The creative process is not how most people perceive it. If we were to believe the stories on TV, all you’d need is a flash of genius from which everything else would come naturally.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Case In Point
We recently tackled a website project that was quite the internal roller coaster.
Our creative team diligently developed the requirements. They defined the visual identity. A wire frame lead to a basic layout, and functionality was heavily debated. Simply put, we tried to design something unique and original. When the mockups were completed, we discovered that the website was, well… ordinary.
We were going nowhere fast.
Later that week our creative director spent a day by the pool.
While sitting in the sun watching the water and listening to planes fly overhead, he was struck with an entirely new design. The layout was radically different, and a new user experience was imagined that solved the steps to the client’s sales process.
As he sketched in his notebook with colored pencils, a visually stunning site emerged. It was a new design unlike anything we’d seen before.
What happened at the pool could be defined as a eureka moment, or perhaps an epiphany. The classic flash of creative genius.
Except it wasn’t.
The Definition of Creativity
You are creative.
No matter what you think about your abilities now, groundbreaking research by George Land and Beth Jarman suggests that creativity is not learned, it’s unlearned.
From an early age, habits, doubts, negative feedback, and failures teach us that we just aren’t cut out to create. Unfortunately, we take it to heart. However, the truth is that the unlimited creative power of a child lies inside each of us and is ready to be reclaimed.
Another common misconception about creativity is that it’s limited to the arts. The Creative Department of any organization is usually the place where media is made while the talent plays hacky-sack.
We think it’s time to restore the age-old definition of creativity:
Creativity is assembling ideas, concepts, processes, or products in a novel and useful way.
The ability to be original and creatively assemble things should exist across all departments in any organization. The greatest value an employee can add is fresh ideas. On that day by the pool, our Creative Director assembled an idea in a way that surprised us. But it wasn’t a stroke of genius. It was more perspiration than inspiration” to paraphrase Thomas Edison.
The Three Steps of the Creative Process
In order to understand what happens when a novel idea comes into the world, let’s break down the creative process into three steps.
Harvard Astronomer Abraham Loeb wrote, “Ideas originate from pregnant minds.“
Creative ideas start with research. This is the germination phase.
Ordinarily, the results are less than amazing whenever we try to hastily jump into drawing a logo or designing a flyer. That’s because our brains are hardwired to process and recreate from existing materials. Nothing is made from scratch. In what is probably the greatest myth of creation, the genius inventor does not conjure magic out of thin air. That’s not how we work at all.
In a fascinating piece for Smithsonian Magazine, Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman wrote, “Across the spectrum of human activities, prior art propels the creative process.”
They go on to explain, “Many people have figuratively stood in thunderstorms, waiting for the creative lightning to strike. But creative ideas evolve from existing memories and impressions.”
When designing a new logo for a client, we always start by defining the essence of the company. We explore both how they see themselves and how their customers see them. Since a logo is truly the public face of the brand’s promise you have to design an identity that conveys their brand message with a single glance. In that regard, we have to immerse ourselves in the deeper details of the client’s business in order to come to an accurate result.
Pencil to paper is not the beginning of the creative process; it’s actually closer to the end. Our brains have already done the work. We just have to fill it with the correct raw materials.
How do we do that? We have a three step Discovery process at Divining Point.
- Explore: Gather data about the project. Learn everything you can and devour as much information as possible.
- Mood: What is the emotion of the product? How do you want the user to feel when experiencing it? Explore things that make you feel the same way. Music, arts, books. Reach for anything that brings you into the moment.
- Inspiration: Look at things you like, but avoid the same sector if possible. We recommend crossing genres and disciplines that inspire you to be creative. The idea is simply to enjoy other people’s work. If you want to be extra inventive, find a general category, like Art Deco or Bauhaus, for example, and identify the seeds that could become something new.
Absorb as much as you can during this step, and surrender yourself into it with abandon. This exploration leads you to the critical next step in the Creative Process.
“If a quantum system is probed too often, it tends to stay in the same state.” – Abraham Loeb
If you look directly at a star in the night sky, it dims as your eye adjusts to its light level. The best way to see a star is to look somewhere near it in the darkness and observe the star with your peripheral vision.
This is how the brain works.
The majority of the brain’s functions don’t occur in your conscious, but instead in the back of your mind. We tend to look at our thoughts as the ideas we are aware of, but as it says in the book Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing: “Most of what we do goes on unconsciously. It is the exception, not the rule, when thinking is conscious, but by its very nature, conscious thought seems the only sort. It is not the only sort; it is the minority.“
This is where your creativity lies. It’s behind the scenes. We have to harness the power of this hidden computer if we ever want to reach our creative potential.
Dr Robert Williams wrote in the Journal Psyche: “Our conscious minds work much more slowly than our nonconscious minds, and are overall less adept at processing information, less efficient at the task. The nonconscious mind therefore can be said to be more intelligent than the conscious mind.”
It’s a system that is designed to do amazing things, once you’ve filled your subconscious with the necessary raw data. That’s the Research step. The Germination step is how you pull that information together to create something beautiful.
Back to our Creative Director sitting by the pool. His subconscious was churning and grinding, mixing together the conversations, debates, research, emotions, and moods he was immersed in for many weeks prior. The creativity wasn’t the product of a spark of genius. It was the processing of a supercomputer with the right raw data inputs. We all have this computer.
Brian Tracy put it best: “Your subconscious mind is subjective. It does not think or reason independently; it merely obeys the commands it receives from your conscious mind.”
In other words, input the right information, then take a shower.
It’s the situations that allow your mind to work without interruption that we have to seek out.
BrightHouse CEO Joey Reiman wasn’t kidding when he said, “the five last bastions of thinking are the car, the john, the shower, the church or synagogue, and the gym.”
If you’ve been asked to create something original, you can expect your ideas to be a parrot of what has already been done if you can’t make time for the process.
This is the Eureka moment! Your computer delivers the final report.
When this happens, move deliberately. Approach it like you would when remembering a dream. When the fleeting image of your nighttime adventure pops into your head, the worst thing you can do is focus on it and poke and prod the memory. Instead you have to relax and let it happen.
The same thing is true of the creative moment. Relax. Let the ideas naturally assemble. When you are satisfied with what you’ve received, write it down, repeat it to somebody, or draw it. Do whatever it takes to cement the work of your subconscious into the reality of your consciousness.
This step takes practice. It’s very possible that you are a bit rusty with the act of materializing a creative idea, but every time you go experience the creative process you’ll find your ideas getting stronger and far more creative.