that an entrepreneur brings to the opportunity recognition process. Just as an athlete must practice to excel, an entrepreneur needs the experience to spot opportunities. Over time, the results of research suggest that as much as 50 to 90 percent of start-up ideas emerge from a person’s prior work experience.
Incubation is the stage during which a person considers an idea or thinks about a problem; it is the “mulling things over” phase. Sometimes incubation is a conscious activity, and sometimes it is unconscious and occurs while a person is engaged in another activity. One writer characterized this phenomenon by saying that “ideas churn around below the threshold of consciousness.”
This would be the mystical process if there were one, because you often don’t know that you’re incubating an idea, or if you do know you’re working on one, you don’t know when it’s going to come out. It’s during this phase that your conscious and subconscious minds are working on the idea, making new connections, separating out unnecessary ideas, and grabbing for other ideas.
This is the phase that most people mess up the most with distractions and the hustle and bustle of daily lives. Modern life, with its many beeps, buzzes, and distractions, has the strong tendency to grab the attention of both our subconscious and our unconscious mind, and as result, the creative process stops and is instead replaced by more immediate concerns.
Insight is the flash of recognition when the solution to a problem is seen or an idea is born. It is sometimes called the “eureka” experience. In a business context, this is the moment an entrepreneur recognizes an opportunity. Sometimes this experience pushes the process forward, and sometimes it prompts an individual to return to the preparation stage. For example, an entrepreneur may recognize the potential for an opportunity but may feel that more knowledge and thought is required before pursuing it.
Evaluation is the stage of the creative process during which an idea is subjected to scrutiny and analyzed for its viability. Many entrepreneurs mistakenly skip this step and try to implement an idea before they’ve made sure it is viable. Evaluation is a particularly challenging stage of the creative process because it requires an entrepreneur to take a candid look at the viability of an idea.
Elaboration is the stage during which the creative idea is put into a final form: The details are worked out and the idea is transformed into something of value, such as a new product, service, or business concept. In the case of a new business, this is the point at which a business plan is written.
This is the “Eureka” moment that many of us spend our days questing after. When it hits, the creative urge is so incredibly strong that we lose track of what else is happening. The driving impulse is to get whatever is going on in our heads down into whatever medium it’s intended for.
The most frustrating thing for me is that the “illumination” moments happen at the most inopportune times. They invariably happen when I’m in the shower when I’m driving by myself, when I’m working out, or when I’m sitting in mind-numbing meetings that I can’t get out of. Of course, the bad part is as I said above: the impulse is to get the idea out as soon as possible, so it’s not at all uncommon for me to stop showering, driving, or working out and run to the nearest notepad – and, in meetings, I start purging immediately anyway. I’ve yet to gain enough clout to excuse myself from the meetings, but I’m working on it.
I was speaking to a friend a few weeks ago, and I told her I was frustrated because I was pregnant with ideas and didn’t have time to get them out. Keeping with the analogy, when a Eureka! moment hits, it’s much like labor – you’re done with incubating, and it’s time for…
This phase is the one in which the idea you’ve been preparing and incubating sees the light of day. It’s when that written piece comes out, when that song flows when that canvas reveals its painting, and so on. It’s also when a good creative starts to evaluate the idea and determine whether it’s good or not – but only after they have enough to see where it’s going.
Most of the creative I know or work with get really frustrated with others during this phase. Other people only see the creation at the end, and they don’t recognize or care much about the process that generated that idea. This is especially true with some supervisors and bosses who expect the end product on a certain schedule, even though the creative process does not work that way. Creative know that for every good idea, there are at least a few that don’t work out, but they can’t know ahead of time what’s going to work out and what won’t.
The creative process begins with work and ends with work. The takeaway point here is that creativity is not just percolating and Eureka: it’s percolating and Eureka sandwiched between work phases.