"I" is for Incubation
Coming up with great ideas for your talk or teaching isn't always a simple thing. Whilst activities like brainstorming, using different lenses/perspectives or research can all help; sometimes you still hit a blaring roadblock. Often the best solution isn't to keep running your ideas into the ground. Sometimes we need to stop and let our ideas incubate.
The Four Stages of Creativity
Incubation is recognised as the second step of the four stages of creativity as coined in the book ‘The Art of Thought’ by Graham Wallace, a social psychologist, whose structure for the stages was inspired by the work process of German Scientist and inventor of the opthalmoscope, Hermann von Helmholtz.
Stage One: Preparation (Conscious Work) -Where the problem is investigated in all directions. This is when we intentionally explore ideas and perform work on a problem requiring a creative solution.
Stage Two: Incubation (Subconscious Work) - This occurs when we are resting or performing other tasks or activity not directly related to Stage One. During incubation, we enable our subconscious thoughts to work on the problem.
Stage Three: Illumination (That Lightbulb Moment) - When that idea we have been seeking for or the solution to the problem arrives.
Stage Four: Verification (Testing & Refining) - Determining if the solution meets the needs and is suitable or whether it needs further adaptation or adjustments.
Well then how do we Incubate?
Although we may leave our work consciously; our subconscious keeps ticking away, knuckling down on the problem in our teaching- whether it is what to say or how it might be best explained or graphically depicted. It is important to note that Incubation succeeds Preparation - which means that it is unlikely that you will incubate any ideas of significance if no preparation has been done!
Three things that I’ve found helpful with the incubation process are:
Remove frustration and replace with fun. Instead of falling into a a clickbait vortex on the internet, consider using the time points when you’ve exhausted your abilities to work on a project - to seek out new experiences or do things you enjoy. These moments of rest will help you to think more clearly and can also be a source of additional inspiration or ways of doing things which could be applied to our own problem solving. One example was a couple of years ago when I was working on a new presentation on slide design and took a break with a walking tour of Copenhagen when I was first introduced to the concept of Hygge which ended up being incorporated in my talk.
Get enough sleep - We yammer on about the importance of sleep to one another, but it often seems to be the case of ‘Do what I say, not what I do’. We know that when we sleep, our adult sleep cycles usually occur in 90 minute blocks. In the first few cycles we spend more time in deep sleep, but during progressive sleep cycles, we have increasing amounts of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which has been associated with increased brain activity and dreaming. Therefore, when we are stuck with a creative problem, it stands to reason that REM sleep is an excellent time for our subconscious mind to work on it; hopefully to reveal some illumination when we wake in the morning. Famously, a model for the structure of the atom came to Neils Bohr when he was asleep - which he later verified and also ended up being awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery.
Free writing and/or Free movement - Shake it off! Something I’ve found helpful in the past during my ‘incubation process’ is to do some free writing or ‘stream of consciousness’ (SOC) writing. You might call this use of ‘conscious’ thought rather than subconscious thought - but many people find that when they write with their ‘SOC- often things they didn’t know they thought come out to light! We can sometimes fall into the habit of censoring our own thoughts to ourselves. Using SOC writing can help disentangle some of the lines of thoughts jumbled about our heads. Free movement is just my fancy term for describing the freedom to let your body loose and move around. Whilst people label themselves, saying that they ‘can’t dance’ (nb. Everyone can dance- it just may not be conventionally perceived as that); free movement is for everyone. Here are the simple instructions: Find a space where you feel safe (and ideally where you can avoid precious breakables), put some of your favourite or fun music on and just go for it!
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the Incubation Process and that you can use them in your next talk, presentation or teaching moment - let me know how it goes for you!
‘I is for Incubate’ is part of my alphabetical series on Slide Design. Next up will be ‘J is for Juxtaposition’.