Zig Zag in Action
From the book:
I started thinking about creativity many years ago, when I graduated from MIT with a computer science degree and found myself designing video games for Atari. Since then I’ve played jazz piano and studied how jazz musicians collaborate; earned a doctorate in psychology at the University of Chicago and studied how Chicago’s improv companies create on the spot; researched theories of creativity in education; and studied how artists and sculptors teach creativity.
No matter what kind of creativity I studied, the process was the same. Creativity did not descend like a bolt of lightning that lit up the world in a single, brilliant flash. It came in tiny steps, bits of insight, and incremental changes.
Zigs and zags.
When people followed those zigs and zags, paying attention every step along the way, ideas and revelations started flowing. Sometimes those ideas did feel like gifts, arriving unsolicited at the perfect time. But in reality, a lot of research, imagination, and hard choices had paved the way.
I’ve spent more than twenty years as a research psychologist studying how creativity works. I’ve explored the lives of exceptional creators and learned the backstories of world-changing innovations. I’ve reviewed laboratory experiments that delved deep into the everyday creativity that all of us share.
To write this book, I distilled all that research into eight powerful, surprisingly simple steps. Follow them, and you zigzag your way to creativity.
Psychologists have been studying the creative process for decades, and they’ve often observed that creativity tends to occur in a sequence of stages. The simplest model of the creative process is a two stage model sometimes called the balloon—an expanding stage of divergent thinking where many possibilities are generated, followed by convergent thinking as you converge on the one best idea. The balloon is a useful shorthand, but most theories of the creative process have expanded upon the simple balloon model to propose four or more stages, giving us a deeper understanding of the mental activities that people engage in when they’re creating. Zig Zag is organized around an integrated framework that captures the key stages of all of the various models that psychologists have proposed.
The Zig Zag model is a useful way of capturing all of the cognitive processes involved in the creative act. The eight steps are domain general; that means that the creative process in all domains, from science to technological invention to fine art painting, involves these steps. But creativity rarely unfolds in a linear fashion. The mental processes associated with the eight steps can overlap, or cycle repeatedly, or sometimes appear in reverse order. This is why some creativity researchers prefer to describe them as eight “disciplines” or “habits of mind” that are associated with highly creative individuals.