Thomas Edison might be right that ‘genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration’, but where does that one percent come from? Our intern, Alan, is currently completing an MA in Cultural and Creative Industries at King’s College London, here he talks about the process of coming up with that truly great idea – essential for the budding entrepreneur!

Where do creative ideas come from? The exact origin of a creative idea is difficult to determine but according to psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, and others, an understanding of the creative process may provide some insight. The creative process is a technique for simplifying the notoriously complex and mysterious set of circumstances that contribute to the formation of an idea. While critics may dismiss the approach as linear or formulaic, it does provide a useful tool for dissecting the evolution of a creative idea.

The creative process is defined by five steps: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration. At it’s most basic, preparation can be described as the time spent mastering a skill and learning to understand all of the issues associated with a problem. Incubation, the most mysterious component of the process, is when an individual is not actively seeking a solution but rather an idea is bubbling beneath the surface of consciousness. Incubation is almost impossible to verify or clarify because it exists in the subconscious.

Next the insight or Eureka moment occurs when the solution to a problem suddenly appears out of nowhere (forever mythologised as a light bulb moment). A few interesting points to note about insight: firstly it could not exist without preparation (for the simple explanation that you can’t solve a problem without knowing what the problem is) and secondly while it might appear as single euphoric moment, it is more likely a series of smaller epiphanies but because it is generally described retrospectively, everything leading up to it is forgotten or ignored (consciously or subconsciously).

The period of evaluation is when an idea is tested and scrutinized relying on rationality to determine if it is worth further investment or rejection and finally elaboration is when the idea is exposed to social judgment in order for its novelty and usefulness to be either acknowledged or dismissed.

Why is an understanding of the creative process useful for an entrepreneur looking for an idea? Because if we know where ideas come from then we can create environments that encourage immersion yet simultaneously provide sufficient space for ideas to simmer beneath the surface before they pop through as insights. This is exactly what companies in Silicon Valley like Google, Facebook and Twitter, have attempted by ensuring their employees have intense periods of work and immersion (preparation), access to leisure activities (incubation) punctuated by moments of insight and followed by evaluation and elaboration.

~ Alan

Next, Alastair Creamer will be writing us a guest post on what it takes to be an entrepreneur…

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