The Five-Step Formula for Consistent Creativity

Creativity is not . . . A burst of inspiration…Genius…The domain of the chosen few!

It’s a critical skill that can be developed and nurtured. It is the greatest and most under-developed skill in business today.

The Creative Pattern

Creativity occurs consistently in a five-step formula:

  1. Gather specific and general knowledge
  2. Think of new connections between the knowledge collected by asking questions
    • Twist it, bend it, turn it upside down, come up with new ways to
      look at it
    • Example: “How is my product like a envelope”
  3. Put it away for a while
    • Do something distracting, fun, or different
  4. Wait for the “golden idea” to come
  5. Make it practical in the context of the project

There is a basic cycle that we all go through when we create and this is it. It comes from the book “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young. This is a condensed version of that list, with a slight spin from some other books that have written about the same thing. Interestingly enough, this book was originally published in the 1940’s by Webb, and is used in many areas of marketing and advertising as the “bible” in creative technique.

People want a “formula” for creativity. For most, the third step is omitted. People want creativity to happen automatically and quickly. But it takes time, time for the ‘ol brain to work on the idea, so that we do not just “regurgitate” an old idea, but come up with a truly new connection, one that has not been made before.

Step one is the sleuth, looking for every bit of “specific knowledge”, information and ideas about a product, the customer, manufacturing etc. “General knowledge” can only be gathered by time, as we absorb more stuff and ideas over time. It is held that the older you get, the more general knowledge you will collect, and therefore you can be more creative.

Step two is making new questions, thinking of off-the-wall options. In advertising, they ask questions like “how is my problem like a giraffe” or other such seemingly disconnected questions. However, it is through these types of questions that new, seemingly unrelated connections can be made. You can use “connect-the-dots” to show this principle. It is important that step two be exhaustive. Typically one will “run out of options” but then get a “second wind” allowing new connections to be created, but maybe not the “golden idea” – which will come later. You must push hard on this step before going on.

Step three shows that as soon as we have thought about something as much as we can, consciously, that we must put it away and trust that the brain will work on it while we do something else. Many inventors (Edison, da Vinci, Einstein and others) have used this tried and true process. I really think this has to do with all three: putting the idea away, getting your mind on something completely different and third, trusting that the Golden Idea will come. Going to the movies is an example of put it away fro a while.

Edision did not sleep much, only 4 to 5 hours per night. However, he took frequent short naps during the day. Not surprisingly, upon awakening, he would have new ideas for his work, frequently about the invention he was currently working on.

Sometimes you have to let ideas (especially new ideas) percolate, so that they can “grow into” a new framework, especially for them at the office. This is Step Three, putting it away for a while.

Step four always comes at interesting points: in the shower, while driving, while changing your socks, during breakfast. When it does come, it usually will be obvious and evident as the solution to your problem or the idea needed. However, we must prove it with step 5. A light bulb moment is the new golden idea.

Step five is applying your idea to the issue at hand. Will it work in production? Is it cost effective? Is it technically possible? Etc. Prove it here!!! Ycoming back and applying the idea is the representation.

For more on creativity see Learning Tree’s course: Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving.

James L. Haner

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