Saturday, June 29, 2019

Creativity: new stages from old pages?

Having written an article on applying stage theories of creativity, I was aware that different thinkers have broken the creative process down into different numbers of stages. However, I was unaware that another stage was hidden in plain sight in the classic 1920's work of Wallas. Typically, those citing Wallas's work refer to four main stages in the creative process: (1). an initial preparatory phase, (2) an incubation phase when the creative task is left aside for sometime (and, it is often presumed, unconscious processes are at work), (3). an illumination phase, when there is some kind of breakthrough in the creative process and (4). a verification phase, when the creative idea is tested, probed or checked for its quality.

However, in a recent article, Eugene Sadler-Smith proposes that intimation is a further stage in the creative process, between incubation and illumination. This is described as a fringe consciousness that links incubation to illumination. It could be described as straddling conscious and unconscious thinking. An indicative description (taken from conversation with a civil servant) is how a person can sense that the solution is coming, but they do not yet know what form this solution will take.

A bit embarrassing that I only encountered this idea recently, but the 4-stage description has been quite pervasive. To me, this extra stage does seem to place an emphasis on more active unconscious processes than other factors that break "writer's block" or comparable phenomena in other creative domains, such as forgetting an unhelpful conceptualisation of a problem, reduction in fatigue or serendipitous discovery of a helpful method of approaching the problem. It will be interesting to see if more researchers and thinkers start trying to pin this stage down in more detail in the coming years.

Sadler-Smith, E. (2015). Wallas’ four-stage model of the creative process: More than meets the eye? Creativity Research Journal27(4), 342-352.


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