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.

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Incubation: Creativity never sleeps… or does it?

Everyone has their own method.

Bill Watterson, “Calvin and Hobbes”

Last year I did a subject that asked us as creators to answer two questions: “Why do we create?” and “How do we create?”   You have to love Creative Industries assessments.

Mocking aside, however, these two questions are vital to understand if you intend to be creative successfully, or be creative for a living… or both.

The reflective waffle which was our first assessment piece answered the first question, and I’ll post that shortly.   Literally.   The short answer after much research and navel-gazing amounts, almost universally, to: “We create because it’s fun.”   Bronowski says that humans do not choose to create unless they enjoy the process (1985, p 245).

However, the second question led into hours of delightful research, culminating in a research essay.   My task was to argue that, although there are differences between the disciplines of art, design, and media, these differences do not affect the fundamental process of creativity, and that this creates links between these disciplines.

What follows is my summary of the parts of my research related to one part of the traditional creative process: the incubation stage.   The full text of the research essay is available on my Full text research essays page.

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