What is the creative process


Although systematic investigations have not been carried out in the field of research into creativity for very long, philosophers and psychologists dealt with creative thinking and acting much earlier. In 1910, Dewey set up his classic model for the full analysis of an act of thought. He distinguishes five levels of thought reflection:

1. Encounter with a difficulty (An attempt is made to discover links that bring two diverging factors together. The meaning of an object must be recognized and problematized.)

2. Definition of the difficulty (the problem is limited and localized.)

3. Emergence of a possible solution (Thought leads from the given to the non-given. An approach that is not accepted but tentatively maintained forms an idea as an assumption, conjecture, hypothesis or theory. As the postponement of the final conclusion for further evidence depends, in part, on the existence of rival guesses allowing choice, it is of the utmost importance to encourage the emergence of as many different ideas as possible.)

4. Rational working through of an idea (the consequences of the approach develop logically.)

5. Verification (The idea has to prove itself to be finally accepted.)

With minor modifications, these analytical categories for analyzing the act of thought and behavior have been preserved for a long time, even if they have not received such great attention. Modifications to this come from Johnson(14). He simplifies the model by reducing it from five to three levels.
a) Preparation phase
b) Production phase
c) Assessment phase

Merrifield(15)set up a five-point program again.

a) Preparation
b) analysis
c) production
d) verification
e) reapplication

The last point was introduced because this person has been shown to return to earlier stages more often during an act of thought.

The description of these previously discussed acts of thought and behavior basically applies to all acts, but creative thinking and acting is characterized by the fact that a new thinking and behavior strategy is adopted for the first time. In all the phases indicated, sociological factors play a major role, either directly or indirectly. The mathematician Poincare(16)found that productive thinking people - both scientific and artistic - find their solutions over four levels. From his own experience he differentiates:

a) Preparation phase
b) incubation phase
c) Illumination phase
d) verification phase

Poincare's model was adopted from the creativity literature below, and the terminology used to analyze the creative process always refers to it. Researchers who examined Poincare's four-step model showed that the steps do not always have to proceed in the order a - b - c - d, but can also overlap, sometimes even backsliding(17).

Also Eindhoven and Vinacke(18) encountered these phases, but they are of the opinion that this is a dynamic, continuous process that cannot be fully captured in precisely defined phases. They found just like wallas(19) that artists and scientists go through the same process, the difference is only in the technique, in the speed and in the way in which the problem is tackled.

The last model is that of Rossmann(20)shown, which set up after an investigation on 710 inventors. It is a "seven-stage model".
a) A need or a "lack" is noticed
b) Analysis of the need
c) The available information is checked and applied
d) Objective solution is formulated
e) The solution is critically reviewed
f) New ideas, solutions are formulated
g) New ideas are checked and accepted

This model is mentioned quite often in the literature, but it has not caught on.

The list of so-called models could go on, but it would only complete the picture of the anarchy of scientific concept formation in this area.
According to the unanimous opinion of the authors, despite the newer models, which, however, could not prevail, Poincare's model is all the most useful to represent a creative act of thought. In the following, this model, which also describes the first phase of processes of social change, will be dealt with in stages, with the individual relevant theories and research results being dealt with at their reference stages.


Every thought process and every process of social change - even the creative one - is triggered by a tension, by a problem. What is a "problem"? Dewey(21) speaks of encountering a difficulty. For others, "seeing a problem" means discovering that facts that have never been combined before match or overlap. A problem or a tension can also be seen as a kind of "white spot" in an existing theory or conceptual construction. In the artistic process in particular, the problem is often that a real fact must be organized differently, usually symbolically. The existence of a problem always means that antagonistic tendencies, cognitive dissonances or role conflicts coexist in the individual. But these conflicts can just as well exist between environmental facts and between the individual and the environment. The group dynamic emphasizes that uncovering tension is as important as releasing it. Hilgard(22)emphasizes the same fact for finding problems and solutions.

The independent discovery of the problem is an aspect that distinguishes creative thinking over mere problem solving. However, in most American experiments this aspect of creative thinking is neglected.

Test subjects are either given a task or they are given well-formulated problems. So even in the instruction: Draw a picture for this poem already given the possibility that a poem could be expressed pictorially. Ulmann sees and criticizes this aspect of American creativity research, but due to her psychological approach she cannot specify the social and socialization conditions for this aspect of creative behavior in more detail, rather she only demands that these boundary conditions be specified when she writes. "Every problem, every meaningful thought is triggered in some way by the environment, but it would be interesting to examine how far a problem has to be pre-structured in the environment in order for it to be found at all."(23)The prerequisite for the discovery of a problem can on the one hand be intensive preoccupation with a certain area, on the other hand it is quite possible that the hardship, so to speak (this can also be the hardship that arises from asymmetrical role relationships) triggers the problem. When it comes to scientific discoveries, it is often said that a problem was "in the air" because, for example, facts no longer correspond to theories. It is also possible that a special need arises in a group or in an individual that suggests the solution of certain problems in order to satisfy it. In turn, artists describe an intense, strongly emotionally tinged encounter between the subject and his environment, which leads to the absorption of objects and their transformation. Tensions and problems can also arise from the fact that various social factors are seen in relation to one another. This first phase is also a time of knowledge accumulation. However, the existing knowledge - for social creativity the existing role repertoire - must not be handled too rigidly. For this phase, a strong degree of sensitivity in perception is important, whereby the sensitivity in the sector of social perception is particularly relevant for our work.

In this phase, the creative individual and the creative group absorb any information, any knowledge, without primarily censoring them beforehand. This creates a broad basis on which the actual creative process can then be built. The non-creative groups and people categorize according to stereotypes right from the start and thus absorb much less information. The value of this phase lies in the fact that the voltage must be precisely defined, its condition factors and components can be seen in relation to the overall system.


Incubation is a time interval in which there is no visible activity of the group or the individual towards the solution, but during which there is often, at the end of the day, evidence that the material has moved towards the solution. This period of time can last minutes, days, months or even years and is often accompanied by a pleasant feeling of achievement. This phase is often coupled with a persistent desire to release the tension, perhaps with the intention of coming back to it later.
With regard to the incubation period, different researchers also propose different theories. The thesis that the problems unconsciously strive to solve them during the incubation phase is dealt with in the chapter on psychoanalytic theories of creativity. Other researchers proposed a theory of fatigue; the problem solver gets tired while his performance level increases. Still other researchers favor a hypothesis that states that relaxation is a particularly promising condition for recalling stored information. Guilford puts forward an information hypothesis. During the incubation period, some transformations of the information - transformations that take time to complete - take place. It is assumed that relationships are recognized and transferred to other systems.

Woodworth developed a different kind of approach, namely learning theory(24).

In the incubation phase there is no trying or thinking, but forgetting. The clues necessary to solve the problem were linked to irrelevant thoughts during the preparation phase. These links, Ulmann reports the author, interfere as long as they have lost "recencyvalue", the problem is seen more clearly again, and the relevant clues lead to the solution.


The illumination phase is also referred to in everyday language as the "aha" or "heureka" experience. It is a completely involuntary moment in which the material from the incubation phase transforms into a clear, meaningful insight that suddenly emerges. Since this experience is usually accompanied by very strong emotions, it is often inhibited by the unprepared individual. The uncreative individual cannot reach the illumination phase because the conditions for the incubation phase are missing. The experiences of uncreative groups and individuals are very strongly tied to stereotypical categories. Thoughts come during the strangest moments, such as waking up, bathing (Archimedes), walking, etc. Guilford also believes that a dramatic aspect of the creative process is the moment of illumination when a person is in a sudden one a big step towards the solution (in the case of social creativity, e.g. the articulation of felt domination).


In the model under discussion, this assessment and verification step is the last in the creative process. The point here is to determine whether thoughts meet the criteria or requirements (novelty, correctness, usefulness). However, this process belongs on the one hand to the philosophy of science and methodology, on the other hand to art criticism and the assessment of processes of social change.

Leary(25) understands only the actual creative person who, in addition to the new idea, also finds new ways of communicating this idea. Ulmann(26) believes that this implies that the form of communication is not arbitrary, but that a certain idea usually also includes a very specific type of communication, the expression of this idea. One idea can only be communicated in social behavior, another in images or in music, and a third in semantic units, and this determines whether it is a role-creation, an artistic or a scientific product.

What criteria are there to judge a creative idea or a creative behavior plan? The most frequently mentioned criterion is "novelty", whereby it should be clarified what "new" means. There is also disagreement about this. Some authors define the concept of "novelty" through tests. Guilford operationalizes "new" with the term "unusual" and means rarity in the statistical sense. This means that depending on how small the percentage of a certain thought is in the population under consideration, the rarer, more unusual, that is, newer, the thought is. Other authors only consider new answers that are unique to a particular population. Jackson and Messick(27) show that all these provisions are a problem of what is called normality and that these respective norms can be continued relatively indefinitely. If one sets the most extreme norm that a creative deviation can only be called new if it has never occurred in history, the question arises whether such a deviation is no longer creative when the social person realizes that someone else is had the same behavior some time ago.

A conceptual clarification would be possible insofar as behavior is described as "original" if it was produced for the first time within an epoch or a society.

It should also be noted that responding to a creative behavior can sometimes be described as creative as its invention.

Overall, however, it can be said that the "novelty" defined in this way is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for creativity. The characteristic of creative behavior has been emphasized again and again, namely that it should be "valuable", "correct" and "useful". All of these criteria remain in their individual psychological arbitrariness if they are not substantiated by a representation of their historical and sociological reference system.