To be productive creativity needs DIRECTION, but to be successful it needs INSPIRATION. notice that INSPIRATION is not a step, it will come at any time and anyplace, usually between steps 2 and 4. It is necessary but It really needs both sides of your brain, it needs different types of thinkers. I'd like to tell you that I have developed a system that works, but I have kind of worked backwards from successful creative endeavors to find that they all have some level of each of these steps. I think that inspiration can strike at anyone one of these steps, so keep a notebook with you, there is nothing more precious than a genius idea lost in time (well except gold, or babies, or golden babies). I find that I use this process when I write, when I direct, when I edit, when I do math (seriously) when I build campaigns and help companies rebrand, and even when I teach Sunday School (yup)
My steps for creativity:
1) INCEPTION: See how I used a popular movie title to get you interested. Really I just wanted a fancy word for "GET STARTED" but this is also really important to clearly decide on what your end goal is. If your goal is "write a commercial" you might get a really funny commercial out of it, but if you later realize that your goal is to "get consumers to go into a store a buy a product" you may have missed the boat. Write this goal down somewhere, let it simmer, and maybe even try to purify it a little bit. There is a difference between "inform someone about what a product can do" and "inspire someone to understand why they need a product". I think all types of creativity rely on truth to gain power, and if you are true in your goal, and truthful in your storytelling and art making it will have more power. I think that telling someone to buy something that they don't need is sleazy, helping someone buy something that could make their life better can be rewarding. If you jump to brainstorming without defining your goal you can head down some paths that you will fall in love with, but that won't get you anywhere. (write those ideas down anyway). Always write down first impressions I have this process, but sometimes my first impression is still make it through to the end is some form, the process makes them better and builds on them.
2)INGESTION "Matter can neither be created nor destroyed". Fortunately for me, both my scientific leanings and religious beliefs teach this same thing. To create something you need stuff. Creative stuff, memories, influences, beauty art, ideas. Think of a monster eating everything in it's path. During the INGESTION phase, I study the problem and try to read related things, unrelated things, look up stuff on the internet, wander around, doodle a lot, listen to music. You can only do this so long, but this is where you need to get the basic building blocks of your creativity. If I am teaching Sunday School, this is where I try to read everything I can about the subject, scripture, talks, even Wikipedia (wikipedia is GREAT for ingestion, but also a bit of a rabbit hole), this is a good time for some PRE brainstorming. People talk about brainstorming, and I think by itself, it's mostly useless. But as part of something else it is VERY helpful. During ingestion come up with ideas, build on other ones, give your first impressions.but don't throw something out. You can move on, but this has got to be a positive experience. Swallow as much as you can, because you don't know what is going to end up fitting together later. This is a good time for writing stuff down on napkins and post its because it's not precious but it is valuable.
Another thing. during this process, whether it is a group brainstorm or your private hunt. Don't worry about ideas that don't work or that you hate. Focus on things you love. If you throw out everything that you hate, you will come up with something that everybody doesn't hate, but that doesn't mean it will be something that anybody loves. Eliminate this phrase "Well the problem with that is..." This is not the time to ask questionsWe are creative, we solve problems. If it's worth loving then we can solve the problem later (we will get to that during "Cultivation"). It is worth mentioning that you can push ideas, but when pushing an idea, don't think you are making the idea "better" you are offering another option, keep the original too.
You know that moment after you are done laughing and you sigh, and you know that the last part of the joke has left your system? (but you wish you were still laughing). It's important to note that you can't revisit that laugh, that it is time to move on. Brainstorming and Ingestion is work, but it can be fun once you get going, but learn to recognize when it's time to move on.
3) Incubation Incubation is the lazy part of Creativity. I usually say "Let's let this simmer for a bit" but it is SO important. This is usually where inspiration strikes, where you come of with at few "workable ideas" and maybe a few actually "good" ideas. I think it was T. H. White who suggested that writing is like hunting, and you spend days waiting for the right words to come along. Creativity needs some space to wander, don't expect a solution to come out of a brainstorm, expect some GOOD ideas to come out of a brainstorm, but the solutions will expand on those ideas.
Some of my best ideas come from that moment between waking and sleeping, many come in the shower. Even if I am giving a 5 minute speech I make sure to take a nap between studying it and writing it. This is where sleep is important for me. I have a good nap couch in my office. I don't care if my co workers think I am being lazy, I know what my creativity needs, and it doesn't need to make them think I am working. I heard that Napoleon took short naps before battle. I spoke with a former executive who is working late into his retirement who told me he takes a 30 minute nap every day. His secretary calls him at one. I delicately asked him if it was because he was older now, and he said, I wished I would have discovered it earlier in his career. I spend my afternoons fighting distraction and ineffectiveness. Naps give you TWO sleeping/waking periods each day. (and those are the MOST important periods of each day)
I also believe in the power of procrastination. Nothing like the stress of a deadline to bring your mind into a lazerlike focus. and that means you need to give yourself a timeline to incubate to let the nascent ideas simmer. INCEPT and INGEST early so you will have time to wander for in those walks will inspiration most often strike. If you put off the incpetion or ingestion phase too long you won't have the time to wander, and worse you will come up with a great idea and not have time to make it right. which lead me to the next step.
4) CULTIVATION By now you should have something to work with a bunch of ideas that you like or love. Now is where you get pragmatic. This is where you invite that naysayer from the brainstorm session in who starts saying "the problem with that..." so you can start finding solution. This is where you make your good idea great. This is where you take your shrub of an idea and make it into a topiary elephant. There are steps to this as well, but I will keep it relatively brief.
To cultivate a garden you need to weed it. This is the stage where you can discard ideas that are great, but just don't work. In fact you need to throw out beautiful ideas so the other ideas can grow here. Go back to your INCEPTION your big purpose. Now take your musing and see how well they point back to that. Can they be modified to make them work better? This is where you work the ideas out, you solve problems, ask questions. You have to trim the fat.
What is the fat? It is the stuff that gets in the way of the idea WORKING. It might be the baggage that makes the idea look the SAME as other people stuff. You have to ask, how can we make it different. One of my brothers (who is one of the most creative guys I know) says that he always takes his idea and says "Okay, now how can I take this idea and make it one step away from normal, how can I take it one step away from what you expect". He takes a good idea and makes it into a new idea, makes the idea do more than one thing. This is important.
I think there is also an important part of this that I will call DISTILATION. You don't just cut away stuff, you get to the core of it, it's essence. the thing that makes the idea good and you make sure there is lots of it and it is concentrated. This is where you polish the idea, you make it more than an idea, you make it work. When you are done here, you don't just have an idea or ideas. You have something or somethings to show. This is where practice is applicable. This is where you make minor adjustments, but don't change anything major.
5) Presentation Whether you are speaking to a group, pitching a client, making a commercial, or just writing a story. You must present it to an audience. In art there is always a gap between what you intended to do, and what you did. This is where you work hard to narrow that gap. Focus on your original goal and the distilled idea when you present the something. Believe it in, know that it works, and make it effortless. When you present have confidence because your audience has no idea how much blood sweat and tears when into your end product and they should be. If you want to wow someone with a backflip you pretend like it is no big thing
So how about you? Do you do something similar? Do you have a system? Do you think I am missing anything? Let me know. I am always looking for ways to cultivate my existing system.