The Withers Survey: Studying the presence or use of incubation in the creative process

Everyone has their reasons...

“Why are you creative?” from KKB101 lecture, 2011, QUT

Last year I conducted a survey on creativity, mainly among friends and family, but also with some random people I found in the uni computer labs.  I asked everyone I knew, “Are you creative?  Would you like to talk about that?” and many people said yes.  Consider this thanks and an acknowledgement of those who spent time and effort doing my survey.

As a brief introduction, the Withers Survey studied the presence of or use of an incubation period in the creative process.  The traditional theory of a universal creative process is Wallas’s four-stage creative process (1945), which I have discussed in an earlier post on the topic of incubation.  The four-stage process identifies four stages common to most creative disciplines (Davis, 2004, 121-124; CreativeIntensive, 2007):

  1. Preparation in exploring and clarifying a field or concept;
  2. Incubation, a fringe consciousness or unconscious activity related to the idea;
  3. Illumination or the moment of discovery; and
  4. Verification of the result.

My hypothesis was that most people who consider themselves ‘creative’, or have been labelled ‘creative’ by others, engage in some form of incubation as part of their creative process.  This post will discuss the preliminary results and the survey itself.

THE WITHERS SURVEY: PRELIMINARY RESULTS:

Background: Aim of the survey: The survey aimed to prove that there is a consistent creative process across all disciplines of creative occupations or hobbies. For this reason, the survey included people involved in a range of different occupations or hobbies, both creative and non-creative.

Sample size: 50 interviews conducted.

Sample make-up:  Family; church friends; uni friends; random people in uni computer labs; high school friends; primary school friends.

Method: Email, Facebook, in person.

Survey Responses:

  • Q1: Occupations of participants mainly involved problem-solving.
  • Q2: Hobbies mainly involved production.
  • Q3: Categories of creative occupation/hobby were widely varied, as was hoped for and expected.
  • Q4: Was creativity individual or collaborative? 16:14 split (out of 30 participants).
  • Q5: 16:14 split some form of standards applied to creativity versus no standards applied. Statistically, more occupations or hobbies were overseen by an authority figure (managers, teachers) than not.
  • Q6: 16 imposed some self-discipline or restraint to their creativity; 14 none imposed.
  • Q7: Even split as to whether more creative during day or at night.
  • Q8: Time spent brainstorming varied. 15 very little brainstorming; 9 some brainstorming; 6 lots of brainstorming.
  • Q9: Mostly true that there is an incubation period involved in creativity: 19 incubation; 11 no incubation.
  • Q10: Mostly true that creativity has involved “eureka” moments: 19:11.
  • Q11: More detail about creative process. As a massive generalisation, the participants most likely to answer this question in the most detail were engineers. Reasons for this were varied.
  • Q12: Tools varied according to hobby or occupation.
  • Q13: Creative products were mostly shown to someone, if only family and friends.
  • Q14: Intuition mostly triumphed over reason in the creative process: 18:12.
  • Q15: Mostly true that doing the creative work, at some point, produces an emotional response: 19:11.
  • Q16: Participants were most creative at home. Based on “more detail”, this was largely due to environmental factors.
  • Q17: Participants mostly did not research the methods of their creative role models: 18:12.
  • Q18: Background music? Mostly yes. Mostly non-vocal or instrumental music. For those whose creativity involves producing music, the answer was necessarily “no background music”.
  • Q19: Participants mostly identified having creative friends.
  • Q20: “Why are you creative?” Mostly variations on “because I enjoy it”. Some interesting ones related to the enjoyment gained from facing a challenge. One participant said they are creative in order to glorify God.

 

My hypothesis confirmed: Application to the incubation stage of the creative process:

My hypothesis was that current research would prove that the incubation stage is a helpful part of the creative process. The survey largely confirmed my hypothesis (phew!), and outside sources of research were split 60:40 in favour of an incubation stage being vital to the process. Questions designed to address an incubation stage in the survey were:

  • Q11 (more detail about your creative process);
  • Q8 brainstorming;
  • Q9 incubation period;
  • Q10 eureka moment.

SURVEY

CREATIVITY:

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Conducted:    April 2011

Researcher:    T.J. Withers

Interview Number: _________

Name: _____________________________________________________________________

 

Occupation:   _______________________________________________________________

(if student) Course of study:            ___________________________________________________

 

PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS:

Question 1: My occupation or course of study involves creativity:

O True             O False

Amount of creativity in occupation or course of study as a percentage: _____%

Is this creativity of a production or problem-solving nature? (e.g. production: painting; problem-solving: engineering solutions)

O Production

O Problem-solving

More detail if necessary:

Question 2: I have a hobby which involves creativity:

O True             O False

Name of hobby: _____________________________________________________________

Amount of creativity in hobby as a percentage: _____%

Is this creativity of a production or problem-solving nature? (e.g. production: painting; problem-solving: engineering solutions)

O Production

O Problem-solving

More detail if necessary:

The following questions will address your creative process in either your hobby or occupation – whichever relates more to creativity.

 

Question 3: Categorise your creativity as one of the following: [Just delete the ones that don’t apply to you.]

Creative Industries:

O Visual Arts

O Interactive and Visual Design

O Animation

O Creative Writing

O Film and TV

O Technical Production

O Music and Sound

O Drama

O Dance

O Fashion

O Business and Entertainment Industries

O Media and Mass Communication

O IT

O Interdisciplinary / Miscellaneous (“I’m indecisive and couldn’t pick one.”)

Outside World:

O Agriculture

O Architecture

O Finance

O Government

O Construction

O Counselling

O Engineering

O Hospitality

O Law

O Mechanics

O Medicine

O Military

O Sales

O Science

O Social work

O Sport

O Teaching

O Trades [includes electrical; metal; mining; wood; hairdressing; food production; distribution]

Question 4: Is this creativity of an individual or collaborative (done in a team) nature?

O Mostly Individual     O Mostly Collaborative

Is that by preference or because of the nature of the task?

O Preference              O Task Nature

Question 5: Is the creative part of your occupation, study, or hobby overseen by management or standards?

O My occupation / study / hobby is overseen by a manager or teachers.

O I apply some outside standards during my creative process, or afterwards in order to assess the product of my creativity.

O I choose not to apply any outside standards to my creative process.

O My creative process is a purely independent venture, with no outside standards applied.

Question 6: Do you self-impose any discipline or restraint on your creative process?

O True             O False

More detail:

 

CREATIVE PROCESS QUESTIONS:

 

Question 7: When are you most actively creative?

O Morning                  O Day              O Night                        O Undecided

More detail if necessary:

Question 8: How much preparation is involved in your creative process?

O I spend very little time preparing to do creative work.

O I spend some time brainstorming what I am going to do.

O I spend a lot of time brainstorming and making other preparations to do creative work before actually beginning.

O I spend more time preparing to do creative work than actually doing the work.

Question 9: Is there an incubation period between the idea or preparation and execution (doing the creative work)?

O True             O False

More detail if necessary:

Question 10: Have you experienced “Eureka” moments of illumination, when you decide exactly what you are going to create, or how you are going to do it?

O True             O False

More detail if necessary:

Question 11: More detail about the progression of stages of my creative process:

(This is the “tell me how you work” question – say whatever you want – I don’t have boxes I want you to tick J)

Question 12: What tools do you use in your creative process?

 

Question 13: Where do you find the validation for your creative work?

O I have my work published formally for public interest. (e.g. gallery)

O I publish my work informally for public interest. (e.g. blog)

O I show my work to colleagues who work in the same area.

O I show my work to my family and friends.

O I don’t show my work to anyone. Are you kidding? Show the product of my secret creativity? Oh, the shame.

More detail if necessary:

Question 14: During the stages of your creative process, are your choices (as to general direction and as to specific changes) based on intuition or rational data?

O More often based on intuition                    O More often based on rational data

More detail if necessary:

Question 15: Do you have an emotional response to your own work before, during, and after making it?

O True             O False

More detail if necessary:

Question 16: Where do you most prefer to be creative? (e.g. at home, at work, in the park)

Question 17: Do you research the creative process of your role models?

O True             O False

 

Question 18: What type of music do you like to have in the background while you are creating?

Question 19: What is your background?

O Creative family       O Creative friends      O I’m the only creative person I know

Question 20: Why do you create?

 

 

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2012. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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2 thoughts on “The Withers Survey: Studying the presence or use of incubation in the creative process

  1. THESE ARE MY ANSWERS TO SOME OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS QUESTIONS IN YOUR SURVEY
    Q 9: Is there an incubation period between the idea or preparation and execution (doing the creative work)?
    Yes, just as there are seasons: You plant and water and wait and prepare and harvest. There is a time to think and a time to create and a time to produce and so it goes. There is an incubation period, but mostly for me it is not a conscious thing. There is usually a catalyst (maybe something that I feel very strongly about or really want to do), then usually a subconscious incubation period, then execution.
    Question 10: Have you experienced “Eureka” moments of illumination, when you decide exactly what you are going to create, or how you are going to do it?
    I start first and know that the ‘Ah, ha’ moment will come later. My Eureka moments happen during the middle or the end of the process – when the work ‘speaks’ to me and I catch a glimpse of something pure and uncontaminated that is uniquely me, that I have created. This feeling doesn’t last because the analytical brain comes in and says ‘It’s actually not that great, you know ….’ and then I am not so sure.
    Q 11: More detail about the progression of stages of the creative process:
    I start with the left (analytical) side of the brain and then do certain activities to shut it down and entice the right (creative) side to become active. The transition is like going to sleep. You can’t pinpoint that moment when the shift happens. I move to the right brain (sometimes this takes ages – I think it is what ‘writer’s block’ is) and then magic happens.
    Teaching – I work intuitively, based on my education, training, past experience and an inherent sense of what to do next.
    Writing – I feel an overwhelming need to write about something I feel very strongly about. I start and keep going until I stop. I ignore housework and everything else in my life. I resent having to do anything other than writing. Then I edit, and edit, and edit, and edit …..
    Art – I research other artists’ work and choose someone I like. I learn from them by ‘copying’ one of their works to start with, then I change it and give it my own flavour.
    Question 12: What tools do you use in your creative process?
    Intuition. Sometimes emulating others’ work. My innate sense of how to express who I am. I also use collage – I collect things – words, phrases, pictures, articles, etc. and then metaphorically cut and paste them. I use them to inform my thinking and my own creative processes.
    Question 13: Where do you find the validation for your creative work?
    I believe that everyone wants the highest possible validation for their work – it is part of our human nature. Validation for one’s work is both subjective and relative. If you dabble in a bit of drawing or painting and produce a few things on paper, then people may say you are a hobbyist. People would probably not say you are an ‘artist’, especially if the work is not seen to be ‘good’. If, you publish those exact same images in a book, then people may say you’re an artist. If one of those same works is hanging in the NSW Art Gallery, then people would definitely say you’re an artist and be very impressed. Same works, different context, different value, different perception. Would you buy a simple Picasso line drawing if you thought your 5 year-old niece had done it?
    The only validation you can really hold onto is self-validation. If you take intrinsic pleasure from what you have produced, then that is the best validation of all. I can still read some of the chapters of my book and evoke an emotional response within myself. If others don’t like it, then I don’t need to have their feedback. If you are waiting for the validation of others (which is very nice for the ego), and you don’t get it, then where are you, and where is your sense of self-worth?
    Q 20: Why do you create?
    Because I cannot not create. Because it is the air that I breathe. Because it is a way of communication and communion with others. Because it bring comfort and pleasure and heartbreak and joy to me and to others. Because it allows me to be the best I can be. Because it is a gift from God and we should not squander the gifts and talents we have been given. We should exalt in them. And I do.

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  2. Pingback: Incubation part 3: Why we sleep on it | misstjwithers

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