Creativity is not a ‘talent’, but a cognitive skill that can be learned and nurtured, hence empowering individuals to express themselves creatively within the community in which they live.
This article dissects the creative process into five steps that combine intuitive inspiration with logical structure. They employ the full spectrum of cognitive and empirical faculties that focuses one’s cognitive ability by engaging the unconscious to produce superior solutions of both novelty and worth.
This model builds upon the insights of pioneer theorists Graham Wallas (The Art of Thought, 1926) and James Webb Young (A Technique For Producing Ideas, 1965), and outlines the importance of emotion in realising inspiration as practical form.
The model of creativity is as follows:
INCEPTION: Understand the task at hand
The first stage of the creative process commences by establishing the brief or the scope of the task. Through properly defining the task at hand one is able to pinpoint the problem that requires solving and determine the paths that may lead to a solution.
Once the task is identified, we must analyse and absorb all relevant information. This allows us to intimately understand the individual components that concern our subject. Study the conventional approaches and ask why those conventions exist. Don’t be afraid to question their validity.
When research is concluded, test your immediate assumptions by conducting some preliminary ideation. Write down or sketch these thoughts without prejudice. It is important not to censor your thinking as you will place limits on your creativity. All thoughts have potential.
INCUBATION: Push the task out of your immediate attention
Once the problem has been defined, research completed and preliminary ideation has commenced, push the task out of your immediate attention. Quite simply—forget about it.
To understand why this is important, we must understand the relationship between the conscious and unconscious modes of ‘thinking’.
Consciousness is thought with attention. Unfortunately consciousness by necessity only uses a small subset of available information as it schematically imposes a pattern on complex reality to assist in explaining it. Our consciousness essentially thinks within the box.
Unconscious ‘thought’, however works aschematically to weight the relative importance of various attributes. This unconscious process may be called intuition. It is the mind’s ability to laterally access cognitive resources (ie. knowledge, past experiences and emotions) to formulate inferences.
Disengaging conscious attention allows the unconscious to efficiently process a mass of data.
ILLUMINATION: Inspiration is revealed in the form of an intuited notion
When discussing creativity with artists and designers, most agree that there is an urge to change their "mental state" at the point of creativity. Whether it is to find a quiet space, turn on music or change the surroundings, it is fundamentally an effort to find focus and enhance the brain's cognitive reception of intuited notions.
An experienced creative will become aware that a glimmer of an idea is about to emerge through a ‘feeling’ they have. Emotion is essential because it creates a chain of associations that lead expectation. Such ‘feelings’ enable the use of past experiences to subjectively recognise the potential of certain directions.
Inspiration is revealed in the form of an intuited notion that illuminates our consciousness. This notion however is intangible; it is structured as an abstract synthesis of emotion, memory and imagination.
REALISATION: Give your inspiration context and structure
Intuited notions are fleeting thoughts; they have neither context nor structure. Therefore, intuited notions need to be seized and brought into reality. Transform imagination into a tangible form by taking out what is distracting, leaving only what is pertinent, to create a finite form that can be put into action.
What separates a great artist and designer from the mediocre is not the quality of the inspiration, but the ability to realise what others could not. It is about seeing potential where others see only ambiguity.
VERIFICATION: Analyse the result against the original objectives
It is essential to test all ideas against the strategy of the brief and proposed outcomes. By exposing the idea to analysis and synthesis, we are able to assess its validity and judge the result.
Ideas that we create are highly personal due to the nature of their creation. Therefore it is important to be as impartial as possible when assessing your ideas. Invite critique from others.
All ideas must report back to the reason that motivated their creation. If the idea does not sufficiently answer the brief, take what is appropriate and discard what obscure and go back to stage one to begin the sequence again.
Creativity is a uniquely human ability that provides us with amazing potential and allows us to achieve designs—from the most glorious, to the most heinous. We create the world we live in.
David Gill is managing director of Qualia Creative.