Phases of the creative process

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Creative processes take place consciously or unconsciously in different phases. For the systematic solution of problems or tasks , a conscious approach with the help of a phase model is recommended. Phase models with different numbers of phases appear in the literature. Some of these models are presented here. There are further differentiated models with up to twelve phases ( Hans Lenk , 2013: 12 Is). The creative solution is just a special case of problem solving

Phase models

Three-phase model

Analytical phase

A rough classification is provided by a three-phase model:

The analytical (logical) phase consists of problem analysis and goal setting. Both the problem and the goal are clarified as precisely as possible at the beginning of an idea generation process in order to create a uniform starting point.

Intuitive phase

Then the search for ideas for problem solving begins . In order to find as many original ideas as possible, creativity techniques can be used. In this phase, any criticism of ideas must be prevented. It is recommended to relax after a strenuous phase of thinking and to distance yourself from the problem in order to give the subconscious the opportunity to develop flashes of inspiration during the incubation period .

Critical phase

Finally, ideas are evaluated in relation to the set goal and selected for further pursuit. Unsuitable ideas are excluded.

Breaking the creative process down into these three phases has decisive advantages:

  • Clarity / consensus about the problem and goal
  • Separation of idea generation and evaluation

Four-phase model (Wallas 1926)

This model is based on observations made by the German physiologist and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (1884) and the French mathematician Henri Poincaré (1908). Graham Wallas combined these observations into a systematic theory of creative thinking in 1926. Today, the keywords introduced by Wallas are considered universal elements that almost always appeared in a similar way during thought work.

Preparation phase: the problem is recognized as such

The first phase is attuning to the problem. The preparatory phase has a strong exploratory character and is also called the phase of exploration or saturation (Helmholtz, Poincaré). This is where the discovery and collection of information about the problem takes place and thus knowledge is built up. From this accumulated raw material, creative solutions are later developed.

It depends on the situation in which way an individual or a group can be animated to creative achievements. The literature gives sufficient examples in this regard. For some people, repositioning the desk, walking up and down, autogenic training , a morning run or daily dry skin brushing from the extremities to the heart may have a positive influence. Eye training to harmonize the hemispheres of the brain or joyful exercises such as positive self-motivation through a friendly inner voice are also recommended to stimulate an inspiring atmosphere.

Incubation phase: you think you will never find a solution and you feel bad

From a medical point of view, the term incubation describes the time between infection and the onset of a disease. In a figurative sense, during this creativity phase, it is not the conscious intellectual struggle for and with raw material that dominates, but a maturing process.

In order to allow this process to run undisturbed, the creative consciously moves away from the problem, denies it and deals with topics that seem to have nothing to do with the problem. This departure can enable a break from habitual thought patterns. In this phase artists report, for example, a backward movement from the word to the image, which can trigger creative impulses.

Helmut Schlicksupp recommends trusting your own unconscious creativity: Incubation is the phase in which the information collected during the first phase sinks into the subconscious and is further processed there.

Illumination phase: the flash of inspiration

The creative idea is rated as a sudden “enlightenment” or “Eureka experience”. This is an insight phase that describes the experience of being right. In an individual, a long-awaited solution can suddenly emerge from the subconscious. In a group, an accidental perception of a minor detail or the behavior of another person can trigger this experience.

Verification phase: feasibility and implementation

The solutions found often do not yet mean the complete solution of a problem. In the fourth phase, also called the design phase or the elaboration phase , the solution approaches are systematically worked out and the insights gained are checked for feasibility.

In many projects, this phase first leads to the presentation of an idea to a decision-making body. Here Helmut Schlicksupp points out that the more embryonic an idea is, the more vulnerable it becomes to criticism and doubts. It is therefore important to design the idea in detail, giving precise information about its functions, benefits and value.

Sometimes there is talk of a fifth phase : the elaboration , i.e. the working out of the idea. These five phases can be found at Poincaré, even if not under the keywords that Wallas introduced. However, verification and elaboration are systematically linked. Poincaré believed that the elaboration was part of the review. In this respect, the restriction to four phases is entirely justified.

"BILD" - another four-phase model

The model "Bild" according to Off (2008) is based on the four steps

  • Description of the problem)
  • Information arrangement
  • Solution
  • Representation or enforcement

out. It combines the above phases to form the acronym BILD. B corresponds roughly to the preparation, I to the incubation, L to the illumination and D to the verification according to the process model by Graham Wallas.

Creative break (intermediate phase)

A creative break is e.g. For example, from a gestalt psychological point of view, a break of varying length in the creative process of artists, scientists and humanities scholars. The break itself is not characterized by creative activities. Rather, it should serve to relax the mind and restore creativity.

The term separator can also be found in the literature for the creative break . A separator is an interruption and separation of (thinking) states that enables the brain to adjust to the next requirement and to detach itself completely from the previous one. One example is the transition from brainstorming (incubation / illumination) to evaluating ideas (verification).

However, the need for creative breaks in creative processes has not been proven. It is argued that relaxation is necessary in the so-called intuitive phase after a strenuous brainstorming phase. Then the ideas found should be given the opportunity to recombine in an unconscious processing process during the incubation phase and the ground should be prepared for the expected outbreak of flashes of inspiration . During such breaks, the creative occupies himself with unrelated objects, chooses simple, manual activities to distract, takes walks or undertakes work that requires routine skills to be completed. At some point the creative break ends with a creative outbreak, productivity increases, new ideas arise, the night's sleep is shortened or interrupted by ideas that have to be sketched out immediately.

On the other hand, it is argued that after an arbitrary pause in the creative process, returning to problem solving can be extremely difficult. Interruptions and distractions will typically reduce productivity or severely hinder it. A break is only appropriate if fundamentally new arguments arise and need to be evaluated.

A creative break can be of various lengths. Some people only need hours to get back to their desk, while for others it takes days and weeks, even months, before the mind is able to produce new ideas again or to move from a visionary to a realistic problem-solving phase.

See also


  • Norbert Groeben : Creativity. Originality on this side of the genius. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-86312-039-9 .
  • Rainer M. Holm-Hadulla : Creativity. Concept and lifestyle. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2005.
  • Graham Wallas: Art of Thought. CA Watts & Co., London 1926.
  • Michael Luther, Jutta Gründonner: The royal road to creativity. Power training for creative thinking. Junfermann, Paderborn 1998, ISBN 3-87387-379-6 (practical instructions based on the Disney principle).
  • Sadler-Smith, Eugene: Wallas' Four-Stage Model of the Creative Process: More Than Meets the Eye? Creativity Research Journal 27, No. 4 (October 2, 2015): 342-52.


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  2. Michael H. Wagner, Wolfgang Thieler: Guide for the inventor: From the task to the idea to the patent . Springer-Verlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-540-72043-0 ( [accessed June 26, 2020]).
  3. René Kaufmann: In 4 steps to a creative solution. Neustarter, 2017, accessed June 26, 2020 .
  4. Helmut Schlicksupp: Innovation, creativity and brainstorming. 6th edition. Vogel Business Media, 2004, ISBN 978-3802319846 .
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  6. "And the finished short prose, as alive as a mouse, must jump out of the last, the seventh suitcase, as soon as the suitcase opens by itself." - Heinrich Böll : Why I write short prose like Jacob Maria Hermes and Heinrich Knecht. Volume 4. KiWi 1997.