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Chris Dunmire : The Four Steps of Creativity

The Four Steps of Creativity

An easy as piii way to remember the 4 major stages of the creative process.

By Chris Dunmire

Chris' College NotesMy previous article, What is Creativity to You? focused on embracing your own definition of creativity rather than looking to secular opinions to define it for you. You were left with some thought-provoking questions to help you to understand what motivates you to be creative and to think about the different ways you (and others) benefit from your creative efforts.

You may also recall a reference that I made to an underlying "process" going on that we are sometimes unaware of. This is the creative process known as the Four Steps of Creativity.

I first learned about the Four Steps of Creativity in an art appreciation class I took in college (see my notes?). These steps are used by many artists, creatives, and problem solvers, either individually or in group settings as a logical framework to research, develop, and implement their ideas from beginning to end.

4 Stages of the Creative Process:

Start with a question to answer or a problem to solve. (Examples: designing a logo, writing a story, motivating employees.)

  1. Preparation
    Research: Collect information or data.
  2. Incubation
    Percolation: Milling over collected information.
  3. Illumination
    Light Bulb Idea: Aha moment.
  4. Implementation
    Actual Making, creating: Verification.

After reading through these seemingly common-sense steps, you might be wondering (like I did) if they must be followed in order, or if they are all even necessary in every creative project you do.

The answer: Being aware of the creative process and making the most of it works to your advantage. Do you have to? No, you can do whatever you want! But, each step is worthy of consideration and may save you time, money, and frustration in the long run. And you might even find that the steps don't always happen in order and sometimes are repeated in the process. That would be the non-linear nature of creativity working there!

Now I don't want you to think of these steps as a wet blanket on your spontaneous creative urges. Instead, think of them more as practical planning and preparation for what you want to accomplish.

There is no set amount of time you have to spend on each step. Incorporating them into your work can be as simple as a mental overview you do as you prepare a project at hand. Or, work them over a period of time as you contemplate an upcoming assignment coming your way or a personal project you've been putting off for lack of inspiration.

They Work

How do the Four Steps of Creativity help me? Well, in my line of work as a graphic designer they work wonders. When I have a client request a "solution" to a design project, I begin by collecting data (research) about the company, its audience, the design purpose, demographic, and more before I can even formulate creative options. And believe me, my Aha! moments come at the strangest times after brainstorming and letting the information percolate on my mind for a few days. Some of my better ideas happen while I'm brushing my teeth, ironing my clothes, or driving to work. I have little scraps of paper all over the place with the ideas that pop into my head — which I quickly write down before I forget.

I enjoy the creative process and admit that the best work I do is a result of making the most of these four steps. Even in my personal projects I keep the steps in mind. I may not spend a lot of time in the research phase for the more spontaneous things, but then again, there are times when I find myself revisiting some steps more than once. And that's perfectly okay!

So, if you are new to the concept of the Four Steps of Creativity, I urge you to keep them in mind during your next creative venture and see if they help you. These steps can also be applied to other areas of your life when you have a question to answer or a problem to solve.

Just so you don't forget, here are the steps again: Preparation, incubation, illumination, and implementation. An acronym to help you remember them is piii (PIII) See, remembering them will be easy as pie! •

© Chris Dunmire 2004. All rights reserved.

Creativity Portal® founder Chris Dunmire wears many creative hats. More »