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What Is the Creative Process?
The creative process is the evolution of an idea into its final form through a progression of thoughts and actions. The creative process involves critical thinking and problem-solving skills. From songwriters to television producers, creative individuals generally go through five steps to bring their ideas to fruition—preparation, incubation, illumination, evaluation, and verification. These stages were first articulated by Graham Wallas, a social psychologist and co-founder of the London School of Economics who outlined the primary stages of the creative process in his 1926 book on creativity called The Art of Thought.
The 5 Stages of the Creative Process
While all creative people apply unique methods and thought processes to their work, there are five stages that most creators subconsciously follow while pursuing their creative endeavors. The five stages of the creative process each flow logically into the next phase of the process. As you embark on your own creative process, unleash your mind and let your ideas grow through the five stages of creativity.
- Preparation stage: As you begin the creative journey, the first stage involves prep work and idea generation. This is when you gather materials and conduct research that could spark an interesting idea. Brainstorm and let your mind wander, or write in a journal to foster divergent thinking; this will help you consider all possible approaches to building out your idea. In this first part of the process, your brain is using its memory bank to draw on knowledge and past experiences to generate original ideas.
- Incubation stage: When you have finished actively thinking about your idea, the second stage is where you let it go. Part of creative thinking is taking a step away from your idea before you sit down to flesh it out. You might work on another project or take a break from the creative process altogether—regardless, you are not consciously trying to work on your idea. Walking away from your idea might seem counterproductive, but it’s an important stage of the process. During this time, your story or song or problem is incubating in the back of your mind.
- Illumination stage: Sometimes called the insight stage, illumination is when the “aha” moment happens. The light bulb clicks on as spontaneous new connections are formed and all of that material you’ve gathered comes together to present the solution to your problem. In this third stage, the answer to your creative quest strikes you. For example, you overcome writer’s block by figuring out the ending to your story. It can take you by surprise but after the incubation stage, an idea has emerged.
- Evaluation stage: During this stage, you consider the validity of your idea and weigh it against alternatives. This is also a time of reflection when you look back at your initial concept or problem to see if your solution aligns with your initial vision. Business professionals might do market research to test the viability of the idea. During this phase, you might go back to the drawing board or you might forge on, confident in what you’ve come up with.
- Verification stage: This is the final stage of the creative process. It’s when the hard work happens. Your creative product might be a physical object, an advertising campaign, a song, a novel, an architectural design—any item or object that you set out to create, propelled by that initial idea that popped into your head. Now, you finalize your design, bring your idea to life, and share it with the world.
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