Creative Process: Definition & Stages

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

The creative process involves generating new ideas and problem solving. Explore the definition and stages of the creative process including preparation, incubation, illumination, evaluation, and implementation. Updated: 01/24/2022

Creative Process

What do you do when you need to get your creative juices flowing? Do you brainstorm new thoughts or ideas with a friend or co-worker? Maybe you give yourself a period of time to decompress and wait for creative inspiration to strike. Or, do you immerse yourself in the area of knowledge where creativity is needed?

Would you believe that most people engage in some degree of all of those things? It's part of a way of thinking popularized by the English social psychologist Graham Wallas, the co-founder of the London School of Economics. He defined what he believed to be stages of the creative process based on his own observations and what he had learned about famous inventors and intellectuals.

The creative process is both easy and hard to define: Easy because it simply refers to the way in which people come up with new ideas or solutions for problems, and difficult because that process is a somewhat different one for each person. What we do know, according to Wallas and others who have studied the creative process, is that it includes five definable stages.

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Stages

Part conscious and part unconscious thought, the creative process can be broken down into five key stages, including: preparation, incubation, illumination, evaluation, and implementation.

Preparation

Preparation is the ground floor of the creative process, the foundation on which all the other stages are built. It begins when a problem is identified, a need is realized, or a solution is necessary. Preparation is the working stage, during which where you conduct research and gather information, laying the groundwork for creative success. It also serves as a planning stage as you prepare for the new idea or project to come.

In the workplace, preparation might start with a marketing strategist looking at market research before designing a new advertising campaign or a computer programmer tinkering with code. It might look like an editor reading books about a local town in preparation for a special section in a newspaper. It could even be a manager pulling data from previous team projects in preparation for a new project.

Incubation

The incubation stage is like that walk around the block that you take when you need to get away from your desk and clear your mind. Incubation gives you time to reflect upon the preparation stage and the information you've gathered, a process that may be both conscious and subconscious. Think about an incubator in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit that gives premature babies extra time to develop and grow. This is what the incubation stage does in the creative process, and it can take just a few minutes, hours, days, or even weeks.

At work, the incubation stage on a project might come after the first team meeting when a manager asks everyone to mull over ideas for the next meeting or for the project as a whole. After taking that directive back to your desk, you continue thinking about it, even as you're working on other tasks, jotting down ideas as they come to you throughout the next week.

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