How to optimize your creative process for ultimate success. Creativity is very important in this day and age. It is the mother of invention, offers solutions to many numbers of problems, and work as the incentive to produce works of art that can include paintings, songs, books, pieces of music….and the list goes on.
The creative process is the act of making new connections between old ideas or recognizing relationships between concepts.
While we often think of creativity as an event or as a natural skill that some people have and some don’t research actually suggests that both creativity and non-creativity are learned.
According to psychology professor Barbara Kerr, “approximately 22 percent of the variance [in creativity] is due to the influence of genes.” This discovery was made by studying the differences in creative thinking between sets of twins.
All of this to say, claiming that “I’m just not the creative type” is a pretty weak excuse for avoiding creative thinking. Certainly, some people are primed to be more creative than others. However, nearly every person is born with some level of creative skill and the majority of our creative thinking abilities are trainable.
Being creative is part of everything we do in life. But being creative doesn’t come as easily to some people as it does for others and it can be especially difficult to be creative if it is part of your everyday routine. Understanding the creative process can help you better understand what it takes to get your mind brainstorming out-of-the-box solutions making it easier for you to churn out great ideas every on a regular basis.
How to optimize your creative process for ultimate success. Creative processes tend to be chaotic and nonlinear—which seems to mirror what’s going on in our brains. Contrary to the “right-brain myth,” creativity doesn’t just involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain. Instead, the creative process draws on the whole brain. It’s a dynamic interplay of many diverse brain regions, thinking styles, emotions, and unconscious and conscious processing systems coming together in unusual and unexpected ways.
But while we may never find the formula for creativity, there’s still a lot that science can teach us about what goes into the creative process—and how each one of us can optimize our own.
One of the most illuminating things I’ve discovered is a popular four-stage model of the creative process developed in the 1920s. British psychologist Graham Wallis outlined in his book The Art of Thought, a theory of the creative process based on many years of observing and studying accounts of inventors and other creative types at work.
The four stages of the creative process
Although the process of creativity can work in various ways for different people, generally, these are the basic steps:
Stage 1: Preparation
The creative process begins with preparation: gathering information and materials, identifying sources of inspiration, and acquiring knowledge about the project or problem at hand. This is often an internal process (thinking deeply to generate and engage with ideas) as well as an external one (going out into the world to gather the necessary data, resources, materials, and expertise).
Step 2: Create a schedule
No single act will uncover more creative genius than forcing yourself to create consistently. Practicing your craft over and over is the only way to become decent at it. The person who sits around theorizing about what a best-selling book looks like will never write it. Meanwhile, the writer who shows up every day and puts their butt in the chair and their hands on the keyboard — they are learning how to do the work.
If you want to do your best creative work, then don’t leave it up to choice. Don’t wake up in the morning and think, “I hope I feel inspired to create something today.” You need to take the decision-making out of it. Set a schedule for your work. Genius arrives when you show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way.
Stage 2: Incubation
Next, the ideas and information gathered in stage 1 marinate in the mind. As ideas slowly simmer, the work deepens and new connections are formed. During this period of germination, the artist takes their focus off the problem and allows the mind to rest. While the conscious mind wanders, the unconscious engages in what Einstein called “combinatory play”: taking diverse ideas and influences and finding new ways to bring them together.
Remember, The world needs people who put creative work out into the world. What seems simple to you is often brilliant to someone else. But you’ll never know that unless you choose to share.
Stage 3: Illumination
After a period of incubation, insights arise from the deeper layers of the mind and breakthrough to conscious awareness, often in a dramatic way. This is the stage where your dreams become a reality, in a quite literal sense. Suddenly, you see clearly what the subject of your next work should be.
It’s the sudden Eureka! that comes when you’re in the shower, taking a walk, or occupied with something completely unrelated. Seemingly out of nowhere, the solution presents itself.
Stage 4: Verification and Implementation
Following the illumination stage, the words or ideas get written down, the vision is committed to paint or demonstrated, the business or personal plan is developed. Whatever ideas and insights arose in stage 3 are fleshed out and developed. This is the stage where your idea actually sees the light of day. For a songwriter, this might be working the piece out on paper and playing it on your instrument. For a painter, this could be the process of actually putting the painting on a piece of canvas.
It doesn’t matter how good or how bad it is. You don’t need to set the world on fire with your first try. You just need to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to produce something.
There are no artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, or scientists who became great by half-finishing their work. Stop debating what you should make and just make something.
Shape and develop your idea based on feedback. For any idea to succeed, you must release it out into the world, submit it to criticism, and adapt it as needed and refine the work and then communicate its value to others.
Of course, these stages don’t always play out in such an orderly, linear fashion. The creative process tends to look more like a zigzag or spiral than a straight line. The model certainly has its limitations, but it can offer a road map of sorts for our own creative journey, offering a direction, if not a destination. It can help us become more aware of where we’re at in our own process, where we need to go, and the mental processes that can help us get there. And when the process gets a little too messy, coming back to this framework can help us to recenter, realign, and chart the path ahead.
For instance, if you can’t seem to get from incubation to illumination, the solution might be to go back to stage 1, gathering more resources and knowledge to find that missing element. Or perhaps, in the quest for productivity, you’ve made the all-too-common mistake of skipping straight to stage 4, pushing ahead with a half-baked idea before it’s fully marinated. In that case, carving out time and space for stage 2 may be the necessary detour.
How to optimize your creative process for ultimate success
For some years I’ve studied and applied the four-stage model in my own work, and I’ve discovered within it a much more profound insight into the mysteries of creation.
At its heart, any creative process is about discovering something new within ourselves and then bringing that something into the world for others to experience and enjoy. The work of the artist, the visionary, the innovator is to bridge their inner and outer worlds—taking something that only exists within their own mind and heart and soul and birthing it into concrete, tangible form (you know, not unlike that other kind of creative process).
Any creative process is a dance between the inner and the outer; the unconscious and conscious mind; dreaming and doing; madness and method; solitary reflection and active collaboration. Psychologists describe it in simple terms of inspiration (coming up with ideas) and generation (bringing ideas to life).
In the four-stage model, we can see how the internal and external elements of the creative process interact. stages 2 and 3 are all about inspiration: dreaming, reflecting, imagining, opening up to inspiration, and allowing the unconscious mind to do its work. Stages 1 and 4, meanwhile, are about generation: doing the external work of research, planning, execution, and collaboration. Through a dynamic dance of inspiration and generation, brilliant work comes to life.
How does this help us in our own creative process? The more we master this balance, the more we can tap into our creative potential. We all have a preference for one side over the other, and by becoming more aware of our natural inclinations, we can learn how to optimize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.
More inward-focused, idea-generating types excel in stages 2 and 3: getting inspired and coming up with brilliant ideas. But they run the risk of getting stuck in their own heads and failing to materialize their brilliant ideas in the world. These thinkers and dreamers often need to bring more time and focus on stages 1 and 4 in order to keep their creative process on track. Balance inspiration with generation by creating the necessary structures to help you commit to action and put one foot in front of the other to make it happen—or just collaborate with a doer to who you can outsource your ideas too!
Doer types, on the other hand, shine in stages 1 and 4. They’re brilliant at getting things done, but they risk putting all their focus on productivity at the expense of the inner work and big-picture thinking that helps produce truly inspired work. When we bypass the critical work that occurs in the incubation stage, we miss out on our most original and groundbreaking ideas. If you’re a doer/generator, you can up-level your creative process by clearing out space in your mind and your schedule to dream, imagine, reflect, and contemplate.
How to optimize your creative process for ultimate success. By seeking a balance of these opposing forces, we can bring some order to the chaos of the creative process. And as we become dreamers who do and doers who dream, we empower ourselves to share more of our creative gifts with the world.
Creativity is such an important part of life. It can shape your career, provide solutions for a number of problems, or just serve as a healthy outlet for many people. Understanding the creative process can help you to better connect with your creativity, giving you the tools you need to move forward in life. Hopefully, this article has given you some valuable insight into the creative process, so you can take advantage of all that may be going on in that beautiful mind of yours.