THE WORK OF CREATIVITY
The creative process consists of five steps.
The first is a period of preparation, becoming immersed, consciously or not, in a set of problematic issues that are interesting and arouse curiosity.
The second phase is a period of incubation, during which ideas churn around below the threshold of consciousness. It is during this time that unusual connections are likely to be made. Because of its mysterious quality, incubation has often been thought the most creative part of the entire process. What happens in this “dark” space defies ordinary analysis and evokes the original mystery shrouding the work of genius. How long a period of incubation is needed varies depending on the nature of the problem. It may range from a few hours to several weeks and even longer.
The third component of the creative process is insight, when the pieces of the puzzle fall together.
The fourth component is evaluation, i.e., deciding whether the insight is valuable and worth pursuing. This is often the most emotionally trying part of the process, when one feels most uncertain and insecure. Is this idea really novel, or is it obvious?
The fifth and last component of the process is elaboration. This stage takes up the most time and involves the hardest work. After an insight occurs, one must validate it. Most lovely insights never go any farther because under the cold light of reason, fatal flaws appear. But if everything checks out, the slow and often routine work of elaboration begins.
There are four main conditions that are important during this stage of the process. First of all, the person must pay attention to the developing work. Next, one must pay attention to one’s goals and feelings, to know whether the work is indeed proceeding as intended. The third condition is to keep in touch with domain knowledge, to use the most effective techniques, the fullest information, and the best theories as one proceeds. And finally, it is important to listen to colleagues in the field to get a sense that things are moving in the right direction and also make the most effective sales pitch.
Usually insights tend to come to prepared minds, that is, to those who have thought long and hard about a given set of problematic issues. There are three main sources from which problems typically arise; personal experiences, requirements of the domain, and social pressures.
Early experience predisposes a young person to be interested in a certain range of problems. Without a burning curiosity, we are unlikely to persevere long to make significant new contributions.
The inspiration for a creative solution usually comes from a conflict in the domain Every domain has its own internal logic, its pattern of development, and those who work within it must respond to this logic. An intellectual problem may not be restricted to a particular domain. Indeed, some of the most creative breakthroughs occur when an idea that works well in one domain is transplanted in another. Many creative people are inspired by a gap or discrepancy in their domain that becomes obvious when looked at from the perspective of another domain. And then there are people who sense problems in “real” life that cannot be accommodated within the symbolic system of any existing domain.
Social pressures too can contribute. An economic depression or a change in political priorities may encourage one line of research and push another into the backburner. Wars can also affect the direction of science and arts. It is no coincidence that Einstein’s theory of relativity, Freud’s theory of the unconscious, Eliot’s free form poetry, Picasso’s deformed figures and James Joyce’s stream of consciousness prose were all created and gained public acceptance in the same period in which the old order changed and belief systems rejected old certainties. More recently, the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz’s work has been influenced by colonialism, shifting of values, social mobility and the changing roles of men and women.
THE FLOW OF CREATIVITY
Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are same. They love what they do. Creative individuals internalize the field’s criteria of judgement to the extent that they have the ability to separate bad ideas from good ones, so that they don’t waste much time exploring blind alleys. The flow experience has the following building blocks:
· There are clear goals every step of the way
· There is immediate feedback to one’s actions
· There is a balance between challenges and skills
· Action and awareness are merged
· Distractions are excluded from consciousness
· There is no worry of failure
· Self-consciousness disappears
· The sense of time becomes distorted
· The activity becomes autotelic .
Focus and concentration hold the key to achieving flow. Many of the peculiarities attributed to creative persons are really just ways to maintain concentration and lose themselves in the creative process. Distraction interrupts flow and it may take hours to recover the peace of mind one needs to get on with the work. The more ambitious the task, the longer it takes to lose oneself in it, and the easier it is to get distracted.
When we are in flow, we do not usually feel happy – for the simple reason that in flow we feel only what is relevant to the activity. Happiness is a distraction. It is only after we get out of flow, at the end of a session or in moments of distraction within it, that we might indulge in feeling happy. And then there is the rush of well-being, of satisfaction that comes when the work is completed. In the long run, the more flow we experience in daily life, the more likely we are to feel happy overall.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato wrote that the most important task for a society was to teach the young to find pleasure in the right objects. Unfortunately, it is easier to find pleasure in things like sex, eating, mating, making money, etc because these activities are in synchrony with survival strategies established long ago in our physiological makeup. It is much more difficult to learn to enjoy doing things that were discovered recently in our evolution, like manipulating symbolic systems by doing math or science or writing poetry or music.
The place where one lives is important for three main reasons. One must be able to access the domain in which one plans to work. Information is not distributed evenly in space but is concentrated in different geographical nodes. Certain environments facilitate interaction and provide more excitement and a greater effervescence of ideas. Therefore, they prompt the persons who are already inclined to break away from conventions to experiment with novelty more readily. For example, the closer one is to the major research laboratories, journals, departments, institutes, and conference centers, the greater the chances of being creative. Sometimes sudden availability of money at a certain place attracts artists or scientists and that place becomes, at least for a while, one of the centres of the field.
Creativity can be stimulated by a congenial physical environment. But this is not a simple causal relationship. When creative persons find themselves in beautiful settings, they are more likely to find new connections among ideas, new perspectives on issues they are dealing with. But it is essential to have perspectives on issues we are dealing with, i.e., to have a “prepared mind.” Without some insights and perspectives, nothing much is likely to happen.
Our workplace and home should reflect our needs and tastes. The objects around us should help us become what we intend to be. How we use time and how we schedule our activities should reflect the rhythm that work best for us. If in doubt we must experiment until we discover the best timing for work and rest, for thought and action, for being alone and for being with people.
THE EARLY YEARS