Rethinking the Creative Process to Solve Problems and Spark a Revolution

Rethinking the Creative Process to Solve Problems and Spark a Revolution

Whether you identify yourself as a technical evangelist, a business entrepreneur or as the next Michelangelo – we all use the same creative process to guide us in our decision making. However, our different life experiences can dictate how efficiently we utilize the creative process and can shape how we make important decisions and form perceptions. The benefit of this oftentimes results in team building and creative solutions. On the other hand, it can result in deeply divided individuals and a lack of empathy. By understanding the stages of the creative process and how each one is uniquely intertwined with our overall brain function, we can begin to understand how to relate to each other and collectively solve the world's most challenging problems.

Just Thinking…

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster and the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought because it is his. In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.  

— Ralph Waldo Emerson / Self-Reliance.

The Creative Process

The creative process involves two very opposite ways of thinking.

  • Right brain means intuitive, metaphorical, nonverbal, big picture
  • Left brain means logical, rational, verbal, deductive

We have been taught to choose between two different ways of thinking. In some cases, it's been taught that a person is naturally inclined to utilize one side of the brain over the other, or rather an inherited trait (you are an artist, and therefore strictly right-brained). This has resulted in the inability to move freely between them and has created a major disadvantage. After all, two sides make up one brain, and utilizing your brain to its fullest potential can change your life.

Rethinking Thinking

Learning how to use both hemispheres of the brain can not only help you get more creative in your thinking, but it can help you understand how others think.

The breakdown of the creative process:

  • First insight: the first stage of the creative process is defining the problem.  The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution. Before we can find an answer, we must know the question.
  • Saturation: the second stage involves research and the process of gathering information. It primarily involves the left brain and is a stage often undervalued and overlooked. However, it is critical to the process. Understanding the knowledge that came before is crucial to forming a plan of action. Has the problem occurred before? What conclusions were drawn? Was there a beneficial outcome? Why am I revisiting this problem? This stage pushes the thinker to recognize patterns, utilize intuition and problem solve.
  • Incubation: Also known as “thinking aside”. This happens when you can't solve a problem, you get frustrated, and walk away. At this time, a shift occurs and you move completely from left to right brain. You enter a restful, peaceful state. You're not pressed for time, you've mentally moved on.  This is when the idea hits you, sometimes during a long drive, a walk outside or in the shower. This is where the best ideas come from, a relaxed state. After all, when you're pushing your brain to think of your best ideas, you typically don't think of your best ideas (if you do, please share your secret).
  • Illumination: or the Ah Ha! moment. There wasn't just one answer to be found, there wasn't one answer to the exclusion of others. To reach this stage it is important to remember that the capacity to embrace paradox, to hold opposites equals true wisdom. F. Scott Fitzgerald said himself, “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
  • Verification is the process of bringing this enlightenment to fruition. Translating the insight into something that's accessible, practical, and understandable (shifting back into the left hemisphere).

The verification stage allows not only for you to be successful in implementing a solution, but it also adds value to other people at the same time. By taking advantage of the verification process and truly understanding its value – you avoid a zero-sum game otherwise known as the “I win, you lose” mindset.

I Am Right, So You're Wrong

So, what do you do when you think your value is at risk? Adopting the dog-eat-methodology can make you lose the capacity to value and retain other worldviews. In short, you're skipping the Saturation step and losing the ability to value what is truly valuable. You form perceptions and everything else becomes ignorant or reactionary.

How can this be prevented? By taking a more flexible approach in the way you view different people, ideas and perspectives – Substituting curiosity for certainty, resisting stereotypes and realizing we are all in this together.

So, Who's Right?

Therein lies the creative process: knowledge=thinking, thinking=ideas, ideas=action, action=perspective, perspective=leadership, leadership=creativity, and creativity=knowledge. A perfect example of this is the actions of Martin Luther King, who preached nonviolence to his followers as adversaries inflicted violence on them. This is leadership that reflects a consciousness shift. King chose to address a problem on a different level than the level that it was created on.


The world is full of intractable problems that require new thinking. How can we use the creative process to its fullest and take on some of the obstacles in your organization and the world? By fully understanding each counter-intuitive stage, we can begin to see more deeply, widely and inclusively. Instead of focusing on a revolution, which sweeps away what has come before it, concentrate on a revolution – which transcends existing limitations and includes the value of all the stages that came before.

Post inspired by bestselling author Tony Schwartz. View his talk here.

Next Steps

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