The Five Phases of Creativity

I was thinking about creativity last week for three reasons. First, I often think about creativity in general. Second, I saw an announcement at work for an upcoming talk titled “Seven Stages of Creativity: Developing Your Creative Self”. And third, while browsing the magazine rack at my local supermarket, I saw an interesting article in Scientific American magazine titled, “Can You Trust a Eureka Moment?”

At research labs such as the ones at Microsoft, Google, IBM, and similar companies, people are always looking for The Next Big Thing. In other words, they’re trying to be creative.


So, I decided to watch the “Seven Stages of Creativity” talk. Before the talk started, I googled about and discovered many people had come up with essentially the same idea of how people come up with a creative idea. Most are variations of five steps/phases published by James Webb Young in a 1939 booklet “A Technique for Producing Ideas”.

It’s simple: 1.) Gather information. 2.) Study the information. 3.) Stop studying and let your mind process subconsciously. 4.) Wait for the eureka moment. 5.) Implement and refine the idea.

This process makes sense and isn’t rocket science. Everyone has experienced the phenomenon where you get a flash of inspiration days after thinking about something. You can fine tune the five steps into seven or more steps if you like, or you can combine a couple of the steps and end up with three or four steps.

OK, so with a little bit of background in hand, I attended the “Seven Stages” talk. The speaker was a buffoon who managed to waste 90 minutes. Ironically, his talk on creativity was completely un-creative — he just plagiarized information off the Internet without attribution, which was implying they were his own ideas. To make matters worse, he threw out a steady stream of foul language to try and show attendees how hip he was (not). Just an awful talk and an awful speaker.

At the other extreme, the Scientific American article was very interesting. It described actual research by John Kounios and Carola Salvi that shows the validity of the subconscious processing part of creativity. Good article.

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