Graham Wallas and the Four Stages of the Creative Process

The four stages proposed by Graham Wallas form one of the most accepted models of the creative process. Knowing and following them can help us in any creative process.
Graham Wallas and the Four Stages of the Creative Process

Last update: 11 September, 2021

The creative process is just that: a process. Therefore, it involves the performance of several steps in a systematic way. There are several approaches in this regard. However, one of the best known is that proposed by Graham Wallas. He suggested that there are four phases of the creative process

For a long time, it was believed that the creative process was related to external agents, such as muses or geniuses who intervened to inspire the creator. However, today, we know that creativity is the result of intense and complex brain activity. Nevertheless, how it exactly works remains a mystery.

Graham Wallas was a university professor and theorist in political science and international relations. He was noted for his leadership in various areas and founded, together with other colleagues, the London School of Economics in London. Furthermore, he was responsible for one of the most interesting theories regarding the creative process. Let’s see what this involves.

“Humanity needs creative thinking if we want to prevent immediate or future disasters.”

-Graham Wallas-

Ideas and creativity

Ideas are mental representations that arise from the reasoning or imagination of a human being. They’re associated with processes of reflection, creativity, and the ability to apply the intellect. Concepts derive from ideas. Concepts are the basis of all kinds of knowledge, be it artistic, scientific, or otherwise.

Creativity is the ability to generate new concepts or ideas, starting from existing ones. It usually seeks to solve a problem. This involves constructive imagination and divergent thinking.

Although creativity is characteristic of human cognition, it’s also present in various species of animals. However, it’s totally absent in algorithmic systems of computing. In humans, the creative process is extremely complex and requires communication between the two cerebral hemispheres. These encompass memory and intelligence, among other aspects.

It’s not known in how many mental processes creativity might participate. Nevertheless, what experts do know is that it’s closely associated with imagination. This is a mental power that allows us to recreate actions, consequences, or initiatives in an abstract space before bringing them to reality.

Creative woman

Graham Wallas and his four-stage creative process

Although there are various approaches that analyze and synthesize the generation of creative ideas, one of the most notable is that proposed by Graham Wallas. This suggests a model of there being four phases of the creative process that follow a certain order. They’re as follows:

Phase 1: Preparation

The first phase seeks to identify a problem in a given context. It includes the compilation of much of the information already available. Furthermore, it requires a conscious and voluntary effort of understanding and analysis.

Here, it’s worth clarifying that, in some cases, at this stage, the problem itself may not even be identified as a problem. This implies a need for greater complexity and sharpness to specify it. In other cases, the problem may be perceived more as a difficulty, challenge, or task. In any case, the fundamental aspect of this phase is the complete understanding of the situation and its implications.

Phase 2: Incubation

This stage of the creative process is characterized by a disconnection from the problem for an indeterminate period of time. This period is essential so that the ideas that help solve the difficulty can emerge and operate unconsciously.

Ideas will arise spontaneously. They might be seen in a dream, thought of while out walking, or, indeed, at any time. In some cases, it’s at this stage that many people drop out because they lose patience. This puts an end to the creative process.

Phase 3: Illumination

Of all the phases of the creative process, illumination is the time when ideas begin to take shape. It corresponds to the moment in which options for solving the initial problem start to appear. Some authors call this “the eureka moment.” It’s the stage where the idea actually materializes into something concrete.

This phase also includes the moment of greatest personal satisfaction. In effect, the reward for the investment made. Also, the fact of having been able to find a solution along a path that no one had ever traveled before.

Phase 4: Verification

During the verification stage, the aim is to evaluate the results in order to correct or improve certain aspects of the final result. Similarly, it’s the point when the creator verifies whether the creative process has actually yielded its fruits and whether it meets their expectations, having followed the necessary phases of the creative process.

Otherwise, it’ll be necessary to return to the incubation phase and consider new options for reaching the goal. Here, it should be noted, that if fundamental aspects were not taken into account from the beginning, it’d be necessary to start all over again. In most cases, this phase also involves the socialization of the results.

Woman thinking of solutions

Some additional considerations

Finally, it should be noted that all stages of the creative process present their own challenges. There’s both an intellectual part, and an emotional part.

For example, it may be necessary to know how to manage certain difficulties. They’re the kinds that always arise when taking a step forward and discovering that certain variables exist that weren’t previously anticipated. In fact, these kinds of problems frequently cause sudden abandonment of the entire project.

Similarly, pressure or the desire to see results as soon as possible can spoil the work in advance. As a matter of fact, this type of process has its own rhythm. Therefore,  patience is always necessary in order for the creative idea to end up becoming an application with real results.

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  • Impulsa, C. (2018). Las 4 etapas del proceso creativo según Graham Wallas.