The Creative Process

According to some of the latest theories on creativity (componential theory), creativity is composed of three components: task motivation, domain-relevant skills, and creativity-relevant processes. Motivation is often intrinsic, though it is for some people, or some of the time, extrinsic as well. Domain-relevant skills are often technical (e.g., knowing how to conduct research, for a scientist). Creativity-relevant skills are fairly general (e.g., a cognitive style that fits with a domain and tolerates originality and exploration).

James Taylor, creativity experts, describes five stages of creativity:

1. Preparation (I’d call it Inspiration)

In the first stage, the initial idea or ideas are forming – usually inspired by something you read, heard, saw, dreamt or experienced. If you are a musician, you may be absorbing a lot of the music that is inspiring you to create new work. If you’re a writer, you may be reading or observing something that interests you. If you are an artist, you may be inspired by a new material, another artists work or something that is happening in the world around you. If you are a scientist, you may be looking at the latest research. And if you are an entrepreneur or marketer, you may be looking at market research, what other companies are doing or notice a problem that needs a solution.

At this stage you are absorbing as much information as possible. If it is a live-long interest, then you may be constantly learning and absorbing information that inspires you.

2. Incubation

In incubation, all the information that you have gathered starts to churn in your mind. It may take days, or weeks, or months or sometimes even years for the idea to start taking shape. You’ll think about writing a book or create a piece of music. You may just leave it to the side for a while and then come back to it. The incubation stages, to a certain extent, is not under your control how long that stage will take. It is something you cannot really rush because what it leads to insights.

3. Insight

The third stage of the creative process, insight, is what most of the public think is a classic sign of a creative person! Insight is that ‘Aha’ moment. Although it is probably the smallest part of the five stages, it is possible one of the most important parts. It often happens when you are doing some kind of low-level physical activity; going for a shower, driving a car, having a walk. This is because your subconsciousness in the previous stages is bubbling away and this insight stage really allows the mind to work on something else. And then bring these ideas to the forefront of your mind.

4. Evaluation (or editing)

The evaluation stage requires reflection and the ability to critique. It is asking questions like: “Is this a good idea? A new idea? Is it worth sharing with the world?” You may go out to a small group of trusted friends and say, “I’ve had this idea, what do you think about this?”

Often you find that people who are called ‘creative people’ are good at the evaluation stage. They know how to edit an idea down to the want has the most merit.

Many people are not good at this stage and that is why so many good ideas never get developed.

5. Elaboration

Edison said innovation is “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. The elaboration stage is the 99% perspiration stage. This is where you are actually doing the work. So many people out there think that the creative process is that insight, that ‘Aha’ moment but, really, a creative individual isn’t complete unless they actually put in the hard work. The elaboration; testing the idea, working on the idea, those late nights in the studio, working at your desk, those hours in the laboratory, those days testing and micro-testing products. This is the elaboration stage.

According to John Cleese (Monty Python, Faulty Towers, Harry Potter, Shrek, etc.), the creative process is messy, open, and vulnerable and, for this reason, requires deep trust where no idea is too silly, that every creative impulse is worth voicing and considering. But in order to work, the group creative process needs to be led by someone who understands it to producing great work.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is inspired by some stimuli outside yourself. It is constantly informed with life experiences. It is shared, validated and may take another shape with feedback from a trusted individual or group. It is a process – a journey… and, hopefully, leads to something that makes lives better.