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The Art of Creativity

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In 1926, English social psychologist and London School of
Economics co-founder Graham Wallas wrote The Art of Thought ' a theory
outlining the four stages of the creative process, based on his own observations
as well as the accounts of famous inventors. The book is long out of print, but
the idea of his model has been preserved in a chapter of the 1976 treasure The
Creativity Question ' a selection of approaches to creativity by some of
history's greatest minds.
In his theory, Wallas outlines four
stages of the creative process
including preparation, incubation,
illumination, and verification.
1. Preparation. During
the preparation stage, the problem is 'investigated in all directions' as the
thinker readies the mental soil for the sowing of the seeds. It's the
accumulation of intellectual resources out of which to construct the new ideas.
It is fully conscious and entails part research, part planning, part entering
the right frame of mind and attention.
Wallas wrote, 'The educated man has, again, learnt, and can,
in the Preparation stage, voluntarily or habitually follow out, rules as to the
order in which he shall direct his attention to successive elements.'
2. Incubation. Next
comes a period of unconscious processing, during which no direct effort is
exerted upon the problem' this is where the 'combinatory play' that
marked Einstein's thought takes place. Wallas noted that the stage has two
elements ' the 'negative fact' that during Incubation we don't consciously
deliberate on a problem, and the 'positive fact' of a series of unconscious,
involuntary mental events taking place.
He wrote, 'Voluntary abstention from conscious thought on
any problem may, itself, take two forms: the period of abstention may be spent
either in conscious mental work on other problems, or in a relaxation from all
conscious mental work. The first kind of Incubation economizes time, and is
therefore often the better.'
3. Illumination. Following
Incubation is the Illumination stage, which Wallas based on French polymath Henri
Poincar'??s concept of 'sudden illumination' ' that flash of insight that
the conscious self can't will and the subliminal self can only welcome once all
elements gathered during the Preparation stage have floated freely around
during Incubation and are now ready to click into a new form.
According to Wallas, this Illumination can't be forced. If
we so define the Illumination stage as to restrict it to this instantaneous
'flash,' it is obvious that we cannot influence it by a direct effort of will because
we can only bring our will to bear upon psychological events which last for an
appreciable time.
4. Verification. The
last stage, unlike the second and the third, shares with the first a conscious
and deliberate effort in the way of testing the validity of the idea and
reducing the idea to an exact form.
Wallas wrote: 'It never happens that unconscious work
supplies ready-made the result of a lengthy calculation in which we
only have to apply fixed rules' All that we can hope from these inspirations,
which are the fruit of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for
such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they must be made in the
second period of conscious work which follows the inspiration, and in which the
results of the inspiration are verified and the consequences deduced...they
demand discipline, attention, will, and consequently, conscious work.'
But, most important of all is the interplay of the stages
and the fact that none of them exists in isolation from the rest, for the
mechanism of creativity is a complex machine of innumerable, perpetually moving
Wallas wrote, 'In the daily stream of thought these four
different stages constantly overlap each other as we explore different

Amanda Ciccatelli,
Social Media Strategist at IIR USA in New York City, has a background in
digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business
strategy, marketing, and technology. She previously worked at Technology
Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and
feature stories in the tech industry.  She can be reached
at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc.

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