In 1926 the psychologist Graham Wallas famously shared his model of creativity, a way of understanding how original ideas form in the mind and are carried into the world.
In the model, Walls expressed four--or, depending on who you ask, five--distinct stages which must be taken if you are to have unique and valuable ideas. The four stages Wallas shared were: preparation, incubation, insight, and verification.
Now, almost 100 years after Wallas originally wrote these four stages, we have an even better understanding of what happens in the brain when creativity occurs. And while Wallas' model hasn't been proven wrong, it has been greatly expanded on.
We now know from countless studies and anecdotal evidence that the creative process consists of not only these four dominant stages, but that each stage houses numerous requirements itself, each which increases the likelihood of serendipity, connection of ideas, and successful incubation leading to insight.
If you were to break down each of the stages into their containers, research tells us you would get a more holistic picture of creativity which looks something like this:
Before any creative insight can occur there must be some type of preparation, whether you're cognitively aware of it or not. The purpose of preparation is to better understand what Steven Johnson explains in his book Where Good Ideas Come From as adjacent possible. That is: what's realistically possible with the resources and technologies available to us now, today.
In order to prepare for creativity you must be open to new experiences, which research has shown is a key factor for increasing creative capacity. In an interview with BusinessInsider.com, psychologist and author Scott Barry Kaufman explains:
"Openness is about valuing information. People with high openness show high dopamine projections at the potential of acquiring information. In other words, the higher you score on the 'openness' trait, the better it feels to learn new things."
But being open to experiences isn't enough.
To prepare you must have confidence, being willing to pursue an idea even in the face of failure or adversity. You must be curious, willing to not only learn new things but actively pursuing that information. And, lastly, you must be resourceful. No amount of curiosity and openness is going to do you any good if you can't find any interest in the things happening around you here and now.
Once you're primed for preparation, the next stage is incubation. Giving your mind time to smash and connect ideas together uninhibited.
Typically at this stage we try to force creative connections, we stare intently at the blank page or computer screen trying to will good ideas out of it. But if you do that you're actually getting in your minds way of proper incubation. You must instead give yourself time to work through ideas without being pressured or constrained into producing them.
Which explains why patience and space are two primary aspects of this stage. Patience means allowing yourself to ruminate with as much time as necessary, while space frees up your mind to explore outside of an otherwise restricted perspective (one which may be hindering your ability to see novel solutions just outside where you're looking).
Lastly for this stage, grit is a fundamental attribute you must build in order to see the process through. As MacArthur Genius grant receiver and psychologist Angela Duckworth-- author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character--writes:
"Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance...So far the best idea I've heard about building grit...is something called growth mindset. This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed. That it can change with your effort. Dr. Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they're much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don't believe that failure is a permanent condition."
In other words: grit isn't just the ability to stick with something, it's embracing the understanding that things change given time; including ideas.
Once your mind has had enough time to incubate, the likelihood of insight increases. Here you're going to benefit if you are a keen observer, are being mindful, and have enough energy to acknowledge the insight.
The truth is that good ideas want to be found, but can only make themselves known when you prepare for them, allow enough time for your mind to process them, then pay attention when they make themselves known.
In a study from 2014, researchers Yi-Yuan Tang, Rongxiang Tang, and Michael Posner, found that certain mental states and circumstances increase the likelihood of meditation positively impacting creative output. The mental states they observed as being most beneficial were high-energy and mostly optimistic.
The last stage of the creative process is about having a platform from which you can verify the idea or work produced as a result of the creative model.
At this stage all you need is courage, the ability to take action, and persistence.
Courage is required to share the resulting idea or work, and action is fundamental in getting to what comes next: exposing what you've come up with in order to verify its usefulness.
While this is the last stage of the creative model, it's certainly not the end of the process an idea must take to evolve and become the best version of itself. As SEER Interactive founder Will Reynolds explained at Adobe's 99u Conference:
"Don't get blinded by the output and celebrate the wrong win."
How do you know which win to celebrate? How do you know when an idea has successfully been validated and can continue to be worked on? This is particularly important to consider when the idea you land on at the end of the creative process is different than what you originally set out to discover. Reynolds gives us the answer:
"Don't confuse outputs for outcomes. Building a well isn't what we celebrate. Instead, celebrate when the well is providing clean water and better health for an entire village."
The idea and work you get at the end of the creative model might just be an output, you have to constantly be mindful of what your expected outcome is in order to know when you've landed on the right idea.