Creativity vs. Definition

All around us we have balancing acts of yin/yang, qi, or the natural way of things that are essential to our own sanity, as well as progress towards our goals. I have written about this before, but I just read an article entitled “How To Thing Creatively” by Tony Schwartz that really emphasized a few areas I feel are very important, which I wish to discuss here today.


The article went into a discussion over how to fuel the creative process, and monitor it’s progress to ensure that it is being propelled in the right direction, which we can all admit is necessary.

Personally, when I’m working on any project, large or big, I follow a very clear cycle. I first read the definition of the problem, then spend some time being creative to find a solution to the problem that I have previously defined. After I’ve brainstormed and have been creative as much as I can before running head first into a wall, I look back to the problem statement, and see if I have let my mind solve the problem in a way in which the problem statement doesn’t allow.

Typically, at each iteration of this cycle, my mind re-focuses its plan in my head, and redefines the problem for me so that I can attack the problem again each time with a renewed idea of what I now need to solve. I find this is analogous to first opening up the biggest box (initial problem) only to find another smaller box inside. After I spend some time deciding how to open this second box, and find a solution, I again run into another box, smaller, that I need to open, which I then spend some time thinking about how to open, and opening, and then redefine my problem (box) and do the process all over again.

Perhaps this is my background that dictates that I keep redefining the problem down further and further but this article really stressed at how important it is to allow your mind to alternate between the left and right sides of thinking to allow the creative process to be utilized to its fullest.

The article identified 4 key steps to the process.

  1. Saturation: This involves getting all of the facts, from historical studies, to one’s own knowledge, to complete definition of the problem. You must know what you’re trying to solve very intimately. To bring forth some examples, if you’re trying to build a bridge, one would gather information from bridges built previously, as well as information about materials to be used, traffic patterns, etc. If you were to make a painting, you would learn the colours you’re going to use, or the subject you are capturing, or even the brush strokes from the masters. This is a left brain process.
  2. Incubation: This stage is the brainstorming part of the solution. This is where you step away from the facts, take a walk to a park bench and sit and think about how you are going to approach the solution. This is analogous to getting the answer to the problem while in the washroom. Many people find that when they get to this stage, doing something calming, like painting, running, or meditating is very helpful. This is shifting the process to the right brain.
  3. Illumination: This is somewhat similar to the incubation stage, but this is the point where you get the solution identified. This is when, as you’re sitting on the park bench you suddenly hit upon that solution and it excites you so much that you leave the delicious sandwich you were eating on the park bench, run all the way back to your desk to write down the solution you just found. This, for me, is the most exciting part of the process. This is still using the right brain.
  4. Verification: The final stage comes when you have pounded out that illumination you had, and solved it to the best of your knowledge, and are now testing the solution. This stage then takes the solution you had, runs it through the loops, and spits back at you what needs to be changed, which starts the whole process again from the start. This is using the left brain again.

This whole process repeats itself as many times as needed, entirely project specific. Most painters will not scrap their entire painting and start again after their verification has failed, as some computer programmers will do if their verification will fail.

I find for myself, at least 4 or 5 loops through this process is necessary to get to the solution that makes me feel happy, but if one were to spend more time in the saturation stage, they might not have to iterate the process as much as I find myself doing. Once again, this is entirely situational dependent, and a very individual decision to make.

I hope this helps you with your next project, I’d love to hear about it!

One thought on “Creativity vs. Definition

  1. Pingback: Fun Activities « Exercise « Exercise and Mind

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 − two =