Is There A Creative Process?

Any creative endeavor has a process whether you are writing a song or painting a work of art. Certain things have to occur in a certain order to make the “magic” happen. But what exactly is this process?

In 1926 Graham Wallas in The Art of Thought, suggested that ideas develop through four primary stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

Nearly 20 years later, advertising copywriter James Young wrote A Technique for Producing Ideas that talks about a process very similar to Wallas’s: Gather raw material, digest the material, incubation, birth of the idea, and final development. It is remarkable how similar Young’s process is compared to Wallas’s sociology work.

Then in the 1980s Roger von Oech wrote the book A kick in the Seat of the Pants in which he introduced his creative process of: explorer (research), artist (brainstorm), judge (analyze), and warrior (hone). The problem I have with Oech’s process is there is no incubation phase where you forget about the problem and let the subconscious kick in. Oech makes it sound like you can consciously think your way into an idea. That may be true, but I believe true inspiration can only come from that incubation/subconscious period that leads to the “eureka!” movement. Oech does not mention the eureka movement so I would argue his process only leads to mediocre ideas, that will never truly be unique or different.

Why is this? Maybe it is based on who these people are and how they formed their philosophies. Oech earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University in the “History of Ideas.” and now earns a living making speeches on creativity and selling products to spark ideas. Wallas, was a psychologist, sociologist and political scientist who wanted to form a better government based on reality of thought not intellectual assumptions. James Young was a person who was very good at his craft and wrote a book about how he did it by observing his own thought process.

Which method you choose to follow is up to you, but I’m in the Wallas/Young camp.

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