To support proposals on what we need for creativity, it is only logical that we take a look at what is usually involved in the creative process. By breaking down the process we can see more clearly what is required for each stage. The creative process is best summarised as follows:
- Preparation – thinking about, learning, researching the problem at hand. This is a sort of “background information”
- Incubation – a period where the problem is “set aside.” Anecdotally, this is where people “take a break” from the problem to let thoughts “sink in” – or something similar. This is what many people talk about when they talk about the shower principal.
- Illumination – or inspiration, where an idea occurs
- Elaboration – this idea is honed in to suit the task at hand and verified that it fills all requirements
(from Sternberg, 1999, The Handbook of Creativity, 138).
The key to this list is distinct processes that have distinct requirements, and most importantly distinct modes of thinking.
So, let’s discuss for a moment some ideas on different modes of thinking. The Handbook of Creativity, mentioned above describes primary thought and secondary thought. These are described as:
- Primary thought is characterised by free-association, analogical, concrete images. Examples such as daydreaming, being drunk, dreaming, being hypnotized
- Secondary thought is abstract, logical, straight-forward thought of waking consciousness
These descriptions mirror quite closely other modes of thought described by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow. He describes these as:
- System 1: operates quickly and automatically, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. Consider something like intuition
- System 2: covers effortful mental activities such as complex computations – reasoning, logic, concentration
(see Kahneman, 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow)
System 1 clearly correlates to Primary, as does System 2 to Secondary. I mention this to demonstrate how Kahneman’s claims about how easily influenced System 1 is, and what dramatic effects that can have on System 2, are directly applicable to the creative process.
This line of thought reflects much of the thought on this website: different stages of the design process require different modes of thinking and these modes of thinking are actually quite receptive to external (environmental) influences.
Immediately, we can say that Stage 1 (Preparation) requires a degree of privacy and solitude – quiet work space for Primary / System 2 thought. It requires people have the right tools for the job and the ability to access the information they need. It also suggests that brief periods of collaboration and speaking with others is important on the off-chance they know some background information about the situation at hand.
We can then say, Stage 2 (Incubation) is when a person is more open to distraction. We want to increase the chance of collaboration and synthesis. A lively and inspiring work space is important here. We want to make connections and we need to feel freedom to ‘let go.’ We want to encourage primary / System 1 thought in order that the knowledge gained in Stage 1 can coalesce into an idea. We want to prime System 1 – not just for creative thought, but creative thought that aligns with the culture and values we desire.
This sounds quite straightforward, but when we really examine the things we are saying here, the amount of variables and aspects of our environments to look at, it becomes much more complex. These a broad brush discussions, and I don’t intend to go into every detail in this post. This is to introduce how different thinking styles, supported by different environments, work together to produce creative thought.
Further to this, I’d love to hear anyone’s personal experiences of their creative process – do you find it fits these stages?
Feature image courtesy of Gianluca Annicchiarico.