Getting Creative: Preparing for Creativity

In 1926, psychologist Graham Wallas outlined the basic creative process, which has been the overall framework for understanding and fostering creativity for almost a century. The Wallas process can be outlined in four general stages:

  1. Preparation: loading up your mind to be creative
  2. Inspiration/Insight: the process of generating ideas
  3. Incubation: the process of refining and iterating ideas
  4. Verification: the process of validating ideas

Preparation for creativity requires significant investment in order to maximize your creative results. To reference our previous post on how our brains work when it comes to creativity, the preparation phase is entirely about loading up our brains with explicit knowledge, setting the stage for creativity.


Imagine, for example, preparing to cook dinner. If all you have in the house is macaroni and cheese, then no matter how creative or inventive you want to be, you’re eating macaroni and cheese. If, on the other hand, you have a fully stocked pantry and own all of the major pots, pans, and utensils, the potential for you to cook something is then limited only by your knowledge and skills.

Preparing for creativity requires two things: time and materials. To feed your creativity, you need time to load up your brain with explicit knowledge, data, and information. If your role demands creativity, if it’s a portion of your job requirements or output, then you need to set aside time to feed creativity. How much time depends on how creative you need to be – the more it’s demanded of you, the more time you need. Going back to the cooking analogy, if you only need to make a small lunch plate for yourself, you don’t need to spend a lot of time on preparation. If, however, you are cooking dinner for 50, your preparation time and materials will be much more extensive.

The materials needed for creativity need to be varied and diverse. I recommend four starting avenues to get your brain fed. First and foremost, subscribe to as many blogs as you can scan and read as practical. Use a service like Feedly or Flipboard and the Discover tabs in those apps to load up on lots of sources. Be sure to subscribe to blogs that go outside of your professional requirements; if you have an interest in cooking or martial arts or writing or dancing, subscribe to blogs in those genres.

Go to real world cultural centers like art museums, performances, etc. to put different kinds of media in your brain. Go to your local fine arts center and look at art from different periods to see what the artists were saying and doing. If you can’t find your way to a decent art museum, go to Google’s art museum online.

By giving your brain as much material as you can manage, you set the table for creativity. You set the table for lots of things to interact. In the next post in this series, we’ll look at the process of ideation in the Wallas framework.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on November 12, 2013 in Creative

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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