As illustrated in Figure 6.1, the process is iterative and not always linear. It is indeed a rare instance that creativity emerges through a simple linear process. For example, leaning-by-doing can spur additional learning-about activity and vice versa. This, in turn, can lead to a series of little ahas that eventually translates into the big aha. The big aha is sometimes referred to as illumination where a solution is found to the initial problem or opportunity identified in the beginning of the creative process. This is similar to what Peter Sims refers to as investing in little bets. 1 Investing in little bets leads to little ahas, which eventually lead to the big aha.
Search is very important as we have seen in an earlier chapter, but in the early stages of developing a solution for a problem or taking advantage of an opportunity, searching should be limited to a couple of sources. Hal Varian, chief economist at Google and one of the most insightful economists in this generation, details the following approach for generating economic models. 2
I think that you should look for your ideas outside the academic journals … in newspapers, in magazines, in conversations, and in TV and radio programs. When you read the newspaper, look for the articles about economics … and then look at the ones that aren’t about economics, because a lot of the time they end up being about economics too. Magazines are usually better than newspapers because they go into issues in more depth.… Conversations, especially with people in business, are often very fruitful.… In many cases your ideas can come from your own life and experiences…. However, my advice is to wait a bit before you look at the literature. Eventually you should do a thorough literature review, of course, but I think that you will do much better if you work on your idea for a few weeks before doing a systematic literature search. There are several reasons for delay.
First, you need the practice of developing a model. Even if you end up reproducing exactly something that is in the literature already you will have learned a lot by doing it … and you can feel awfully good about yourself for developing a publishable idea! (Even if you didn’t get to publish it yourself …)
Second, you might come up with a different approach than is found in the literature. If you look at what someone else did your thoughts will be shaped too much by their views … you are much more likely to be original if you plunge right in and try to develop your own insights.
Third, your ideas need time to incubate, so you want to start modeling as early as possible. When you read what others have done their ideas can interact with yours and, hopefully, produce something new and interesting. 3
The takeaway from this discussion is that the creative process is recursive and iterative. For example, you can spend a little time on learning-about by examining just a few magazines or talking to a few people and then go to learning-by-doing after you let the idea season in the incubation phase. Then, you might go back to the learn-about stage or even the trigger stage as you begin to converge on a solution to the problem. The initial search process should be limited to a few sources and then expanded in order to take advantage of ideas that might have been missed in the early stages of the creative process.