In the creative process, what happens before that idea comes?
What happens afterwards? And, how can YOU harness your own creativity to come up with your next idea to submit to Edison Nation? Well, in this Inventing 101, we are going to explore the Four Stages of Creativity to find out.
In 1926, English social psychologist and London School of Economics co-founder, Graham Wallas, wrote The Art of Thought. Within it, he defined the four stages of creativity as Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification.
We already know all about incubation, but let’s start at the beginning and take it stage by stage. You may think that creativity starts with an idea, but it actually starts by identifying a problem…
Preparation (the “conscious state”):
According to Wallas, during the preparation stage, the problem you’ve identified is “investigated in all directions.” In this stage, the aim is to acquire more information about the problem than you already have. Methodologies can vary, ranging from basic research to brainstorming, reasoning, gathering past experiences or anything that can help you move towards solving the problem.
It’s the accumulation of intellectual resources we use to construct the new ideas. It is fully-conscious and entails part research, part planning, part entering the right frame of mind and attention. This stage may vary in length from a few minutes, as in the case of a brainstorming session, to months or years, as in the preparation for an invention or a crucial experiment where more research needs to be done.
Incubation (the “subconscious state”):
Once you have adequately prepared, Wallas advises to “walk away.”
A certain amount of “mind-wandering” is required before coming back to the problem to allow your unconscious mind time to digest all the material you gathered in the preparation stage. This is the same principle used to solve “mental block” or “writers block.”
The incubation stage can last from a few minutes to years. After incubating, go back to your problem and begin crafting a solution or idea. At the end of this stage, the idea, which has been incubating, is more clearly defined than it was at the beginning.
Illumination (the “Aha!” Moment):
Following incubation is the illumination stage, which Wallas based on French polymath Henri Poincar’s concept of “sudden illumination” – that flash of insight that the conscious self can’t will and the subliminal self can only welcome once all elements gathered during the preparation stage have floated freely around during incubation and are now ready to click into an illuminating new formation. This is when connections automatically, subconsciously collide and then come to the surface.
In layman’s terms, this is the feeling you get when you have been struggling with your thoughts and can’t quite put your finger on what is missing. The idea will appear suddenly and comes with a feeling of certainty. You will typically have an emotional reaction of joy, knowing you have found an idea, a solution.
Once that “Aha!” moment has come, many people feel their work is done. They’re wrong. The true work is just beginning. The verification stage, unlike the second and the third, shares with the first a conscious and deliberate effort in the way of testing the validity of the idea and reducing the idea itself to an exact form.
For creativity to reach others and accomplish anything, you need to once again use those critical thinking skills to think about your audience and craft your message or idea. An idea may be the best idea in the world, but it will fail if it is not communicated clearly (cough, the “description” within your submission form, cough).
Now that you know the four stages of creativity, what are some ways to increase and improve your creativity? Here are two suggestions to keep in mind:
- When you innovate, develop and nurture a creative maturity.
- Your Ideas are not you
- Criticisms of the idea(s) are not you
- Do not look at a failed idea as a “failure,” but rather as data to make the next version work.
- Be willing to let go if necessary – avoid being “married” to your ideas
- Let go of originality – Ideas do not “come out of the blue” or from “nowhere,” they were influenced by something
- Most innovation is a transformation or improvement of something already there.
- Take existing ideas that no one thought of putting together and making them work in a new way.
- A great example of this is the Printing Press by Johannes Gutenberg. He took existing resources – movable type, paper and ink, added in a screw press (a technology from another field) and made it work to allow printing on an industrial scale.
Many people believe that they are not creative, that they may only have one great idea in their lifetime. That just isn’t so. Creativity can be found anywhere – from making a new product to making dinner. So how can you unlock your creativity?
In her book, inGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity, Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, offers simple but powerful ways to increase your creativity by shifting how you approach problems, including just being more observant and asking better questions.
If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.
“Mastering the ability to reframe problems is an important tool for increasing your imagination because it unlocks a vast array of solutions,” Seelig writes. Take this joke, for example:
Two men approach each other on the street.
The first man asks, “Does your dog bite?”
The second man answers, “No.”
The first man reaches down to pet the dog and the dog bites him. He pulls his hand back in pain and exclaims, “What happened, you said your dog doesn’t bite?”
The second man responds, “That’s not my dog.”
By changing the frame of the problem, a whole new lot of solutions can present themselves.
Another way to expand creativity is to put things together that already exist, but in non-obvious ways, to create something new. A pair of shoes with a dustpan attached to their ends may seem silly, but the image can open the realm of possibilities if these two utilities were connected in a smart, efficient way.
Lastly, Seelig encourages people to challenge assumptions. Go beyond the first right answer. Brainstorm to see what other possibilities there are. Look for answers to questions that do not have a right answer.
Seelig’s creativity model shows how internal and external characteristics that make up a person’s creativity directly affect each other.
Seelig outlines the internal characteristics as someone’s:
- Knowledge: Gained by reading, attending lectures, going to school, paying attention to the world, being observant
- Imagination: What catalyzes knowledge into new ideas
- Attitude: Confidence, motivation and drive to push through when a problem seems daunting
- Changing Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it will” to “If anything can go wrong, FIX IT!”
Seelig outlines the external characteristics as an environment’s:
- Habitat: Conducive to creativity and playfulness
- Resources: Money, natural resources, communities, processes in place – all that can be leveraged with various values
- Culture: Willingness to experiment and try new things vs. fear of failure.
As outlined in the following graphic, these internal and external characteristics dramatically influence each other. You can start anywhere to start being creative.
- Imagination and Habitat – If you don’t imagine it, you can’t build it. At the same time, the habitat around you affects your imagination..
- Knowledge and Resources – The more you know, the more resources you can unlock. The more resources you have, the more you know.
- Attitude and Culture – Your attitude is determined by your culture and your culture affects your attitude.
So, for those of you who are just getting started, we hope this post can kickstart your creative juices. For those of you who are on the brink of a breakthrough, we hope this post has brought you one step closer to that BING! moment. For those of you who believe your creativity spark has gone out after that last red X, we hope this post provided you with some inspiration to go back to the drawing board to find your next idea.
We’ll leave you with these wise words from a guy you may have heard of-