03 December 2005

The creative thinking process

The little girl had the makings of a poet in her, who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?”
[Graham Wallas in his book The Art of Thought]

The creative thinking process has confused mankind for centuries. From ancient times to present-day ‘creative thinking’ teachers, the likes of Roger von Oech and Edward de Bono, people have tried to understand the human brain and make sense of our thinking and creative processes. More accurately, the creative thinking process – or, how do we get ideas? Where do ideas come from?

Here are two schools of thought to keep you busy thinking:

Graham Wallas (1858-1932), social psychologist, in his seminal work, The Art of Thought (1926), described four stages of the creative process:
Preparation. The person expecting to gain new insights must know his field of study and be well prepared. People get inventive ideas mainly in their own fields – poets in poetry, scientists in science.
Incubation. Many ideas come only in a period of time spent away from the problem, usually after actively engaging with the problem. [Archimedes got his idea in the public bath.]
Illumination. The ‘flash’ of a new idea. Resting the mind by doing other activities and letting the creative ideas form. [This is indeed a mysterious phase.]
Verification. Ensuring that the idea actually solves the problem. Since many great ideas don’t always work out in actual practice, this final step is vitally important to the success of any project.

Roger von Oech, creative thinking speaker and specialist, most famous for his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, recommends a seven-stage process and says that creative thinking can be learnt and practised. He breaks the seven stages into two groups: The Germinal phase where ideas arise, and the Practical phase where the ideas are evaluated and processed.

The Germinal Phase
Motivation. The desire to be creative, generating the energy.
Search. Information gathering; looking in other fields for ideas; looking at the big picture; being willing to go astray, exploring other areas.
Manipulation. Transforming and manipulating the resources and ideas found, delaying judgement and eliminating some old assumptions.
Incubation. Walking away from the problem after a time of focused attention and turning it over to the subconscious. This ‘letting go’ puts the problem into perspective, and the planted idea grows in the subconscious. Delaying action often improves ideas.
Illumination. The Aha! or Eureka! experience [Archimedes again!]. Oech advises, “…ideas can strike at any time, so always carry a means of recording an idea.” Recognising one’s creative time of the day may also be important.

The Practical Phase
Evaluation. Making a decision even if the ideas aren’t perfect.
Action. Completing the creative process can be the most difficult step of all.

According to von Oech, the focus of the creativity technique is on the Germinal phase and how we can generate and manipulate ideas. For more on Oech’s techniques, try this link on ‘10 Mental Locks’ – or, visit his Creative Think website.

And yet, others protest, creative breakthroughs don’t always come from the most expert thinkers. But then, why leave things to chances!


Anonymous said...

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karim - Positive thinking

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