“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs

In Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, Klein summarizes:

During the preparation stage we investigate a problem, applying ourselves to an analysis that is hard, conscious, systematic, but fruitless.

Then we shift to the incubation stage, in which we stop consciously thinking about the problem and let our unconscious mind take over. Wallas quoted the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, who in 1891 at the end of his career offered some reflections on how this incubation stage feels. After working hard on a project, Helmholtz explained that “happy ideas come unexpectedly without effort, like an inspiration. So far as I am concerned, they have never come to me when my mind was fatigued, or when I was at my working table. They came particularly readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day.”

Wallas advised his readers to take this incubation stage seriously. We should seek out mental relaxation and stop thinking about the problem. We should avoid anything that might interfere with the free working of the unconscious mind, such as reading serious materials.

Next comes the illumination stage, when insight bursts forth with conciseness, suddenness, and immediate certainty. Wallas believed that the insight, the “happy idea,” was the culmination of a train of unconscious associations. These associations had to mature outside of conscious scrutiny until they were ready to surface. Wallas claimed that people could sometimes sense that an insight was brewing in their minds. The insight starts to make its appearance in fringe consciousness, giving people an intimation that the flash of illumination is nearby. At this point the insight might drift away and not evolve into consciousness. Or it might get interrupted by an intrusion that causes it to miscarry. That’s why if people feel this intimation arising while reading, they often stop and gaze out into space, waiting for the insight to appear. Wallas warned of the danger of trying to put the insight into words too quickly, before it was fully formed.

Finally, during the verification stage we test whether the idea is valid. If the insight is about a topic such as mathematics, we may need to consciously work out the details during this final stage.

Wallas noted that none of these stages exist in isolation.

In the daily stream of thought these four different stages constantly overlap each other as we explore different problems. An economist reading a Blue Book, a physiologist watching an experiment, or a business man going through his morning’s letters, may at the same time be “incubating” on a problem which he proposed to himself a few days ago, be accumulating knowledge in “preparation” for a second problem, and be “verifying” his conclusions on a third problem. Even in exploring the same problem, the mind may be unconsciously incubating on one aspect of it, while it is consciously employed in preparing for or verifying another aspect. And it must always be remembered that much very important thinking, done for instance by a poet exploring his own memories, or by a man trying to see clearly his emotional relation to his country or his party, resembles musical composition in that the stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a “problem and solution” scheme. Yet, even when success in thought means the creation of something felt to be beautiful and true rather than the solution of a prescribed problem, the four stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and the Verification of the final result can generally be distinguished from each other. (The Creativity Question)


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