Lots of people have identified the three steps of the creative process, and they’ve used various terms to describe them. I call them conceptualization, visualization, and manifestation. These three steps map remarkably closely onto the three Centers of Intelligence of the Enneagram: Thinking, Feeling, and Doing.
To use the creative process effectively, we need to fully engage with and complete each step in the appropriate sequence. But since none of us accesses all three centers equally, we tend to give insufficient attention to one or more of the steps, combine or confuse steps, or try to complete them out of sequence. I’ve seen–and experienced–how we tend to get stuck at the step of the creative process that relates to the Center of Intelligence we’re least comfortable with. But if creating were easy, I guess we’d all be masters of the process already.
The Three Steps and the Three Centers
Here’s how the steps of the creative process correlate with the Centers of Intelligence.
Conceptualization and the Thinking Center
- Part of the brain: cortex
- Function: abstraction
- Process: imagining (mental)
- Characteristics: theoretical, general
Visualization and the Feeling Center
- Part of the brain: limbic system
- Function: enthusiasm
- Process: internalizing (emotional)
- Characteristics: personal, specific
Manifestation and the Doing Center
- Part of the brain: brainstem and cerebellum
- Function: action/reaction
- Process: externalizing (physical)
- Characteristics: concrete, actual
Step 1: Conceptualization
This is where it all begins. You want to go beyond the surface level of ideas, think big, allow for the free flow of ideas, and explore all of the possibilities. Throw everything into the mix. Imagine your wildest dreams. As Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Some people find it easy to generate a lot of ideas, while others struggle with this initial step. Don’t stop yourself before you’ve fully exhausted all possibilities.
Because of their relationship with the Thinking center, types that take the Compliant stance (1, 2, and 6) tend to have the greatest difficulty with Step 1. They may have a hard time imagining outside the box of their concepts and beliefs. And they may allow their inner critic to shut them down.
Type 1: Doing the Right Thing
Positives: able to internalize a goal or plan, making it their own; able to commit and see it through to completion. Negative: may be too single-minded and unable to adjust or pick up on subtle reactions or responses.
Type 2: Doing the Helpful Thing
Positives: able to generate a personal vision; able to follow through with goals that are meaningful to them. Negative: may be overly invested in the perceived reactions of others and, consequently, may allow themselves to be deflected off course.
Type 6: Doing the Appropriate Thing
Positives: able to accomplish what they set out to do; able to internalize a goal, although it may not be completely authentic. Negative: may be too sensitive to criticism or disapproval.
Step 2: Visualization
Here’s where you narrow the possibilities to something you can fully imagine and invest yourself in creating. You internalize your vision—which ideally is an expression of your authentic self—and wholeheartedly embrace and commit yourself to achieving your goal. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who studied how creative people work and live, wrote, “Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are unanimous. They all love what they do.” If you can’t visualize having what you really want, then you probably won’t be able to create it.
Aggressive types (3, 7, and 8) tend to have the greatest difficult with this step due to their relationship with the Feeling center. Step 2 requires slowing down and allowing the seed to sprout, which seems like a waste of time to Aggressive types who want to get on with it already.
Type 3: Doing the Successful Thing
Positives: able to generate ideas; able to set and successfully accomplish many goals. Negative: may trade inner satisfaction for outward approval when goals don’t reflect personal values.
Type 7: Doing the Stimulating Thing
Positives: able to conceive of limitless possibilities (inventive); able to follow through as long as their interest is sustained. Negative: may lack deep commitment and give up or move on.
Type 8: Doing the Compelling Thing
Positives: able to generate lots of ideas; able to complete what they set out to do. Negative: may be out of touch with the effects of their actions on themselves and/or on others.
Step 3: Manifestation
This is the step where you make it so by transforming your inner vision into outer reality. In order to do that, you have to identify your goals and break them down into manageable steps, and then engage with the material world to actually take those steps. As Woody Allen, one of the most creative people in Hollywood, said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Your grand vision will die on the vine if you can’t or don’t do what needs to be done to realize it.
Withdrawing types (4, 5, and 9) tend to have the most trouble with Step 3 as a result of their relationship with the Doing center. Step 3 feels like drudgery to them, compared to the previous two steps. They may satisfy themselves with what they have created in their imaginations.
Type 4: Doing the Unique Thing
Positives: able to generate a boundless array of novel ideas; able to imagine the possible realization of their ideas in vivid detail. Negative: maybe either afraid that reality won’t match their pictures or unmotivated to do the necessary work (trapped in fantasy).
Type 5: Doing the Interesting Thing
Positives: able to freely generate astute and original ideas; able to commit to and invest energy in what has meaning for them. Negative: may refrain from putting their ideas to the test in the real world due to fear of or disdain for it.
Type 9: Doing the Effortless Thing
Positives: able to conceive of many ideas and possibilities; able to develop an inner vision. Negative: may get stuck in their imaginations or keep their inner visions to themselves in order to avoid making waves.
Coming up: Exercises to use at the different steps of the creative process.