The 4 Phases of Creative Ideation

by / ⠀Personal Branding Startup Advice / October 17, 2012

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”  – Steve Jobs

Job’s simple understanding of how professionals innovate through the creative process wasn’t too far from what science tells us. Creativity is the process of integrating stored data with new information to satisfy an individual’s curiosity. For you to make a creative discovery, all you need is to understand a domain and your brain will automatically problem solve for you!

Sometimes, it is not creativity that is lacking but rather determination which relates to something Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m smart, I just stay with problems longer”, which means you do not have to be a genius to have a breakthrough! To be able to innovative as Einstein or Jobs did, there is only one trait you must possess: a burning desire to fulfill your own curiosity.

There is a basic 4 step process that explains how an idea can turn into a billion dollar company, and the more familiar you are with it the more effective you will be at following it!

Phase 1: Knowledge Accumulation

This initial stage is all about absorbing as much information as possible. This stage is all about hunger for knowledge which you can attempt to satisfy through reading articles, joining discussion groups, or attending events that educate us on our domain of interest. As you process these new concepts, you end up with many more questions than you started out with. This is your brain telling you what pieces of the puzzle are missing, to encourage you to continue feeding yourself more information.

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As Steven Johnson explains in his study of scientific pioneers, “Ideas are built out of self-exciting networks of neurons, clusters of clusters…When we think of a certain concept, or experience some new form of stimulus, a complex network of neuronal groups switches on in synchrony.” The more information you feed your mind, the quicker your brain can establish new connections to generate ideas from.

Phase 2: Incubation

With all that newly acquired information, it’s always best to step away to let it all sink in. Your subconscious knows your goals, desires, and needs more clearly than your conscious does. Once you rest from knowledge absorption, the incubation phase begins transferring that information to your subconscious which reorganizes and strengthens neuron connections.

The brain incorporates past experiences and knowledge with our conscious accumulation of information, to find unique solutions to our interests. From this, it can identify gaps and will attempt to work itself using the information it has. As the difficulty of finding a solution increases, the level of creativity required does as well. If you are still stumped, it means you don’t have enough of the puzzle put together yet to see the big picture, so the best solution is to return to the absorption phase and build on from there.

Phase 3: The Idea Experience

If you are having trouble getting from Phase 2 to 3, some proven ways to speed up the transition are to; contemplate the idea some more, switch up your work environment, participate in monotonous activities to relax your mind, address tasks that are distracting you, and write down any thoughts that pop into your head. These actions will help you relax and clarify your mind so you can extract those ideas more effortlessly when the time comes.

Related Article: How to Boost Your Creativity in Business

This next phase occurs when your mind overcomes a gap and you have your notorious ‘aha’ moment. Suddenly, your confusion is simplified and clouded thoughts seem much clearer. Once the subconscious can piece together a creative solution in a way that makes logical sense, the solution is brought into conscious awareness where you can then decide on a plan of action.

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Phase 4: Implementation

The Implementation phase is where you find ways to incorporate your idea into daily life. Persistence is a key factor as each idea worth implementing will most likely run into temporary setbacks before it becomes successful. It will take several attempts at restructuring your idea before it will achieve its final form. In the meantime, begin testing your idea, ask for consumer opinion, and most importantly, don’t let your hunger go satisfied.

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Don’t forget there are many different fields of innovation, such as in coordinating events, improving services, inventing products, writing programs, and throwing parties among countless more. Once you realize the creative capability of your brain make a commitment to incorporate your ideas into all areas of your life. With a taste of your own potential, it very well could be your words that appear at the top of the next article.

References: Kuratko, Donald F.; Hornsby, Jeffrey S.; Goldsby, Michael (2011-09-30). Innovation Acceleration: Transforming Organizational Thinking (Prentice Hall Entrepreneurship Series)

Katie Christensen is a senior at Loyola University Chicago studying entrepreneurship, and currently works as the Director of New Business Ventures at Loyola Limited. You can reply to her directly at and follow her on Twitter @ktfromchicago

About The Author

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.

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