Curiosity Behaviour / neuroscience Business transformation Ideation


By understating these stages of creativity, we can better equip ourselves to tackle the big complex problem we are increasingly faced with.

20 February 2023 • 3 min read

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In a world where business models, entire industries and work overall is being disrupted, the need for innovation is readily accepted. No longer is innovation the role of a small, tucked away team, tasked with creating new solutions and products, it is now a fundamental and critical element for people in business irrespective of department, job role or seniority. Today, organisations confidently assert that we need the boldest agents of change, the creative out-of-the-box thinkers, the people with big ideas and clear ambition to help us transform and solve the big, sticky challenges. Innovation is often seen as the “light bulb moment”. The instant when the penny drops and an idea is sparked. But are there hidden parts to the process of innovation which are overlooked?  Do we really see the full process of innovation?


Put very simply, innovation = a radical improvement from the current state. The generation of new ideas stems from our ability to be creative, and our creativity is nothing without imagination.

Generating new ideas can feel difficult. Ideas are fleeting, often undermined and difficult to bring to fruition. The problem we have today is that most of us are not as creative as we have the potential to be. Many of us hold the belief that we are simply not creative at all. For many years we’ve understood right-brain and left-brain theory to mean that we can either be more inclined to be analytical and logical, or more creative and intuitive, and yet we know today that this doesn’t hold true. In reality, people use both sides of the brain equally, and logic and creativity are not mutually exclusive. It is understood that more parts of our brain are involved in innovation than we probably realise. Our creative ability is something we can develop.


Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman provides an interesting perspective into the latest neuroscience of creativity.  According to Kaufman there are four basic stages that take us from a blank canvas to a fully formed idea: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.

The trouble is that more often than not we see illumination only, and the other stages remain out of focus.  Illumination is the classic ‘Eureka!” moment. It is what we tend to instinctively picture when we think of innovation – the moment when we have that flash of inspiration and a new idea comes to light – literally, the “light bulb moment”. It is this moment we tend to focus on, exert our energy in finding, and more often than not, is the source of great frustration, until we come up with something… anything.

What if we shifted the focus from illumination to preparation?  Preparation requires inspiration; gathering as much information as possible, through heightened attention, true observation, and relentless curiosity.  Could we actively work on suspending all preconceptions, open our minds, and adopt a beginner’s mindset to truly lay the foundations for inspiration to take hold?  When under pressure, how quickly is our attention turned to coming up with the big idea, as opposed to taking time to be inspired? How often do you stop to seek out as much information as possible when faced with a challenge?  How often does your urge to solve a problem take over? Incubation is also underrated, if not resisted.  We become preoccupied with the very thing that would benefit from having time to percolate.  Consciously switching off from the very problem that you are trying to solve can feel counter-intuitive, yet it is fundamental to the process. Incubation is the process of keeping something under the right conditions for a period of time so it can form. In the same way mother hens sit on their eggs until they are ready to hatch – ideas too need time to develop.

Once the Eureka moment strikes, we often encounter yet another challenge, turning that idea into a robust notion that makes sense to others.  Verification is the process that stops an idea from simply evaporating, becoming more than just a passing thought. It is the critical thinking required to package the message in a way that sparks interest, is easily digestible and paints a compelling story.  There is more to innovation than ideation. There is immense value in seeking inspiration and holding the space for ideas to form, and carefully crafting the message.


By understating these stages of creativity, we can better equip ourselves to tackle the big complex problem we are increasingly faced with. In a world where we’re under pressure to come up with the next best thing, are we unknowingly hampering our own ability to innovate? How do we protect the time to let our minds wander, allowing the answer to reveal itself in the most unexpected place?

We often jump to illumination – yet by overlooking preparation and incubation, our ideas will never be as powerful as they could be.  If we nurture our imagination, our ideas are richer. Powerful ideas can survive the verification process – and here lies that real path to innovation.

Innovation is personal, it starts with our individual ability to leverage our imagination.  Preparing our mind is key. In the words of microbiologist Louis Pasteur: “fortune favours the prepared mind”. What are you doing to prepare yours?


Behaviour / neuroscience Business transformation Curiosity Ideation

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