Creativity and the Trouble with Incubation

seeing what others don'tFor some time people have broken creativity into four stages. The preparation stage involves accumulating knowledge; the Incubation stage involves letting that knowledge sit in the back of your mind while you do something else; the Illumination stage consists of a flash of insight; the Validation stage is where you consider the idea critically.

Stories abound of a-ha moments in the shower and while in the middle of daydreaming. This form of creativity is exciting, it’s fast and forceful, instantly motivating us. No wonder it is written about so regularly, and desired by so many.

“Whereas preparation appeals to our work ethic, incubation appeals to our play ethic. It feels like a welcome time-out.”

In Seeing What Others Don’t, Gary Klein goes at the idea with a slight skepticism. Sure this flash of insight is welcome, but in talking about creativity it is surely not the only form. Moreover, in environments such as the workplace, in which creativity is required within certain boundaries, sitting about ‘incubating’ and insight is unfeasible.

“Lots of people can recall insights that suddenly came to them while they were taking showers, but I doubt that organizations could increase the rate of insights in their workers by having them double the number of showers they take. The incubation stage doesn’t seem necessary and often would be impossible.”

Klein points out that while the incubation stage might be a welcome aspect to the creative process, it is not always necessary. Something else to mind that fits this description.

“We can use an analogy here: “aha” is to insight as orgasms are to conception. In both cases the experience is more noticeable than the achievement, but the experience doesn’t guarantee the achievement, and the achievement can happen without the experience.”

Gary Klein continues to expand on the role of insights and how we can improve our own creative processes in Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights. Get it through Amazon.