The Creative Process Revisited
If you review the academic literature on creativity, you’ll undoubtedly come across English psychologist Graham Wallas’ 1926 classic, The Art of Thought. Wallas summarizes the creative process in four basic stages:
- Preparation: The mind must prepare for the creative solution, which requires study and thinking intently about the subject.
- Incubation: A germination period follows where the person steps away from the problem and engages in some form of activity unrelated to the problem.
- Illumination: Often as a flash, a brilliant idea shoots across your mind, frequently during a mundane task or when involved with some other activity.
- Verification: The idea must be tested to determine its validity. The musical composition must be scored or the mathematical formula proven.
Although variations of this creative process were developed over the last century, Wallas’ four-stage framework remains. Does this mean anyone can go through these stages and discover brilliant, life-altering ideas? Not necessarily.
Creativity doesn’t magically appear through a linear, step-by-step process. If it were that easy, more people would be creative.
Instead of looking at Wallas’ model as sequential steps, consider them as conditions set in place for creativity to manifest. For example, it’s difficult to go through a period of incubation if you haven’t done your homework—if you haven’t taken the time to examine the problem and understand the context from which it has arisen.
Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” We might also say creativity favors a prepared mind.
The stages of creativity do not cause creativity; rather, they represent some of the conditions necessary for creativity to emerge. When creative insights are discovered, these four conditions are generally present, setting the stage for creativity to unfold.
(See Creativity Revealed: Discovering the Source of Inspiration for a detailed discussion on the creative process.)