It's a common misconception that all creatives have a their own creative process. After all, why would you want to make a stiff, formal list for something that should be organic and improvisational?

In his book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande champions the usage of checklists because experts in any industry rely on checklists to walk them through the key steps of a complex procedure.

Here's the thing: jazz improvisation can't happen without an understanding of the underlying musical structure. Abstract art can't be created without first knowing the classical constraints it seeks to break. You need a foundation, a process on which to begin building. A structure that can be the basis of your improvisation.

Creativity, despite the general air of mystery surrounding it, is really just a series of stages. In fact, in 1926, English social psychologist and co-founder of the London School of Economics, Graham Wallas, outlined the four stages of the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. From there, we decided to add our own twist on this process below: 

1. Preparation: Before the Creative Process Begins

Before you execute, you need a plan. And before building a plan, you should have a clear idea of the problem that needs solving. This is the preparation step. In a corporate setting, this phase will involve defining the problem, and clarifying the scope of the project.

  • Define the problem: What needs to be done? What pains must be solved? What's the objective?
  • Gather information: What research or data needs to be used to make the case for this creative work?
  • Define the success criteria: How will you verify if an idea or possible solution is acceptable?
  • Assemble the creative brief: Get all of the above down in one document that holds all the proper guidelines and specifications for the creative work. Get a creative brief template here.

2. Incubation: Let the Ideas Marinate

In this stage of the creative process, you need to step away from the original problem and allow your mind to stew over — and unconsciously process — the possible ways to tackle the problem. Set a deadline to this, as brainstorming stages can get dragged out and overanalyzed before anything actually gets done.

For a truly creative presentation about how ideas incubate and come to fruition, watch this short video by The Atlantic and narrated by renowned director David Lynch.


  • Let it stew: Mull over the initial problem. Try out different possible solutions in your head.
  • Give it time: Incubation can last anywhere from mere minutes to long weeks. Allow for a buffer of time between preparation and the brainstorm.

Idea Generation

  • Hold a brainstorming session: Have a clear goal for the session. Focus on quantity, not quality of ideas. Capture everything, veto nothing.
  • Explore all ideas: Use mind-mapping techniques to find common ideas and group them. See if these themes spark other ideas and evaluate each.
  • Commit to action items: Identify next steps and assign them to each person responsible. If you use a project management software like Wrike, this is where you create tasks and assign them to your team.

3. Illumination: Get To That "Eureka" Moment

The moment of epiphany — when a solution is suddenly crystal clear in your head — is often depicted in popular culture as accompanied by choirs of angels singing Handel. In truth it's more like a brief flicker of sudden clarity that gives you the insights you need to put the pieces together.

  • Be ready for it: This stage in the process is brief. Be ready to capture your insights.
  • Wrike it down: Make sure your sudden insight is captured within Wrike, so that nothing is forgotten, and everything can be shared with the team as needed.
  • Execute: Now, get to it. You've got a deadline. Time to work!

4. Verification: Prove That It Works

Just as in the Agile project management methodology, the creative process is one of iterations. You're constantly trying new ideas to see if it works. And if it doesn't, you make continuous improvements in progressive stages. This is why verification is the true test of whether you've solved the problem you defined in stage one.

  • Gather initial feedback: Show your work to an initial audience. What does your account person say? What does the client say? Gather feedback and revise as needed.
  • Get approval: Once things are revised to their liking, make sure both internal approvers and external clients sign off on the final work. Within Wrike, these final verification steps are much easier due to the Proofing and Approvals feature, which allows for easy commenting and shows who approves what.

Put Your Checklist To The Test

In the end, the creative process is not as complex as people initially think. If you break down even the most complicated system into its component parts, it becomes much more manageable. Hopefully this checklist does just that.

Download a Word Document version of this checklist so you can share it with your team.