Thursday, January 9, 2014

Creativity for the rest of us

Sidewalk Chalk Art Show/ Denver 2013
In the world there are “Big C” creatives who make monumental shifts in public thinking.  People like Mozart, Picasso, Einstein, Jung, Zuckerberg- all undeniable front runners of their time showing great abilities at an early age, prodigies with genius.   We can be inspired by studying their life and work but most of us are not likely to be THAT creative.  The rest of us can develop our “little c” creativity to change our own thinking, and that is no small task.  

Why does creativity feel so elusive some days?  Psychologists have labeled typical day to day thinking as possessing a certain “functional fixedness.” As adults we are accustomed to routine and busyness that is not conducive to creative thought. Our automatic pilot serves us well until we stumble upon a problem that we can’t solve through our typical solutions or we press ourselves to innovate

Graham Wallas, a social psychologist and economist, wrote The Art of Thought outlining 4 stages of creativity in 1926.  The model has withstood the test of time and can provide a type of navigational system for “little c” creatives. Spoiler alert: work +play = creativity. You have to use your WHOLE brain.
  1. Preparation We must become intentional learners.  In this stage we put effort into research, building skills, and expanding our thinking.  In gathering information we find certain things that capture our attention and stir some passionate interest. Preparation is a diligent process involving attention, persistence, and self-discipline. 
  2. Incubation Our ideas need to clink around inside of our head for awhile.  This stage is fed by learning and experience but the ideas are still in raw form.  We have to relax, walk away, take a break, and not work so hard. The bits and parts of novel connections need time to react with our unrestrained brain.  Incubation is a playful stage of free association and unedited unconscious thought. You can now be fancy by re-purposing your daydreams as an official part of developing your creative self.
  3. Illumination Yoink!  We suddenly leave our functional fixedness and see with new eyes.  In this stage we achieve the much sought after “Aha! Moment” where things suddenly fit. We cannot look at the problem from our old way of thinking.  We are changed by the creative process.  Stream of consciousness may spark more new ideas that build at this stage. This feels altogether fun and not like work at all.
  4. Verification   After our light bulb experience we have to get back to the serious and self-directed work of evaluating and editing our insight.  Once we determine if it is a viable idea we must begin the process of implementing our thought into action. Back to work!

While the “Big C” creatives are making their mark on the world the rest of us can rejoice in “little c” progress in our own thinking. Will you join my quest to approach ordinary life with more creativity? 


  1. Once again, a thought provoking and interesting blog. Thanks!

  2. You can now be fancy by re-purposing your daydreams as an official part of developing your creative self.

    I love this part! I like giving myself permission to daydream. :)

  3. You start and end with two of my big take-aways: Intentional and Implement - the I's have it!