a collection of posts connecting creative and critical thinking, problem solving and leadership

Creativity is the making and communicating meaningful new connections.
(W. Brooks)

OK – so you need an idea (preferably a creative one) and it’s not coming, or the ones that come really aren’t very interesting. What process can you use to get better, more exciting ideas? Try the one below. With a bit of practice, you will always known where to start. Creative thinking is a learnable skill, and you can train yourself to have more exciting and effective creative ideas.

An AHA experience is only a small part of the creative process. Without proper preparation and verification, the AHA revelations usually fall flat as anyone who has taken a basic AHA idea to a meeting for discussion. Scepticism and/or disbelief causes the idea is quickly delt with – dispatched to the “need more information” holding pattern or worse rejected.

Using the full creative process, you will generate great, strong, and saleable/convincing ideas that have a better chance of being implemented.

A creative idea is one that makes a meaningful new connection in a situation that needs resolution, and the creative process gives you a roadmap for how to generate them.

There have been many attempts at a detailed description of the creative process, but the one I like is described by Graham Wallas co-founder of the London School of Economics (seen in the diagram below). There is a slightly enhanced version of this presented by David Perkins (Harvard School of Education) in his book “The Eureka Effect: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking”

The process has four steps: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification. The AHA experience is the third step.
The number and quality of your AHAs is critically dependent on how well you carry out the first phase of the process.

Preparation. What is preparation? In the larger sense it is all of the training, knowledge and experiences you have encountered over your lifetime. On a more immediate scale, it is all the work you have done to understand and try to resolve the situation you’re working on. Research is an important part of the preparation as well as the initial examination of potential outcomes. Preparation also includes any criteria about how you would like to see the situation resolved, and everything you know and everything you wonder about in the context of the present situation.

Situations may include: solving a specific problem, identifying a product or process, developing a strategic direction, modifying your business model or parts thereof, or working to change some aspect of an organization to name a few.

Although the Preparation phase never really ends, it winds down when you have absorbed considerable information, and have pushed unsuccessfully for an adequate resolution. At this point it is time to move on to the second phase, Incubation.

Incubation allows your brain the time to make meaningful connections between the different elements of the information you accumulated and pondered during the preparation phase. They may come to us in seemingly unconnected times or doing unrelated activities (showering, cooking, sleeping, yard work). It is the time spent working on these unrelated things that allows our minds to incubate on our situation. This phase ends when an idea (or two or three) pops into your mind.

The third phase is the Illumination or AHA phase where a single or multiple AHAs come to us. These need to be recorded because they can be quite fleeting. Record as much as you can about each of the AHAs (This is why you need to have ways of recording ideas scattered around your home and office – pens and sticky-notes, washable markers in the shower, a pad beside your bed or desk). If they come in the middle of the night, take the time to write them down. Although the stereotypic symbol for an AHA is a light bulb, it can be more accurately represented by a struck match. If you don’t deal with them, they go out.

Lastly, convincing others that your idea is worthy of implementation depends upon how well you carry out the fourth phase – Verification.

Verification is where some heavy lifting work that needs to be done to take the great idea you’ve generated and turn it into a bullet proof concept to move forward.

Ideas and our relationship with them are fragile to start. After the initial excitement we start to second guess them, and our capability to move them. We play down the ideas and use phrases like, “This can’t be that good or someone else would have thought of it.”, “My boss is not going to like this – it is too flaky.”, “Maybe I should leave the ideas to someone else.”

Putting our ideas out for public scrutiny is a scary prospect, because although most businesses say they want creative and innovative projects, change is risky and uncomfortable. Some managers or bosses would much prefer the status quo. This is why verification is such a critical phase and is why for the first while, you need to work on it alone or with a small group of trusted friends or colleagues. You need to strengthen the idea and your resolve to “put it out there”.

There are lots of different tools and check lists that exist for helping you flesh out the idea. I will deal with them in another blog.

Verification speaks to the second half of the definition of creative idea – “Communicating a meaningful new connection” and is the work that will take your idea to the next level. It is a process that will have its high points and low points and it requires a few trusted friends and colleagues to make happen. It is in this step that ideas falter or get sidelined. It is here where your willingness to keep pushing the idea will be tested.

The last portion of this phase is the documenting and presenting the idea and once it is approved for further investigation it will be time for solving the problems associated with implementation.

Give us a call to explore what's holding you back and how far you can go.

Your future is shaped by how you perceive yourself and your organization. Intentionally changing your perspective will open exciting possibilities for personal and corporate growth.