June 12

The 5 Stages of the Creative Process

People often assume that the creative process is a result of divine inspiration, an elusive ability reserved only for those labeled as a ‘creative genius’. However, creativity is not exclusive to a select few. In reality, everyone has creative potential within them. As Chase Jarvis puts it, everyone is inherently creative, making us all part of the creative population. While some models describe key stages of the creative journey as a ‘four-stage model of the creative process’, I find that a more comprehensive understanding emerges from a five-step process. This five-step process allows for a more detailed exploration of each stage, thereby unlocking the full creative potential of an individual.

Understanding the Creative Process for Brining a Creative Idea to Life

The creative process is not a mystical, elusive force. Instead, it’s a five-step journey that anyone can embark on. It begins with the generation of creative ideas, followed by incubation, research, elaboration, evaluation, and finally, the execution of the original idea itself. This creative development process leads to innovation and breakthroughs in business, and personal fulfillment in artistic creativity.

Defining Creativity

Creativity, as defined by Todd Henry, is a ‘pathological inability to accept the status quo.’ It’s not just about having original ideas, but also about the ability to bring these ideas to life. This is where the stages of creativity come into play, enabling clear idea, the definition and abstract concept of creativity to be fully realized and expressed.

Creativity is a habit, not a trait

The only difference between professional artists and those who believe they lack creativity is that professional artists express their creativity daily. They understand that the third step of the creative process is to take action, to move a project from conception to execution.

To develop an idea or makea business plan happen, it’s essential to understand these stages of the creative process and how they work. From generating ideas to the insight step of creative thinking where a person starts to connect the dots and generate ideas, to finally executing the ideam, each phase plays a crucial role in the overall process.

Whether you want to learn a new skill, complete a project, or make a product, you go through every stage of the process. The same goes for the basic steps or five key stages of the creative process in any creative field or creative endeavor. You have an idea, you incubate it, take action, polish the idea, and share it with the world. This requires a combination of critical thinking and strategic action that drives a project forward in any artistic field.

Remember, creativity is not just about generating ideas, but also about the ability to execute them. So, let’s delve deeper into these five stages’ of creativity and understand how to navigate through each one. What are the 5 steps of the creative process?

Stage 1: The Initiation of the Creative Thinking Process

The first stage of the creative process, often known as the initiation of the creative thinking, creative process based or the idea generation phase, involves the generation of new ideas itself, serving as the inspiration stage. This stage is the cornerstone of the five-step process that underpins all creative development. No one has a shortage of ideas. To say you have a shortage of ideas is like saying you have a shortage of thoughts. You have a brilliant idea almost every day. However, this is the most common stage where creative people get stuck.

My Moleskine notebooks and writing software are full of half-baked ideas, incoherent psychobabble, and dozens of false starts. Some of these have turned into blog posts, books, and other creative projects. What seems like a terrible idea when you have it can become brilliant overnight.

Ideation is a form of brainstorming about a new idea, project or piece of art you want to do. But just thinking deeply about your ideas isn’t enough. During the inspiration stage of the creative process, a person needs to capture each idea.

Stage 2: Incubation – The Second Phase of Creativity

The incubation stage, the second stage of the creative process, is a crucial part of the stages of creativity. This stage is where your ideas get the time to mature and your ideas grow and develop. The transition and internal process from the incubation phase to the illumination phase is a journey that can’t be rushed or forced.

In the incubation stage, you can’t just turn creativity on and off like a light switch. Ideas take time to mature, and you usually won’t always be ready to implement an idea as soon as you have one. This stage of the creative development process can sometimes take years, but it’s a crucial part of the journey from initial idea to final product. And it’s often the incubation phases is a source of creative inspiration.

As you transition from the incubation stage to the illumination stage, you start to experience eureka moments about the ideas you’ve captured. This moment is the insight stage of the creative process where you figure out how to start a paragraph or short story or write the conclusion of an essay. This moment is a clear sign that you’re transitioning from the incubation phase into the third step of the creative process.

The Macgyver Method for Creative Thinking

You can take a more deliberate approach to creativity at during the illumination stage by using the Macgyver Method. Lee Zlotoff , the co founder and creator of the series, developed this simple three-step approach to overcoming creative blocks and using your subconcious mind.

  1. Write down a question.

  2. Do An Incubation Activity (something like puzzles, building things with your hands, etc.).

  3. Write down the answer to your question

This amazing creativity secret always leads to a great result, regardless of your creative field. I’ve used it to come up with ideas for articles, products, and services. The Macgyver Method gives you time and space for convergent thinking, divergent thinking, and the emergence of new connections and alternative ideas during the illumination stage

Stage 3: Elaboration and The Creative Thinking Process

Artists never have a shortage of brilliant new ideas either. However, prrofessional artists understand that the creative development process is not just about starting to create, but about finishing.

Finish What You Start

The only thing that matters is your finished product, not your almost-finished products. To finish what you start, you have to navigate through the third step of the creative process, the preparation and elaboration stage, which is a crucial part of the five step process of creativity. This third stage is also known as the preparation stage where artists gather and refine their resources gathering information and ideas.

“The creative process begins with work and ends with work. The takeaway point here is that creativity is not just percolating and Eureka: it’s percolating and Eureka sandwiched between work phases,” says Charlie Gilkey. “

Accumulate pages, not judgments

During the evaluation stage and the insight step of creative thinking, a person often gets stuck in the cycle of judging their work as they create it. But as the author Amber Rae says, “You want to accumulate pages while finding inspiration, not judgments.”

When people come to our writing class, I always tell them, “You write in ink, not blood.” You can always go back and edit, modify, and change things. The beauty of the internet is that you can always update your content. This is a part of the preparation phase in the creative process where you prepare your work for presentation.

Make Little Bets

There’s nothing more disheartening than following the stages of creativity only to find you’ve built a product no one wants or written a book no one wants to read. Iconic creators like Chris Rock and film studios like Pixar take an experimental approach to creativity by making small bets and testing their ideas in low-risk environments. If you see Chris Rock on a comedy tour, he’s tested all the material at open-mic nights. This is also a part of the preparation stage where artists test their ideas before finalizing them.

The Taste Gap

At the beginning stages of the creative phases of creativity, there will be a gap between what you can imagine and what you create. Ira Glass calls this the taste gap. The more you do, the more you will bridge the gap. Eventually, your demands will increase, and you will have to bridge a new taste gap. This bridging of the gap is a crucial part of the preparation stage in the creative process.

If you keep your commitments, you will harness the profound power of consistency, and you will begin to make progress with your idea. This is a testament to the importance of the preparation stage in the creative process

Stage 4: Evaluation, The Preparation Stage and the Creative Thinking Process

Minimum Viable Projects: How to Apply Lean Startup Principles to Creative Endeavors

The fourth step in the five-step creative development process involves a critical review of your work. This stage is where you transition from creating and being the creator to becoming the creator takes the critic. The previous stage stages of creativity have led you here, where you’ve accumulated pages, written first drafts, and filled the canvas.

Evaluate Your Work and Be Ruthless

Now, it’s time to evaluate your work, the third step in the creative process. This step requires you to look back at your output from the previous stages with a discerning eye. Yes, you will pass judgment, but remember not to be too harsh on yourself. It’s important not to misconstrue “this needs improvement” with “I’m not good enough.”

Revise and Edit your work

The creative thinking process involves not just creation but also revision and editing. When I work with clients to help them write books, for example, I encourage them to scrutinize every sentence, paragraph, and chapter through three filters:

  • Why is this here?

  • Does it serve my audience?

  • If not, should I remove it?

Though this advice is specific to writing, it can be applied to writing in any creative field. The evaluation stage, which is one of the 4 phases of creativity, involves editing, for example cutting scenes from movies, or removing sections from books to create a more refined product

Stage 5: Execution – The Final Phase of Creativity and Your Own Creative Process

The fifth and final stage of the creative process is Execution. This is where the rubber meets the road, and your idea, which has been carefully generated, incubated, elaborated, and evaluated in the previous four stages above, is finally brought to life. The execution phase is about transforming your idea into reality.

Shipping Your Work

However, the execution stage is not just about the physical act of creating a product or delivering a service. It’s also about the mental and emotional act of “shipping” your work, which is a critical component of the verification phase in the creative process. Shipping, in this context, means overcoming fears and doubts, and putting your work out there for the world to see. It’s about accepting that not everyone will like what you’ve created, but choosing to share it anyway because it’s a true expression of your creativity.

Dealing with Self Doubt

The verification stage can be the most challenging part of the creative process. You might ask yourself: What if no one likes it? What if it doesn’t sell? While these fears are natural, it’s important to remember that even the most successful creators face criticism. Every one of my books has a 1-star review, and even renowned authors like Seth Godin, Mark Manson, and J.K. Rowling have received negative reviews.

If you’ve followed the steps of the creative process diligently, someone will still dislike your work. However, you can choose to focus on your core audience and value the feedback from your biggest fans over anonymous critics. The act of shipping is a testament to your courage as a creator and is the final, crucial step in the creative process. This execution phase is where the culmination of all your efforts from the previous five stages, is finally realized.



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