The creative process is not linear. Just the opposite: It zigs and zags. Eric Rodenbeck, founder and CEO of Stamen Design, really understands this. Check out this image he generated, for Business Week magazine, of how projects get developed at Stamen.* The neat stairway from left to right shows the traditional path of project development, from Requirements through Design, Implementation, Test, and Deliver. The zig-zaggy purple path is tagged “How Stamen works.”
For a hundred years, creativity researchers have tried to figure out the linear stages of the creative process. It usually looks a lot like the stairway in this picture, with the traditional stages being something like Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Verification, and Elaboration. But in the last decade or so, it’s become increasingly clear that the creative process zigs and zags constantly.
That’s why my new book about creativity is called Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. In the book, I identify the eight steps involved in being creative, but I don’t think they follow one another in a neat line. Creative lives pass in and out of all eight steps, daily and weekly, as they zigzag toward that surprising, successful creation.
The first step in my book is ASK, finding the right question. And even though it’s the first step, sometimes it comes all the way at the end of the process. Eric Rodenbeck understands this too; as he puts it,
The important part is the questions you’ve discovered along the way.
*”Eric Rodenbeck on leading creativity.” Business Week, “The Design Issue,” January 28-February 3, 2013, page 67.