The Inner Workings of the Creative Process

Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t - Craig Damrauer

Watching a marathon of House M.D. this week, one of my favourite tv shows, has inspired some thoughts about the creative process and how ideas are formulated. Dr. House is a diagnostician with a non existent bedside manner but a Sherlockian brilliance for solving patient cases that have stumped all other doctors. I find the show not only entertaining but also a fine example of the creative process and idea generation.

The first step of the creative process involves research. Research provides a foundation from which ideas and theories are formulated. This phase is most successful when any ideas, even the incredibly bizarre and far fetched ones, are given consideration. 

One example of this first step, is the way House and his team research the patients medical history, family background, and current symptoms. These findings are organized into lists on a white board from which the team generates any ideas and thoughts that come to mind. The theories and ideas that develop help guide the team to the next phase.

In the second phase of the creative process, ideas are tested, acted on, given visual form. This is a time for experimentation, to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes more is learned from what doesn’t work than what does. 

The third phase involves stepping away from the project all together. House likes to watch his favourite afternoon soap opera. I like to go for a run and visit my favourite thrift shops. During this time away the brain continues to mull over all that has been learned. Most often the “Aha! moment” occurs within this third phase. A seemingly insignificant event or unrelated conversation can trigger a sudden revelation. Previously overlooked connections are made. New ideas are formed. 

The fourth and final phase requires that we act on all that we have learned. We see the idea through. We may have an idea but if we fail to act to make it happen or to put in the work to give it visual form - it matters not. Having an idea and seeing it through takes courage!