Creative Five-Stage Process

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following is an excerpt from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, The psychology of discovery and invention (HarperCollins, 2013, 1996)(based on interviews with 91 prominent creative individuals, over age 60, from 1990-1995).

The creative process has traditionally been described as involving five steps:

  • Preparation
  • Incubation
  • Insight
  • Evaluation
  • Elaboration

But this classical analytic framework leading from preparation to elaboration gives a severely distorted picture of the creative process if it is taken too literally. …The creative process is less linear than recursive. …Sometimes incubation lasts for years; sometimes it takes a few hours. Sometimes the creative ideas include one deep insight and innumerable small ones.

The five-stage view of the creative process may be too simplified, and it can be misleading, but it does offer a relatively valid and simple way to organize the complexities involved.

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