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The Creative Process: Why It Matters To Have One

When you have a creative process – and understand how it works – you have a better chance of increasing creative flow in your work.

You are also more likely to spot whether an idea is good, helpful, and valuable.

Understanding Your Own Creative Process

The job of understanding your own overarching creative process, and sub-processes, is twofold:

First comes Discovery through Observation.

By observing things that work in creative activity and taking the time to document them – sometimes in flow charts – we can gain insights into creative processes that work well.

Each of us can cultivate our own imagination. Much in the way that we can grow our own ‘idea gardens.’

Everyone has their own unique creative processes, best adapted to their own life experiences, goals, and unique creative minds.

The second element is active, creative method Development. This means trying to figure out whether there is a more creative approach, a more creative solution, to certain ‘problems.’

Whether that problem is artistic in nature or practical.

Pay attention to the above two approaches as a way to better dial in your own creative processes and boost your creative potential.

In my experience, our appreciation of creativity and the creative process, and our ability to enhance it, never stands still!

Why Is the Creative Process Important?

So, how does creativity “happen”? Is there a step-by-step process, or is it a jumble of thoughts and ideas?

Many people don’t take the time to really think about this. We tend to take the creative process for granted.

Reflecting on, and analyzing the creative process – and our own individual creative processes – helps us distinguish between good and bad ideas and how we move from one to another.

What Is the Creative Process?

The creative process is a repeatable cycle of steps through which we draw out and use new ideas.

It’s not easy to find a dictionary definition.

Perhaps because it’s such a vague concept that it could be argued in many ways, depending on how you define it.

The term ‘creative process’ is used broadly; it also tends to be associated with the design industry.

There are some aspects of the creative process that we can think about. Many people – from artists to entrepreneurs – are prepared to share their own individual creative processes online and elsewhere.

The Five Stages of the Creative Process

There are many scientific theories about the creative process. One of the best well-known – and one of the first models of the creative process – is that formulated by Graham Wallas in 1926.

Wallas proposed that there are four critical stages of the creative process, which were developed into five by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (the author of ‘Flow’). The word ‘problem’, below, is used in the broadest sense.

  1. Preparation Stage. When people start to focus their minds on problems and explore their dimensions. There is often a marshaling of resources at this stage. This is usually quite an immersive stage.
  2. Incubation Stage. Where the topic is mulled over. The subconscious mind takes a role here.
  3. Illumination or Insight Stage. This is the so-called Eureka moment, where suddenly the creative act or idea bursts forth into a creative idea. Quite often, this is like pieces of a puzzle coming together in an unexpected way.
  4. Verificatication or Evaluation Stage. This is where the idea is assessed. Is it a valuable idea? Should it be pursued? Or dropped?
  5. Elaboration Stage. The process of expressing the idea in whatever form – a painting, a novel, a piece of music, a campaign…sometimes this happens in a fluid way; often sheer grind is required!

The Creative Process Is Not Linear

It’s been my constant experience that the creative process is anything but linear.

I find that there is a kind of oscillation between various stages in the process. Things are interconnected in a distinctly non-linear way!

So, for example, the Eureka moment sometimes comes first.

Not often, but sometimes.

I find that the verification stage often oscillates with the very first preparation stage. And so forth.

Nor do things happen in isolation. Often multiple insights can arrive, one quickly following another. The challenge is always to document them fast enough.

Do Creative Processes Differ According to Activity?

The first thing to say about this is that creative processes are associated with internal and external exploration.

External creative work boils down to the process of observation. It’s like gathering the groundnuts as if you are some kind of clever squirrel!

Internal work is where you ponder, recombine and tear apart the stuff you gathered in the external world.

There are differences between the creative process in, say, writing and painting.

Although writing does sometimes spew onto the page, in the kind of stream of consciousness manner, more often than not, it is quite a painstaking process. Whether fiction or non-fiction writing.

On the other hand (and I’m not a painter, but my partner is), painting seems to be a more messy process – figuratively and literally! For the shape and structure to emerge on the canvas.

Of course, there is everything in between. These are just two examples of creative endeavors in which the creative process is fundamental to creative expression.

Cultural Differences in Creative Processes

Although underlying creative processes are the same in all countries; there is a cultural difference in perception of what creativity is all about.

People in some countries tend to view creativity as an individual act. In other countries and cultures, there is a more collective mindset and the idea that creativity is applied by all for the benefit of all.

I would be surprised if such anthropological criteria don’t impact the internal processes also.

Nothing Special?!

There is a debate around where creativity starts, and where it does not exist.

Some say that common problem solving is not a creative act. That the creative process does not come into it.

This argument extends into the idea that creativity and intelligence in problem-solving equate to the same thing.

I think it is true that there has been a kind of blurring of the lines. ‘Creativity’ has been demeaned by being ascribed to mundane stuff (perhaps to help people feel better!)

Much in the same way that the word ‘storytelling’ has been harnessed by all and sundry, often to suit commercial ends.

The Connection Between Creative Processes and Unconscious Processes

Suppose we accept that we can break down our creative processes into meta and find common ground among creative activities. The question arises whether stuff is going on over which we have no conscious control.

Can an understanding of whether the unconscious mind plays a role in our creativity help us be more creative?

The science and philosophy involved are complex.

It seems to boil down to the idea that the brain – the mind – contains ‘association cortices’ active during unconscious creative thinking. Ideas collide chaotically until some pair up.

I don’t have more than a layman’s appreciation of this. But I feel it might explain why we wake in the morning with a creative idea at the front of our minds.

Waking Ideas that need to be written down immediately, before inspiration evaporates into the ether!