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Four Stages In The Vintage Creative Thought Process

When the German physiologist and physicist Hermann Helmholtz was seventy years old [in 1898], he was asked at his birthday party to analyze his thought processes. Later, Graham Wallas, in his [1926] book The Art of Thought, formulated Helmholtz’s ideas into the familiar four stages:

  1. preparation,
  2. incubation,
  3. inspiration, and
  4. verification.

Preparation

The preparation step consists of observing, listening, asking, reading, collecting, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, and relating all kinds of objects and information.

Incubation

The incubation process is both conscious and unconscious. This step involves thinking about parts and relationships, reasoning, and often a fallow period.

Inspiration

Inspirations very often appear during this fallow period [of incubation]. This probably accounts for the popular emphasis on releasing tensions in order to be creative.

Verification

The step labeled verification is a period of hard work. This is the process of converting an idea into an object or into an articulated form.

Background

Analysis of Creativity

Today’s article is an excerpt from a piece written by Mel Rhodes in April 1961 titled: An Analysis of Creativity. It can be found in the education association journal: The Phi Delta Kappan, (Vol. 42, No 7).

So, I’ve developed the secret recipe for the world’s best brainstorming sessions. I call it the 3Ps: People, Place, and Process. You can read a bit about it here.

In June of this year I spoke at the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) Conference. When when I submitted my 3Ps topic, they told me there was already a thing called the 4Ps. They referenced this Rhodes article.

I’ve been searching high-and-low for this article and finally found it last month, in bound version, at the great downtown Seattle Public Library.

After reading it, there isn’t that much similarity, Rhodes’ 4Ps and my 3Ps except for the name. However, the Creative Education Foundation (who hosts the CPSI conferences) is specifically mentioned.

I plan to share the entire article on Idea Sandbox, but wanted to share a bit of it with you today. These are “vintage” ideas about creativity tossed around back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The body content below is from the original article. The formatting is mine. Changes are indicated [within brackets].

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