The Five Stages of the Creative Process

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  • July 31, 2014
the creative process

In this video I’m going to talk to you about the five classic steps, or stages, of creativity. In subsequent videos I’m going to go in depth into each of these and show you how you can improve your creativity in each of these different steps or stages.

So the first thing I would say with this, is that these steps or stages, are iterative (they are not necessarily in a linear fashion). So sometimes you’ll go back and forth between each of these different stages. So having said that let’s go into the first part.


The first stage is the idea of PREPARATION, the idea that you are immersing yourself in the domain. If you area musician you are absorbing a lot of the music that is inspiring you to create this new piece. If you’re a writer you are reading other writers in this area. If you are an artist you are looking at other artist’s work in the area that you are looking at creating something in. If you are a scientist you are looking at all the background research. And if you are an entrepreneur or marketer you are looking at all the previous market research and what other companies have done before.

So this stage is normally best carried out in a quiet environment. It’s really this stage that you are trying to absorb as much information as possible because this information will go into your sub-consciousness where it is very important for the second stage, or second level.


The second stage is what we call the INCUBATION stage. In incubation this is when all the information that you have gathered in the PREPARATION stage really goes back. It starts to churn in the back of your mind, in the sub-consciousness. This is an extremely important stage because sometimes it can takes days, or weeks, or months or sometimes even years. That idea that you’ll think about writing about a book or piece of music, and you’re writing about it and you just leave it to the side for a while and then you come back to it. Now the interesting thing about the incubation stages it that to a certain extent it is not really under your control how long that stage will take. It is something you cannot really rush because what it leads to is the third stage.


The third stage is what most of the public think is a classic signal or sign of a creative person, what is called the INSIGHT stage or the insight step. With insight it is really the idea of the ‘Aha’ moment, the ‘Eureka’ moment. Although it is probably the smallest part of the five steps, it is possible one of the most important parts. On one of my subsequent videos I’ll take you more into how to increase your chances of having those ‘Aha’ moments, those insights. A quick thing I would say here is that they most often happen when you are doing some kind of low-level physical activity; going for a shower, driving a car, having a walk. This is because your subconsciousness in the previous stages is bubbling away and this insight stage really allows the mind to work on something else. And then bring these ideas to the forefront of your mind. So that’s the third stage, the insight’s stage. And now we go on to the fourth stage.


The fourth stage is this idea of EVALUATION. This is something I have a problem with. I think it is an area that a lot of creative people struggle with because often you have so many ideas and you have a limited amount of time. So the evaluation stage is important because this is where it requires self-criticism and reflection. It is asking yourself questions like:

“Is this a novel or new idea or is it one that is just re-hashed and has been done before?”

It’s the idea of going out to a small group of trusted friends and saying:

“I’ve had this idea, what do you think about this?”

It is very important part because we only have a limited amount of time to do certain things. Often you find that people who are called the most ‘creative people’ are often very good at this stage, the evaluation stage. They have all these ideas but they can use self-criticism and reflection to say “these are the ones that have the most merit and that I’m going to work on”.


And then we have the final stage. This is called ELABORATION. This is where Edison said that it’s “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Now the elaboration stage is the 99% perspiration stage. This is where you are actually doing the work. So many people out there think that the creative process is that insight, that ‘Aha’ moment, or the the preparation part. But really a creative individual isn’t complete, and I don’t think they can do anything that really lasts, unless they can go through that and actually put in the hard work. The elaboration; testing the idea, working on the idea, those late nights in the studio, working at your desk, those hours in the labratory if you are scientist, those days testing and micro-testing products. This is the elaboration stage.


So to recap we have The Five Stages of Creativity:

1. Preparation

2. Incubation

3. Insight

4. Evaluation

5. Elaboration

In the subsequent videos I’ll take you through each of these and show you how you can be better at each of these different stages.