What up creative people?
These days the notion of creativity is everywhere. It's a popular buzz word and a top characteristic that headhunters are looking for when recruiting for positions. Sometimes I marvel at how the tables have been turning when it comes to pursuing a creative career. There was a time when becoming a lawyer or doctor was the epitome of success. Getting good grades in school was the highest indication of a successful life. You got grades so you can get into a good school so you can get more good grades to get a good job that you could work at for 40 years, retire and then move to Florida to live out your golden years in shorts.
Such a boring life in my opinion. (Maybe in yours too?)
But as technology has advanced and become more accessible we've seen an increase in the value of being creative and pursuing creative careers. We've seen a burst in innovation and technology in the last decade so much so that it has become an integral part of our every day life (hello social media). As a result, creativity has become a highly valued skill set. It also seems that the most creative people are being rewarded in our society from the work Steve Jobs has done at Apple to the directorial work of J.J. Abrams and the artistry of those who excel in sports like Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas.
We've found that those who have been creative in their own businesses stand out from the crowd on the internet and have created work that has gone viral. Sometimes it just takes courage to just share something you absolutely LOVE with others in a unique way. Why take a picture when you can make a hilarious video about something you purchased?
If you are looking for ways to push past your creative roadblocks and move forward in your meaningful project and amazing ideas keep reading.
Today I'm going to go into depth on how you can increase your creativity. One major issue that I have with all of the articles on creativity is there is blanket advice given out without taking into account the creative process itself. There needs to be a meeting point between the "tips and tricks" and where they fit into the creative process. If you do the wrong trick at the wrong time you could set yourself up for a frustrating afternoon.
That is why I've divided this topic into two parts. Part 1 will cover understanding the creative process and Part 2 will dive into tactics within the creative process to increase creativity.
Creativity has been around since the dawn of time. As God created the earth, the animals, man and woman creativity has been interwoven into the very fabric of life. Humans would pass down information through storytelling before there was the written word. As humans worked the earth and had families they had to be creative with their surroundings to survive, make tools, find food and create coverings for their bodies and protection from the weather. They couldn't just go to the nearest mall and purchase the latest Kate Spade rain boots for monsoon season!
When it's a question about survival we have no choice but to be creative or die.
But what about when you are producing something on purpose for the sake of innovation and artistic expression? The earliest example of art was found in South Africa - stones that were discovered and engraved with grid or cross-hatch patterns dating back to 70,000 years ago. Of course this is what we know today. I'm sure there were some little kids finding ways to draw on mamma's tent walls when she wasn't looking!
So what exactly is the creative process?
In 1926 a 68 year old psychologist and London School of Economics co-founder named Graham Wallas wrote a little diddy called The Art of Thought where he outlined the stages of the creative process. Specifically for when someone approaches a problem with the goal of coming up with a creative solution. His findings were based on his own empirical observations and records of famous inventors and academics.
Now let's dive in a break down the stages more...
The Preparation Stage - This is the first stage of creativity according to Wallas. For many creatives this stage begins with the beautiful spark of an idea! That inspiration that just hits you out of no where and gets your mind moving in a thousand directions. The lovely moment when firecrackers of visions and the fire of passion towards a project ensues. The potential energy is born unto you!
In this stage we are really defining the problem, the idea or the question that needs to be answered. We also gather any information that is needed for the solution to the problem or the answer to that burning question. Lastly, we identify what we think would be a success when we are done. In essence, we are envisioning the end - and that's what really get's us excited to move forward into the next stage.
Incubation Stage - Have you ever seen an incubator? My mother in law has a small farm in our city and every year she gets fertilized chicken eggs from the University. They have to sit in an incubator for several weeks until the little chicks hatch. It's quite the event every year! (At least for my kids). We love to watch the little chicks work to poke their little beaks out of the eggs. We cheer them on as they work hard to crack the shells and enter the world. The thing is they can't come out until it's time. They have to be fully formed or else they could have life or death consequences. Your idea is the same way. Even though your idea might not have life or death consequences, it could have monetary risk or even define your expertise in your industry depending on the results.
The incubation stage is where you step back from the project and let your mind work it through. This stage can take minutes, days, weeks or even years for some people. In this stage the unconscious mind will do much of the heavy lifting, processing what happened in the previous stage until it comes up with different solutions for you. Wallas believed that you could optimize the incubation stage by purposefully building in conscious interruptions into the workflow.
He was ahead of his time as modern research on productivity has confirmed this theory.
On to the next stage!
The Illumination Stage - After your idea has had some time to percolate, it is met with the illumination stage. Illumination is a precious stage for sure when it seems that you receive a rush of insights, ideas, and answers that are served up to your conscious mind for just a few minutes or hours in a flash of beautiful inspiration. These are the moments where you will be grateful that you carried a pen and notebook where ever you go in case illumination decides to strike.
Unlike the incubation stage, Wallas didn't believe that you could force the flash of illumination that can visit you at the most surprising moments.
So what happens next?
The Verification stage- This is the final stage when the conscious mind is invited back into the creative process and you begin to test the viability of your illuminations. For example if you are working on a screenplay and you came to a point where you became stuck on a certain scene and needed to take a break. After a few days or weeks maybe you had some flashes of ideas that you thought would be a perfect solution to your problem! Eureka! The next time you could get your hands on your keyboard you rush into revisit your characters and see if your ideas work. You find out most of the ideas don't work but a few of them do and really get your story moving again!
This is the stage where you are satisfying the criteria that you came up with in the preparation stage.
As a fellow creative soul I know that these stages are not something we consciously think about. We don't sit down and plot out each of these stages while we work. It's not in our nature. We just do what we do and let others marvel at our genius. But we know that doing creative work that gets finished in quite grueling, frustrating and discouraging at times. The only thing that keeps you going is that end result you envisioned in the beginning (during the preparation stage.)
I believe that if we are at the very least conscious of the general creative process we can allow ourselves some room and grace to embrace those moments when you need to step away. You don't have to feel lazy or guilty for taking time to go away from the problem and allow your subconscious to do some work. In fact, you are being a responsible creative by recognizing that this is a normal part of the process.
Before we go I'll say this - there are a lot of theories on the creative process. Some of them have included more than these four steps but they all seem to be based of the same principals. I truly believe as you continue to work through the creative process on your own projects you will start to develop your very own process for getting things and being a creative on a mission.