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Creativity Is Essential to Any “Coaching Breakthrough”

Creativity often feels like this unknowable, illusive force to most people. As if it’s something only the natural-born creative class can tap into. It brings up terrible memories of having stick figure drawings from ridiculed in front of a middle school class.

But the truth is, we all have untapped creative potential. Creativity is not so much an innate talent, as it is a learned process. And when you follow the process in the context of your unique set of interests, strengths, and talents, you have all the tools you need to focus on to reach your personal and professional goals.

The only question that remains is: how do you tap in to this creative potential?


In his seminal work, The Art of Thought, published in 1926, Graham Wallas outlined the process of creativity. He suggested there are four stages/steps involved:

1. The Preparation Stage - We gather data, thoughts, and emotions, ask questions, make hypotheses, and “mess around” until we identify a problem.

2. The Incubation Stage - We stop consciously thinking about the problem, but find our minds wandering to it anyway. Ideas come in the shower, preparing for bed, or whenever we are most relaxed.

3. The Illumination Stage – We experience those illusive flashes of insight and the solution to our predicament seems obvious.

4. The Verification Stage - We continue to test the solution or insight, often in other contexts and with other people until we’ve confirmed its correctness.

When followed in order, these four stages are not only the pathway to every great innovation, work of art, or piece of literature; they are the key that opens the door to massive “breakthroughs” in our professional and personal lives.


And that is precisely why they are the foundation for my coaching methodology.

Let’s take one of my higher education clients for example. We’ll call her Pietra.

In the Preparation Stage, we spent a number of months getting to know each other in person and over the phone. She, like most of us, started out slightly confused about what she wanted from this next phase in her life. She felt stuck, but didn’t really know what the root cause of her problem was. We worked to identify what’s been holding her back, what’s she’s interested in, and what new goals may be worthwhile.

Upon entering the Incubation Stage, Pietra would frequently hijack our session agenda with new insights, issues, and challenges she’s faced over the past week. (I was thrilled by this!) She was taking the things we’d talked about and letting them percolate unconsciously. What came were the first sparks of sparks of inspiration; I knew we were on the right path.

And eventually, she started messaging me in between coaching calls to tell me she had a moment of insight into what often triggers her outbursts in department meetings (out of many things that trigger us in department meetings. Her budding self-awareness and clear understanding of the forces at play was evidence we’d dove right into the Illumination Stage.

Which left only the Verification Stage, in which we discussed specific examples and she tested her thoughts on each one. Through this process, Pietra has learned to recognize her emotions so she now responds rather than reacts. She was just that much closer to reaching her goals

What makes my coaching methodology unique is that it applies the principles of these four phases. I am hyper-attuned to the clues that a person is shifting from one phase to the next and I know how to bring people into this creative mindset.

I believe understanding the processes involved in creative thinking can not only help us all improve our problem solving but, more importantly, our problem discovery, a critical aspect of identifying and reaching worthwhile goals.

Next time…Blocks to Creativity!


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