How to Manage the Creative Process Efficiently
We often hear the word “creativity” applied to almost every field, even in science. For a very long time, the general perception was that creativity applies only to those who are involved in the arts, or artists, such as painters, sculptors, novelists, poets, and the like. It has also been described as something that you either have, or you don’t. It’s not something that is acquired by education or formal training. It’s spontaneous; it just happens. Or so they say.
But perceptions have changed, even in how we view creativity. The world soon realized that creativity is something that applies even outside the conventional “art” definition. Most importantly, it, too, involves a process.
This guide covers 1) the creative process, 2) the creative process in business, and 3) how to manage the creative process.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Let’s begin by defining creativity.
First, creativity is the ability to use imaginative skills in order to come up with a new idea, produce a new product, or envision a new service. It is also described as an attitude, or a state of mind towards key factors such as change, challenges and risks. In fact, creative people are said to be the risk-taking types, as proven by some of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.
Creativity is also a process, in that it involves steps and procedures that are interdependent and connected, with an end or goal, or an expected result. It is said that entrepreneurs have great imagination, or imaginative skills, but in order for them to utilize their creativity, there are certain steps to be followed in order to bring their brilliant ideas to life. That is called the creative process, where an individual comes up with seemingly simple and random thoughts, and combine, manipulate and transform them into something useful or, in terms of business, profitable.
Interested in learning more about the 7 habits that kill your creativity? Read this slides.
Over the years, there have been several researchers, scientists and thinkers who postulated the creative process. Jacques Hadamard and Henri Poincare are only two of the many scientists who devoted a lot of time in studying the Creative Process Model, but there are others who gained more recognition for it, particularly Graham Wallas and James Taylor.
Wallas Creative Process
One of the first models of the creative process involved four steps, and was introduced by Wallas in his book, The Art of Thought.
Step 1: Preparation
This is the part where we define the problem and identify the need or desire that requires a solution. Of course, the solution must be acceptable, which is why there is also a need to set up criteria beforehand that will verify that. Once that is done, we process to gathering data or valuable information needed to come up with this solution.
Step 2: Incubation
This is the stage that may last as short as a few minutes or as long as several years. The problem will then be worked through, inside out, shaken upside down and contemplated thoroughly. This may require stepping back a bit from the problem and trying to look at it from different angles or perspectives.
Step 3: Illumination
Remember when you suddenly experience a rush of many insights seemingly all at once? That is the illumination stage. Eventually, the mind will come up with ideas that will serve as the basis for a consequent creative response.
Step 4: Verification
The final stage of the creative process entails carrying out various activities to test the effectiveness of the insights obtained during the elimination stage. This is also where these insights and resulting ideas are able to satisfy the needs or desires, and meet the criteria that have been previously set during the first stage, which is the preparation stage.
Of course, in the ensuing years after Wallis, several other researchers and economists came up with their own take of the creative process. One of the more popular ones was that of James Taylor.
Taylor’s five-stage Creative Process
Taylor’s five-stage Creative Process followed the basic concept and flow that was earlier introduced by Wallis, but he refined it further, to make it more suitable to the changing times.
Stage 1: Preparation
Just as in Wallis’ model, preparation is when you identify the problem and fully define it, so you know exactly what your starting point is. Taylor’s model puts more emphasis, however, not so much on the identification of the problem, needs or desires, but on gathering as much data or information as you can about the environment you are moving around in. It is referred to as “immersing oneself in the domain”.
An entrepreneur normally does this by looking over all previous market research available, and even using other companies as case studies, for reference. Marketers also do the same way, absorbing as much information as they can, in anticipation of using everything they have gathered when they proceed to the next step.
Stage 2: Incubation
It is during this second stage that all the “immersion” you did in the Preparation stage will be put to use. Just as in the older model, this may take a very long time – years, even – but it may also be accomplished in under a few days. Using all the information gathered in the first stage, you will then look at the problem.
Stage 3: Insight
Many call it the “lightbulb” moment, or when they go “aha!” because they just thought of something. This is when an insight suddenly pops into your mind, having lurked and played around in your subconscious during the Incubation stage.
Imagine a pot of boiling water. It was simmering for a long while (the incubation stage), and when the heat became too much, it just had to release some of its steam, so the water boiled over and spilled out of the pot. That’s like the insight coming out or popping up.
Stage 4: Evaluation
This is described by even the most creative people as the most difficult stage of the process. Mostly it is due to time constraints: there are simply too many ideas to process and evaluate, and there is so little time to do it all. Most likely, there is a deadline looming ahead, and you have to make sure you keep to it if you want the results of the creative process to actually be of use.
But what makes this stage more challenging for many is the fact that it requires a heavy amount of reflection and, along with it, self-criticism. Depending on the personality of a person, this might pose to be a problem. Objectivity is required, and a ready acceptance and willingness to acknowledge that you might have come up with ideas that really do not make as much sense as you initially thought.
This stage may also entail getting extra pairs of objective eyes and ears to let you know if your idea has merits, or if you should throw it out and look for something else.
Stage 5: Elaboration
The last stage of the creative process involves getting actual work done. The first four stages mainly had you thinking, throwing around ideas and playing with thoughts in your head. This is where the hard work comes in.
Creativity is not all about the imagination and thinking; all those creative thoughts and ideas will be for nothing if there is no action taken to bring them to reality. This is where the Elaboration stage comes in.
It often involves activities such as working on the idea, creating designs, burning the midnight oil in your private workspaces, conferring with a team, and testing the idea. For example, it is when a manufacturing company creates the prototype of a new product, letting it undergo a series of testing, making the necessary tweaks, conducting re-testing, until such time that they are fully satisfied with it.
Usually, one would think that following a process means strictly going with it in a linear fashion, such as being unable to go back when you realized you missed something on the previous stage. The creative process is not as restrictive as that. It always enough flexibility such that you can go back and forth among and between of the five stages.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS IN BUSINESS
Creativity plays a large role in business, particularly in entrepreneurship. Gone are the days when “creativity” was exclusively identified with the fields of art and literature; it is now recognized even in scientific circles. This is because business also involves ideas – lots of it – that are supposed to be “useful” and “actionable”, and these would not be possible if creativity is not involved.
Take, for example, the act of introducing a new approach to an already existing business or operational process. It takes a lot of creativity to come up with a new – better and more efficient – way of doing things. Creativity is also at play when a business improves an already existing product, or introduces new enhancements that improve its quality or add value to it.
Business creativity is present in all aspects of the business, not just research and development and marketing. Yes, the finance and administrative departments also benefit from having creativity. If, for example, you are able to find a new way to streamline your accounting process, or even the budgeting process, then that is already something that involves creativity.
This all means that the creative process is applicable in business, and in all aspects of it, although in varying degrees. Business entails identifying problems and looking for solutions, which means business people often come up with ideas and use their imaginative skills, coupled with expertise and motivation, to do so.
MANAGING THE CREATIVE PROCESS
The creative process, when employed in a business setting, does not guarantee a 100% success rate. Sometimes, the process does not pan out or yield the expected or desired results, and a huge part of that failure is because of inefficient management of the process itself.
Before we can get around to learning how to manage the creative process efficiently, let us first take a look at the obstacles to creativity often encountered, not only in business, but in general.
Fear of failure
No one wants to fail; who does? But sometimes, we let our fear overcome us so much that it ends up debilitating us, so that we cannot move forward with our ideas. All too often we have seen many brilliant ideas fall on the wayside, and plans and dreams go unfulfilled, for the simple reason that the one with those ideas are afraid they will fail, should they try to act on it.
Entrepreneurs are seen to be some of the most creative people, and one of the traits that characterize them and set them apart from the rest is their risk-taking attitude. They are introducing something new, something that has not been seen in a specific market before, so they could not know for sure if it will work or not. They are not entirely sure whether it will earn a profit, or just make them lose money.
If you are the type to hesitate repeatedly to the point that you do not implement your business idea, because you are afraid that the product you are thinking will not sell, then you just let your fear and lack of confidence curb your creativity.
Doing too many things all at one
Being creative does not mean being “Superman”. You may be used to multi-tasking, but there is such a thing as a saturation point, where you are doing too many things at one time, and end up accomplishing or completing nothing.
There is a reason why product development is a cycle. There are steps to be followed in succession, so you cannot fully move on to the next step until you are done with the previous step. Some product development teams try to circumvent this by combining two steps into one. For example, while creating a product design, they are already doing an evaluation of their own, saying this aspect will not work when it has not undergone testing yet. Or they may be working on an enhancement feature to an already existing product, but are already thinking of another feature that will be added later on.
This will only make things confusing and drag the process longer.
Letting negative criticism and discouraging words from others stop you
You have an idea, and you know that it is brilliant. But suddenly other people are telling you that it won’t work. There is a better product out there, they say. Your innovation to an existing product will not last long, they say. Because of that, you abandoned the idea altogether, without really evaluating properly whether what they are saying holds water or not.
It is good to hear the criticisms of other people, because you may get even better ideas from listening to them. However, if you let them put a complete stop to your creative thinking, then you just let yourself lose needlessly.
Too much information
We did say that the creative process involves absorbing as much information as you possibly could in the Incubation Stage. But then we are also saying that having too much information is an obstacle to creativity. That is a bit contradictory, right?
Not really. We are referring, of course, to relevant and useful information. Sometimes we tend to get all the information available, never mind that they are not really applicable or relevant to the current task or idea that we are contemplating. It is easy to be overwhelmed by too much information, especially if many of them are not really necessary. Therefore, you should be able to identify the information that you need and can actually use.
After taking note of all that, let us take a look at some of the tips that you can use in order to manage the creative process efficiently.
Manage your Creative Team
Design your team well. You have to know what your objectives are so that you know what your team’s setup should be. When you know what you want to achieve, you can easily envision how many people you need in your team, what are the skills required, and how the work is supposed to flow.
Choose your team members well. Teamwork plays an integral role in the success of any project, and for the creative process to be followed smoothly. You want to be able to work with people who share the same visions as you, and who understand fully what your goal is.
Match people with the correct tasks. Each person has a specific skill set that is required for the project at hand. Now it is up to you to assign them tasks or roles that match with their skill sets and qualifications. This will also help them grow and improve as professionals and let them exercise their creativity.
Give your team members autonomy. Creativity should not be restricted. By giving your team members a certain degree of freedom or autonomy, you are allowing them to fully let their creative juices flow. This is also a proven way of encouraging an increase in their productivity.
Use the power of motivation. Every once in a while, you have to make sure your team’s morale is kept up. Boost them, if necessary. No matter how passionate a worker is about this job, sometimes he would need even a little bit of motivation to push him harder.
Manage your Resources
Know what you have. This is a problem in many organizations. They go ahead and plan for projects without fully knowing whether they have the resources they need or not. As a result, their projects are met with stoppages, and time is wasted. Worse, some of them end up scrambling to obtain these resources, and end up spending more than they should, or can afford to. Assess your resources so you can plan accordingly.
Allot the resources carefully. This is especially true when you are dealing with budget constraints. As much as entrepreneurs and businessmen want to, there is no such thing as unlimited resources. Therefore, they have to make sure to allocate the resources carefully and accordingly.
Use time properly. Time is one of the most important resources. While it is true that there are some areas of the creative process where rushing is not allowed (incubation stage), that does not mean that you should let time flow by unchecked. Remember that you will still have to deal with time limitations and deadlines when you reach the other stages. Proper scheduling and sticking to that schedule is very important.
Establish a good physical working environment. Ideas flow more freely in the right setting or environment. Brainstorming can become more productive if in a physical space that is designed to be conducive to sharing ideas.
Seek Organization Support
This is another way to ensure that the creative process goes smoothly. Make sure you have the support, not only of the top management, but of the entire organization. Some of the ways to do this includes maintain transparency and keeping them updated about the results of the process, the progress that your team is making, and your end goals.
Conflicts come with the territory, but by keeping communication lines open and making an effort to gain their support, your chances of getting the results you want just got higher.