Chapter 1.2 Creativity has stages

The Stages of Creativity

The 4 stages of creativity, as outlined by Wallas (1926), describe the principle steps taken between a problem and its solution being acted on. The ‘Preparation’ stage represents not only the person understanding a problem but also all the information a person absorbs as part of everyday life. This means that not only have they prepared their minds to tackle the problem, they have also prepared their minds by learning and experiencing from other problems and thus have become more capable of solving the one at hand. The ‘Incubation’ stage represents the assimilation and mixing of these past experiences with the problem at hand and also with any continued stimulus into the senses. We attribute a metaphor for the mystery of birth to it – it is a hidden development, one we seem to have little control over, where new solutions and ideas are assembled. It is also linked with the unconscious, and seems to require us to ‘turn our backs’ on it in order to work best. Many accounts of inspiration refer to the un-mindfulness – concentration on some minor activity – that allowed the idea to form. Next is the stage that represents the ‘Illumination’ of the idea. It is formulated in the conscious mind, but as we will see in this essay, it is also possible for it to be expressed unconsciously, the pieces coming together on paper or in our hands to be ‘Verified’ in the final stage. I will be comparing theories of processes attributed to the “Incubation” and “Illumination” phases in several disciplines; neuroscience, philosophy and psychology. Vinacke (1952) suggests more of a looping system between these two stages, where the processes around ‘Incubation’ and ‘Illumination’ are multiple and repeated rather than a straightforward movement from beginning to end. This seems to reflect the systems I will discuss here but I will not be looking to verify or evolve these theories.

This essay will focus on the process that is evident in the second and third steps of this model, specifically the translation, and associated motivation in taking thoughts from ‘Incubation’ to ‘Illumination’. The Incubation step, according to Wallas, is the stage after information is gathered and the ‘problem’ identified. It is an internal process continuously fed by the previous stage of Preparation. The mind churns and compares information, combining possibilities and attempts to discover new combinations that are useful to the problem or need at hand. Taylor (1959 p.64) explains that “during the incubation stage, experiences mill and flow freely about for the highly creative person … [whereas] for the non-creative person it is merely a matter of sorting experiences into tight, comfortable mental compartments”. This is an important observation for this research, as it shows how a process of sense-making that is essentially identical between two people can be used very differently and for different creative outcomes. I will be focusing on the ‘feed-back loop’ aspect of these processes, as suggested by Vinacke (1952) as it is supported by neuroscientific research (Lehrer 2012).

The ‘Illumination’ phase is interesting because it is sometimes described as the moment of conscious awareness of a solution, but it can also be a fitting together of existing pieces and therefore come after their ‘expression’ or translation into the physical world has occurred. There seems to be less knowledge about how or why this occurs compared to the ‘eureka’ moment, and I aim to compare in theoretical research with individual’s accounts in order to understand more of this phenomenon.