Many people, maybe yourself included, do not think of themselves as creative. Part of the problem is that we confuse creativity with artistic ability. You do not have to be a painter, a musician, or a writer to be creative! Odds are, you are more creative than you give yourself credit for. Keep reading to discover what creativity actually looks like, and leave us a comment about a time you were creative!
Psychologist Graham Wallas described four stages of creativity in problem-solving: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.
First, you try to solve the problem with your current framework, or way of thinking. The question at this stage is: “Will the way I have been doing things get the job done?” If the answer is “yes” then the process stops here. No need to be creative if the problem is solved!
However, if the old way cannot solve then the problem then you find yourself in an unpleasant period of frustration. You are up against a seemingly impossible question or situation and you literally have no idea what to do. No matter how hard you try there seems to be no way around. At this stage hopelessness and frustration may seem to prevail.
The next step is basically giving up and walking away. Believe it or not, this is an important part of the process. Sheer willpower will not overcome the problem. Turning to another problem, going to sleep, playing video games, or going out with friends are all potential activities to pick up during the period of incubation.
Then, without warning, it will come to you. The seemingly unanswerable question or the unsolvable problem will have a clear resolution. The strange part about this stage is that this seems to happen in the unconscious part of your mind. The framework your mind uses to think will adapt to the new problem without any conscious effort on your part. There is no guarantee, of course, that you will reach this stage. The problem or question may be far beyond your current ability to adapt. This may happen to you in the shower, in the car on the way to work, right after you wake up, or basically any other time!
With your new framework in hand, you can begin to apply your new thinking to the problem. At this point, you might discover that the new framework is just as ineffective as the old one. If that is the case then a wash-rinse-repeat is in order. Ideally, the new framework will help you to solve the problem or answer the question.
Be grateful for your old way of thinking, because it obviously got you this far, but be open to embracing a newer way of thinking to keep you moving on your path to personal growth. As you come across new information and new problems, open yourself to the creative process and adapt.
Your turn! Help us out by sharing a story in the comments about a time when you found yourself up against an unsolvable problem until inspiration struck.