The Creative Process (Five Stages)


Welcome to Episode 2 of The Creative Life podcast. In this episode, I describe the classic five stages of The Creative Process and how each stage works.

Watch the Video

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How the Creative Process works?
  • Five Stages of the Creative Process Model
  • The Preparation Stage – absorbing information
  • The Incubation Stage – letting subconsciousness do the work
  • The Insight Stage – Aha moment
  • The Evaluation Stage – is this an idea worth pursuing
  • The Elaboration Stage – 99% perspiration

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think.



The Creative Process – Five Stages

Video Highlights:

0:44 – Preparation Stage

2:12 – Incubation Stage

3:24 – Insight Stage

4:36 – Evaluation Stage

6:48 – Elaboration Stage

7:54 – Recap of Five Stages

Hi, my name is James Taylor, and one of the questions I’m asked a lot is about how the creative process works? What is the creative process? What are the different steps in the creative process?

One of the easiest ways to explain the creative process is what we call the five stages. Now, there’s a bunch of different concepts, different ways you can describe the creative process, but this is probably the one that is the most straightforward. And I should preface this by saying, even though even though I’m going to be talking to you through, as a linear process, in reality it’s actually an iterative process. So, you’ll be going back and forth between these different stages, these five stages.

So having said that, the first stage in the creative process is the idea of preparation. This is a classic stage where you are absorbing a lot of information. You’re thinking about an area that you want to get a new idea in, and you;re really trying to absorb as much information as possible.

So if you’re an author, you’re reading the writings or works of other authors, maybe around this area. If you’re a musician and you’re thinking of doing an album of a certain style, of a certain sound, then you’re researching or listening to a lot of records by artists to get a level of inspiration.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re out there looking at, finding really cool businesses, cool ideas other entrepreneurs have created as well.

If you’re an artist, you’re going around galleries, you’re looking at book to get that level of inspiration.

This preparation stage is one of the areas where you probably devote a lot of your time. In the five stages of the creative process, you end up spending most of your time at the start, the first stage, and the fifth stage, the last stage.

With all these stages, there tends to be a better environment in which to do them. In this first stage, what we tend to find through research, is that working in a quiet environment is really best for the research stage. That’s perhaps no surprise, which is why we see academics or authors in libraries, that is why we see musicians, headphones on, listening to inspiration from other artists.

We then move to the next stage, which is the idea of incubation. And this is where you start to let your sub-consciousness do the heavy lifting. First stage will probably be absorbing lots of information, this second stage of incubation, you kinda want to let it percolate. You want to put these things to the back of your mind, and you often hear of authors kind of writing first drafts of manuscripts, or even starting to map out ideas for a manuscript and they put it in a drawer, leaving it for awhile and then coming back to it a couple of weeks later.

In the incubation stage, there’s no specific time that you need to give the incubation stage. For some people, and for some ideas, it’s gonna be – you’re gonna sleep on it. That’s the incubation stage. You’re thinking, you wake up in the morning then, boom, the idea is there.

For other people, and for other ideas – bigger problems, bigger creative concept invasions you’re kinda coming up with – it could take days, or weeks, or months. To just let that stuff percolate in the the background.

There are ways to actually accelerating the incubation stage, and I’ll talk about those in other videos.

So, we then move to the third stage, and this is the stage that most of the public think is the “creative stage.” This the bit they think, this is what the creative ideas are all about. Actually, in terms of time, is the smallest part – it’s called, the insight stage.

With insight stage, it’s the classic “aha” stage, it’s the eureka moment. You’re sitting in the bath, and coming up with that great idea, and something that research is showing is if you want to increase these insights, they happen most often when you’re doing some kind of low level activity. So it could be out walking, it could be in the shower – a number of people I speak about that, it’s where they come up with their best ideas, in the shower.

I won’t bore you with the reasons behind this, in terms of what’s going on in the brain, but if you want to get those levels of inspirations, just do a little bit of low level activity. If you’re maybe stuck in a rut,

you’re maybe in a creative block of some sort, then go out. Go walking. Go out into nature. This is where I talk about different environments having different effects at different stages.

So you’ve had that insight, or often, you’ve had a couple of insights around an area that you’re thinking about. You need to move to the next stage, and this is a really critical stage. This is the evaluation stage.

The evaluation stage is where you kinda put on a different hat, you actually have to be sub-critical of those ideas. Because for most creative people, coming up with idea is usually not a problem. When I speak to entrepreneurs, coming up with new business ideas, they’re having ten a day, that’s not the challenge for them. The challenge for them is this next stage which is evaluating.

So a couple of pointers here:

The first one is you probably want to get some feedback from outside, i.e., your peer group. You have to be very careful when you’re selecting a group from which you get your feedback because it can easily crush your natural creativity if you go to someone with an idea and they just say, “that’ll never work.”

I come from a part of the world where often, if you go to people and say “I’ve come up with this idea, this concept…” the first thing out of their mouths is, “that’ll never work.” I was very fortunate I lived in California and worked in Silicon Valley, and usually if I have and idea and I spoke to my peers, they would say “that’s interesting, but what about if you did this or that.” And so they give useful feedback, they give valuable criticism to an idea.

So these are the kind of people you want to seek out in your area. It could be in your area of expertise, the topic that you’re researching, the way you wanted to come up with some new innovation.

To select those people is really important because you want to have lots of ideas, but you also want to take time to evaluate those ideas. And at this point, at this stage, the evaluation stage, at the end of it, you want to know “is this an idea worth pursuing?”

This is the point of the evaluation stage. You’re gonna have a lot of ideas, and say “is this worth doing? Is this worth spending my time, my energy, my resources, on pursuing this idea?”

So, that’s the evaluation stage.

And then finally, we come to the final stage, the fifth stage. This is the elaboration stage. This is where if you’ve heard people talk about your one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, this is the ninety-nine perspiration bit. This is where you do the work. You just get on with it, you start to test and to micro test, and get more feedback on your ideas as well.

As I said before that a lot of the work happens at the preparation stage, and it also happens at this stage. There’s no magic way of doing this, you just need to get in there, start testing your ideas, start doing the work, because if a lot people think creativity is all about what I call the insight stage, the “aha” moment. It’s not. It’s about the whole length of what I just talked about. There’s five different stages.

And if you really want a creative life, you have to develop the ability to really be good at each of those stages. Or to find ways to set yourself up to be good in each of these five stages.

So I hope that’s been useful. Just to give you a quick recap on these five stages, so we have: the preparation stage, first of all. Then we have the incubation stage, where the stuff goes to the back of the mind, subconsciously, let that churn, let that work. Then we have the insight stage, the “aha” moment, the “eureka” moments. Then we have the evaluation stage, the fourth stage, which is evaluating whether this is an idea worth pursuing. And then finally we have the elaboration stage, doing the work, the implementation.

So, I hope that’s been useful to you. My name is James Taylor.

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