Sep 292013

7 pebbles rocks red leather smallThis blog post was inspired by the talk that professor Raphael Diluzio gave at a TEDxDirigo conference last year.

A Remarkable story of brain injury

Raphael Diluzio’s personal story is compelling on his own. He describes himself as a creative artist, entrepreneur and professor. His life took a wrong turn when, as he puts it, an 18-wheel truck carrying a full payload  decided to “park” in the back of  his Honda Fit. The accident resulted in a massive brain injury that caused amnesia and a loss of his ability to draw and speak. Undergoing two years of speech therapy to speak again gave him the time and motivation to reflect on creativity and the nature of creative process.

Diluzio came up with what he called the 7 stages of creativity based on his research and own experience as a recovering artist.

7 Stages Of Creativity

(1) State the question or the problem to solve. The idea is to carefully establish in your mind what requires your creativity. So, clearly frame the question/problem at the onset of the process. Note that it doesn’t have to be a grand problem like cold fusion. Things like what to give my spouse for her birthday, the next stage of a project at work, or what to write for your next blog post will do just fine.

(2) Research it. Humans are curious by creature; a baby will start exploring his world by sticking anything coming nearby in his mouth. This innate tendency to research a problem is even very satisfying to some of us. The gathering of data about a specific topic through reading books, exploring the Internet, and sharing your newly-found knowledge with others is the perfect way to saturate your mind with the elements related to the problem.

(3) But “Enough is enough!”. In other words, don’t get stuck in the research phase. This is what Diluzio calls the basta stage. Some might get lost in the satisfying nature of research phase, but at some point it’s time to stop inputting information and start reflecting.

(4) Gestation—You need to detach yourself from the problem and instead give it some space. It’s the stage of detachment. Let it stew. Keep the new information in the back of your mind while holding the problem gently in your mind. Look at the problem in a different way, with a different perspective: how would I solve the problem if I were a lobster or POTUS? Visualize the problem as something else. Apply divergent thinking. The use of metaphors or “psychological distance techniques“, as reported in this blog, can be particularly helpful. Don’t be afraid to think crazy ideas and more importantly don’t filter yourself. Diluzio suggests to operate with the fearlessness of imagination of an artist. Mesh the world of empiricism and intuition/imagination.

(5) Then if everything goes well, you should have a “eureka moment” that can comes as little flashes or major light-bulb illumination. What is very important at this stage is to write down ideas that comes with those eureka moments. So don’t waste those ideas: dictate them, draw them, capture them in Evernote (my personal favorite), write them down in your paper ideas journal, etc…

(6) Once you have the idea(s), you must “bring it into being“. A lot of people are afraid of failure and don’t give the idea a chance to become something concrete. We must operate without fear. DiLuzio  says that he prefers “eloquent failures to boring success”. If you can concretize the idea yourself, get people around to help or describe it in minute details so others can realize it later. It’s important to bring the ideas out and share them otherwise the world or your company doesn’t move forward. Be the driver of innovation.

(7) Finally comes the stage of testing and criticizing by sharing those new ideas with the world. Invite criticism and feed it back into the creative process to refine the idea or branch out into better ideas.

7 vs. 4 or 5 stages of the creativity?

The motivated reader of this post should feel free to compare-and-contrast these 7 stages with others, such as Graham Wallas’s The Art of Thought (written in 1926, with 4 stages)  James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas (written in 1939, with 5 stages)

Recognize, engage with and use the 7 stages to become more creative

Recognizing and engaging in those 7 stages is essential because it will allow you to become more proficient at generating ideas at home, at school or at work.

Do you have a question or problem you need answered? Watch the video and/or follow these steps and don’t be surprised when you have your own, “eureka moments”.

Have you personally experienced those stages? Do you think that having the 7 stages mapped out will help you become more creative? I invite you to share your comments below.

Aug 112013


Embrace restrictions to explore new creative paths.

We often think that when it comes to the creative process we need to take a “the sky is the limit” approach where everything and anything goes, without any restriction. In this post, I would like to object to the contrary.

If you were like me as a child, I disliked the essays that we had to write in elementary school where there was no mandated topic. Either by lack of imagination or maybe out of kindness, the teacher would ask us to write an essay on any topic we wished to talk about. I always struggled with those assignments because I would start writing on a topic, put down a few sentences, and then wished that I started on another more-interesting-after-all topic instead, to eventually move on to yet another topic, etc… In the end, I often ended up with a few half-baked drafts not worth sharing.

The problem was the lack of restrictions. When there was a topic, it felt like I could dive into it and explore it more thoroughly and offer more insightful ideas.

Don’t follow the path of least mental resistance

When faced with a problem requiring creativity, our lazy brains tends to follow the path of least mental resistance. Sure, we might find a solution, but is it really the best solution or even the right solution? More often than not,  the solution falls short of being optimal because we fail to have enough restrictions or requirements for it in order to focus the outcome.

A few years back, I challenged myself to “be a vegetarian for a year”, i.e. I restricted my diet to not eat meat (I was actually ovo-lacto, pescetarian, for the purists out there). As a result of such restriction, one would think that my diet became bland and unimaginative, but the opposite actually happened: I started exploring foods that I never tried before because I was previously stuck on “I must have meat” mode. Adding restrictions created a new void and forced me to try alternatives that I would have probably never tried before. It expanded my culinary palette and made me a more adventurous and more creative foodie.

Restrictions compel some creative responses from the brain

Restrictions compel some creative responses from the brain to find a way around them. It’s often self-imposed restrictions/constraints used by artists (choice of medium), musicians (limited choices of instruments, arrangements, etc…), poets (sonnet, haiku, limerick), writers (see Georges Perec’s 300-page novel “La Disparition” written without the letter “e”) and architects (material, site) that engender masterpieces.

Now I’m not saying that restrictions are fun and easy. They require more brain-power and more patience because they force us to abandon the aforementioned path of least mental resistance. Despite the pain, some people claim that it’s the only way that they can be creative and they actually welcome or even induce those restrictions. How many of us waited for the very last night before an essay was due before starting to work on it? I’m not saying that a self-induced time restriction is the way to go but some people thrive on it.

Restrictions forces us to explore new opportunities and escape the ordinary

So, don’t see restrictions as a limitation of your choices but as a shift of choices. Don’t view restrictions as a curse but rather as a chance to explore new opportunities and go down less-traveled roads, and as a welcomed challenge to stretch your creative muscles beyond the traditional and the escape the ordinary, in order to produce something truly innovative.


[Photo Credit: photo taken along highway 89, between Page, AZ and Zion NP]

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