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Creative Process – The 5 Stages

Creative Process - The 5 Stages of Creativity

Creative Process – The 5 Stages



There are actually five stages in the creative process with the first being the Preparation Stage. Some people also refer it to the as the idea generation stage – and it’s all about learning.

Essentially, it’s like mixing the ingredients of a cake, you’re going to mix up the very specifics of your idea or your genre, should we say with the non-specifics, and then combine them with your past experience, and past knowledge. This should all lead to inspiration to create those ideas.

So, if you’re looking at specificity then you’re thinking about art, go to many art galleries, absorb all different kinds of art, music, absorb all kinds of different music advertising campaigns, look at advertising campaigns you’ve seen in the past or new upcoming advertising campaigns. If you’re nonspecific, go and see a wide variety of different things. Immerse yourself in everything and be passionate about being different. Go to the theatre, go to see music concerts, absorb yourself in many things, and then combine them with past experience and past knowledge.

Be curious, Curiosity is king. It’s why children are so imaginative, and they can’t always sit still, because they’re always asking questions, and combine that with play. Don’t take the preparation stage; (this first stage) too seriously play. In fact, put your mind in play mode. In fact, we even see large marketing firms doing just this. They use Lego and Play Dough for their employees to give them the chance to play and really stimulate the creative juices inside their minds.

In fact, we engage in creative thought every time we experience something new. So don’t let the constraints of society constrain your thinking.

Learn as much as you can.

You’ll never become creative by knowing nothing. In fact, some of the most creative people in the world have the most amazing collection of books. When you’re going to learn something – take notes either on your phone or make a voice memo on a dictaphone and make some notes to take your ideas down. In fact, just before you go to bed make some notes of some thoughts you have then get a good night’s sleep and then thing in the morning, take some more notes – you’ll be surprised at how powerful this simple process of idea generation can be. Don’t just learn one thing – learn a lot of things because you don’t know what’s going to stick.

Learn a wide variety of things, learn career things, fun things, useful things, interesting things, things that make you happy, make you sad, make a list of these things, and then apply them to your idea or goal. Learn from experts. In fact, learning from experts is one of the best ways to learn. When someone’s already learned what you want to know and use them as your guide. Mimic them and absorb their knowledge and accelerate your own knowledge by using them (ethically).

Now you don’t have to find an in-person mentor, you can find them on YouTube; you can find them on courses; in fact everybody is a mentor nowadays in some degree or another but at least find one.

And if you find one in person, absolutely incentivize them to go on your journey with you. Incentivize them to help you, support you, and if possible, give back to them. My top tip is to have one mentor per subject only. Nobody’s knowledgeable about everything. Learn as much as you can and only use one mentor per subject.



After the first stage of the creative process – we head into the second stage of the creative process which is the Incubation Stage. After you’ve learned all of the information that you feel like you can absorb – you’re now going to absorb it even greater and process that. I would say for me, as a creative consultant, this is perhaps the most important stage and if we were to keep up with the analogy of baking, this is where you put your bread to one side to let it rise, let it prove or your dish to marinate.

This is going to bring out the quality and the depth of flavors, and the second stage of the creative process – the incubation phase is no different.

Just let it go.

Don’t obsess over your thought or idea. Let it go. Step back. Incubate it. Let it marinate, or ferment or evolve inside of your mind, and the important part of this is – don’t rush it.

If we rush the process or force it, nothing will happen. If you take your bread out too soon, it won’t rise properly and your sauce won’t taste as good if you quickly pour it into the salad.

Be patient. Let your idea settle into the incubation phase by letting it meander and embrace the new direction that it takes inside of your mind. It may take weeks, it may take months, or it may take years before the incubation period is over.

For some people it’s a fast process and others it’s a much slower process. The idea you are incubating also determines the length of incubation required. One of the best ways to accelerate the incubation process is to meditate. Simply close your eyes and enter your meditation with intent. Don’t think about anything specifically. Think about your idea when you’re running or showering or doing something which isn’t taking your whole attention. Your priority here is exercising or having a shower or gardening but definitely not the idea itself. Let the idea incubate in your subconscious and maybe then this little spark will fire up inside your mind.

It’s a great method to allow it to marinate inside of your mind by just taking a shower but go for a shower with some element of intention. Importantly, don’t get frustrated if nothing new evolves, it’s just simply you haven’t given your thought or idea enough time to evolve. Also don’t neglect to revisit stage one of the creative process. The five stages of the creative process are chronological to some extent; In that, they follow creative stages one, two, three, four, and five, but don’t neglect going backward in the creative process too. If you’ve learned new and different things in a different stage or phase of the creative process, use this new knowledge to look at your idea through a different metaphorical lens of from a different angle and this can help your idea evolve or grow inside of your mind.

My top tip, which is not shared a lot, is to incubate your idea in other people’s minds. It sounds a bit devious, but it’s not; share your idea. This idea of collaboration really accelerates your ideas. They don’t have to be an expert on your subject. In fact, it’s better if they’re not an expert on your subject, because it means they can look at your idea in an objective and more creative way because they’re not restricted to a predetermined mould that you may have put inside of your own mind.



Once your idea has marinated, this leads us to stage three of the creative process. This is the Illumination or Insight Phase.

Creativity is something that happens rather than something that we do.

The third stage of the creative process is the shortest and smallest phase, but it’s one of the most important stages of the creative process. 

Much like trying to gain enlightenment, you can’t force your idea or make it happen, but you can nurture it by placing yourself in the right environment as outlined in stage two of the creative process.

Surround yourself with the correct and most beneficial creative stimulus. This is where the ‘aha’ moment happens or sometimes referred to as the light bulb click where the answer to your creative question strikes. It’ll probably happen when you’re doing something not related to your idea such as having a shower, (as suggested incubation phase), but this will give you a thought or a prompt or suggestion to solve that little piece of the puzzle to bring your idea to life.

Entering into an activity (such as taking a shower, gardening or jogging) with an intention allows the subconscious mind (which is what we’re working on here for this incubation phase) to really focus its thoughts in the back of your mind.

Don’t do things that take up too much of your attention. For example of you are scrolling through Facebook then you’re more than likely seeing too much and too much information is being absorbed. Instead do something light, such as running, jogging or swimming. Anything else will not give your subconscious mind the chance for it to be illuminated to find that eureka moment.

Equally important, is – don’t look for an idea if it isn’t their.

A phrase I heard which is beautiful, the idea is already sitting there, all you have to do is arrive at it. And once you arrive at it, you’ve arrived at the fourth stage of the creative process.




The fourth stage of the creative process is the Evaluation Stage. This is where we return to that original idea with new insight and energy and reflect on the initial concept and see if it aligns with your initial vision. This is where we can also undertake market research. In this fourth stage we can also turn to peer groups to evaluate our idea and also ask others who have experience in the specific field we’re thinking about. Equally, have your idea evaluated by people in different fields too. They can all critique your idea objectively.

There’ll be flaws with your final idea. There’ll be some things that are amazing but equally some things that are not so good. There will also be some things that may have already been done before. But this feedback from others is so critical for you and the evolution of your idea.

Some of the most creative people or companies are excellent at this evaluation stage of the creative process. Some are really good at critiquing their ideas objectively and not afraid to discard some which don’t work or don’t meet their requirements or align with their beliefs or future they envisage.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

Discard the ideas that won’t work or meet your requirements and invest your time and effort in those ideas that have more merit or value than the others and then incubate those. Don’t discard all of your ideas 100% just reincubate them and let them marinate again in the back of your mind. Once you’ve critiqued your ideas and evaluated and re-incubated some of your other ideas, this leads us to stage five.



And so we arrive at stage five of the creative process. This is known as The Verification, The Elaboration or the Execution Stage. This fifth stage of the creative process is where we can really shape and develop our ideas based on the feedback from our peers, our social group or our friends and our family. It is this fifth stage of the creative process where the hard work happens. This is where we can create a prototype of the physical object, or start drawing up our advertising campaign or fine-tuning our song or novel or architectural design. It is the verification phase, elaboration phase or execution phase in this fifth stage of the creative process where, as an example, we take the bare bones of a piece of music and add production add the vocals.

In fact, Thomas Edison, an American inventor who of course, famously invented the light bulb said, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If this fifth and final stage of the creative process is where this 99% of perspiration takes place. All of the other four stages in the creative process is where the work before the work happens. This fifth stage of the creative process is where all of that hard work comes together, and the real work begins, whether it’s writing a book, getting out there on the mixing desk, working with suppliers, fine-tuning prototypes, or bringing your product or idea to market.

This final stage of the creative process is where you get the colors fine-tuned in your advertising campaign, the straplines correct for your marketing slogan, and more. This is where the hard work begins and the 99% perspiration happens. Is this the fifth stage of the creative process is where we finalize our idea and bring it to life and share it with the world.


In summary, people often confuse creativity as that ‘aha moment’, that big light bulb going off in the mind, and in turn confuse that as an act. It is not an act. It’s simply a state of being. The act, if we call it that; of creativity cannot be explained per say. As John Cleese says, it’s not a talent, it’s a way of operating. And what you have in these five stages is something of an operating manual. But remember that creativity is something that happens rather than something that we do.

I wish you the best of luck on your creative journey, and if you are looking to hire a creativity or innovation speaker for your next event then please get in touch with Duncan below.

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