Chapter 4 of Csikszentmihalyi’s book gave a lot more knowledge to what I had already thought of as a creative cycle before. This is just something I haven’t thought too much about before but while reading the chapter, I think to myself, we of course these are the steps of figuring something out. Csikszentmihalyi just did a good job of not only pointing those out but also going into further depth and examples as to how the creative process actually works. The five steps he identifies in this creative process are; preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, and elaboration. Most of these after reading about them made perfect sense to me and especially in the order in which he has them. But what caught my attention was that it isn’t always just a simple, this step is done now I go to the next. He shows that just because you finish one part, doesn’t mean you won’t have to revisit that in order to keep the process going.
The very first part of the process is identifying what problem you are trying to solve, otherwise known as the preparation step. This seems like a pretty obvious step to not only the creative process but for trying to get anything done. You first must know what you are trying to fix or improve. Mihaly presents two types of problems that are thought of in figuring out what the problem is. These are presented and discovered problems. Presented problems are the what is being asked of you or what is being told for you to do. These types of problems are generally laid out for you and are typically not too tough to know what the problem that needs to be addressed is. On the other side are discovered problems. These are the problems that nobody has asked a question yet or nobody may even know that there is a problem. These are trickier because not only to you have to find the problem, you must also think about what the solution may be.
The second step in the process is incubation. Incubation is the step in which you get all of the ideas flowing on how to get that problem fixed. This is the time that you should just start coming up with as many ideas as possible and not worrying about if they are good or not. Come up with as many as you can and write them all down so later you can decide which you will use or if you would use a combination of the ideas. Sometimes this can be a tough process because you get caught up in what already exists in a problem and you just try to think about ways around what is already there. When in reality, it would be most beneficial to think of completely new or different ideas. I think one example that was given in the chapter was when the guy was going to try to solve the problem of the propellers on the planes and he came in and thought back to his physics classes about what might work and that’s the way he solved it. He was able to solve it because others were focused on what was already tried.
The third step is insight. This is the step in which the pieces of the puzzle come together, or often times thought of as the “Aha!” moment as Csikszentmihalyi points out. This is the part you would decide which of the ideas from step two are good ones or if any of the ideas could be joined together to make an even better idea. This again is a step that can be difficult to overcome because it isn’t always straightforward on how to go about solving the problem. This is sometimes a step that is discovered when your mind is not completely on it. You could be taking a walk or cooking or doing something completely irrelevant to what you’re trying to solve but something is working in your mind that suddenly clicks and you have better understanding of what you’re trying to do. This is definitely a step that I have encountered before as I am trying to figure out a homework assignment and I just can’t figure out what the next step is or how to even go about getting to the solution. I have had many times where I am not even thinking about the assignment at the time or I’m in another class and something suddenly comes to me, and I have to write it down quickly so I don’t forget my train of thought.
The fourth step of the process is evaluation. This is the step in which you have to decide whether or not the problem is worth pursuing. Often times, this isn’t necessarily a problem for me because the problems I am trying to solve are typically problems that need to be solved regardless so I continue to the next step either way. However, there have been some times when I am trying to figure out a problem on my own like in ways of trying to make something more efficient or just trying to make something better. During these times, I often think of ways that I could possibly make it better and the steps I would need to take in order to actually make it work. If there is something I can do that is fairly simple or not going to cause much of a delay in what I am wanting or needing to get done in the first place, then I will tackle the situation and try to figure it out, but, if it is something that will slow everything else down as a result of trying to do it, then I leave it alone until I could find a better way to address the problem.
The fifth and final step of the creative process is the elaboration stage. This is discussed as the step that takes up the most time and hardest work to complete. This is the step in which you must consider each and every other step in the process to not only complete but do well. The elaboration stage is where you actually put to work the ideas you generated and if any will be combined for a better idea and the processes you will take in order to complete the problem at hand. Throughout this step, you will think back to all of those “Aha!” moments to put together into a finished solution. During this step, you might also have more of the “Aha!” moments as you are putting everything together. There are sometimes when I am in this stage of figuring something out and I think to myself, of course that’s how all of those join together to find the solution.