In this article, I’ll be concentrating on the Conception, Commitment and Gestation stages of The Creative Lifecycle (Image 1). These correspond with boxes labelled Idea, and Concept etc., in Image 2. The third image is a composite of the idea-to-reality stages appearing in Images 1 and 2.

Image 1: Metaphorical

The Creative Lifecycle

Image 2: Actual

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Image 3: Composite of idea-to-reality stages of previous images

The Creative Lifecycle crossmapped
Read more about the Readiness stage of The Creative Lifecycle »



An idea is a potential way of generating value, arresting anti-value generation, restoring value generation capability, or expanding it. Read about value and how is it generated

Here are some faulty beliefs about the conception of ideas, an activity better known as idea generation and often shortened to ideation.

“If you produce a large number of ideas, the idea that’s needed will be among them.” Wrong!

“Quantity yields quality” is another formulation of this belief.

The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones.

Source: Linus Pauling, American scientist and Nobel laureate.
Diverge-then-converge is a widely-used process for distilling a large number of ideas down to one or two that can be evaluated more fully.

This is like making a lot of different keys in the hope that one of them will fit the lock, rather than understanding the workings of this specific lock and making the one key that will allow it to open, or becoming a master lock picker.

“All new ideas are a combination of existing
ideas.” Wrong!

This belief is the cornerstone of an approach called combinatorial creativity.

To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.

Source: Combinatorial Creativity and the Myth of Originality, by Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, on Smithsonian magazine website.
Combinatorial creativity arises from what Napoleon Hill, author of the bestselling book Think and Grow Rich! (pdf; 253pp), calls synthetic imagination.

Through the faculty of synthetic imagination, one may arrange old concepts, ideas, or plans into new combinations. This faculty creates nothing. It merely works with the material of experience, education, and observation with which it is fed. It is the faculty used most by the inventor, with the exception of he who draws upon the creative imagination, when he cannot solve his problem through synthetic imagination.

Source: Think and Grow Rich!, by Napoleon Hill.
All too often, ideas conceived by means of synthetic imagination (the source, although it’s a secondary source) and combinatorial creativity (the broad approach) are derivative, mediocre, and have relatively low value generation potential when compared with those conceived by means of creative imagination.

I have no evidence to support this assertion and I can think of no research method that would enable convincing evidence to be produced.

Most innovation projects employ synthetic imagination and combinatorial creativity. Here are a few of the methods currently in use:

Morphological analysis

Brainstorming with Post-it Notes


SCAMPER, originated by Alex Osborn

Rolestorming (“How would Elon Musk / a Martian / Attila the Hun / XYZ tackle this problem?”)

Word association and force fit | Random word generator


Four lenses (challenging orthodoxies, harnessing trends, leveraging resources, understanding needs)

The Four Lenses of Innovation
The Four Lenses of Innovation, by Rowan Gibson |

An Interview With Gary Hamel, by Joel Kurtzman, on strategy+business website, October 1997.

Creative and synthetic forms of imagination: each has its place

Sometimes a derivative idea is all that’s required. Let’s say you work in an office, you’ve been given the job of organising the Christmas party, and you need to choose a suitable venue. There are only so many places where it can be held. The answer is out there somewhere. So you assemble a group of volunteers, brainstorm a list, evaluate the options, vote with sticky dots and choose the one with the most dots. Job done.

But when a breakthrough idea is required, the answer is not out there somewhere. Creative imagination must be activated.

While the Synthetic Imagination is the one which will be used most frequently in the process of transforming the impulse of DESIRE into money, you must keep in mind the fact that you may face circumstances and situations which demand the use of the Creative Imagination as well.

Source: Think and Grow Rich!, by Napoleon Hill.

“There’s nothing new under the sun.” Wrong!

If “under the sun” means “product of the physical world” (the manifest, the known), then there’s some degree of truth in this statement. Truly original ideas can be conceived, but they are unlikely to emerge by means of prevailing idea generation methods. Instead, we must find ways of channelling ideas from the non-physical world (the unmanifest, the unknown — the ultimate source of original thoughts and ideas) through the deployment of creative imagination.

The creative triad
Read about the creative triad (the practitioner, the manifest and the unmanifest)

“What we need is a theory of psychology which tells us where new ideas come from and a theory of society which tells us when new ideas are likely to have social effect and delineates the mechanisms through which that effect operates. As far as I know we do not have either of these theories.”

Source: At the Edge of the Modern, or Why is Prospero Shakespeare’s Greatest Creation? (pdf; 23pp) by William L. Benzon, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, in Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 21(3), January 2009.

“All creation is co-creation.” Wrong!

Management commentators such as Hugh MacLeod assert that all creation is co-creation, and others including Greg Satell (see Resources page here) give loud warnings about the myth of the lone inventor. In the wider world, the terms innovate and collaborate have become almost synonymous.

But although I have been a vocal advocate of co-creation for three decades (see the article Rich Co-creation, for example), I want to stress that an idea is conceived in the mind of one person. This is how the creative process works. A team will elaborate the initial idea into a fully formed concept and bring it to fruition, but conception is a solo activity.

View the article: The human is a rig for creating the new

Creative imagination

Through the faculty of creative imagination, the finite mind of man has direct communication with Infinite Intelligence. It is the faculty through which ‘hunches’ and ‘inspirations’ are received. It is by this faculty that all basic, or new ideas are handed over to man.”

Source: Think and Grow Rich!, by Napoleon Hill.  In The Sixth Sense, Chapter 13 of Think and Grow Rich!, he writes: “I do not understand the method by which this principle is operated.”
In his book Creative Action: The Making of Meaning in a Complex World, Edward Matchett introduces ways of opening up to creative imagination. Prerequisites include a playful attitude and the ability to work quickly.

Read about Edward Matchett, design genius

In my now-to-new workshops, project team members access creative imagination by carrying out Readiness work. This enables them to prime themselves for the showing up of a high potential concept by becoming immersed in the demands and dynamics of the project and having a felt sense of the new reality in which the desired results will arise.

Read more about Readiness work

Read more about creative imagination and synthetic imagination


An idea is usually expressed in a single sentence, perhaps scrawled on a Post-it Note. The next step is to elaborate it into a coherent concept. This can be accomplished using a template similar to the one shown below.

Concept sheet
A value proposition describes the value your new creation will generate, or the anti-value generation it will arrest, for specific beneficiary groups such as customers or users. Numerous tools are available to help you craft a value proposition. One such tool is The Value Proposition Canvas, created by Alex Osterwalder, the founder of Strategyzer and the principal originator of the Business Model Canvas. Here it is:
Value Proposition Canvas
  • Gains represent the value the customer wishes to experience.
  • Pains represent the anti-value the customer wishes to avoid.

Read more about value and anti-value

You can download a large-format Value Proposition Canvas from the Strategyzer website (pdf; sign-up required).

Although I mostly talk about value and anti-value, there are times when the snappier gains and pains make things more readily understandable.


A pretotype is a drawing, three dimensional model, role-play, simulation, storyboard or other artefact that enables the project team to bring the concept into the physical world, even if it’s in a very crude form. This is an essential part of the manifestation process. The concept can now be shared with others, both inside and outside the enterprise. Their ongoing feedback will enable the team to enhance and refine the embryonic creation as it progresses through a series of transformations.

Visit the Pretotyping blog created by Alberto Savoia, an engineering director and innovation agitator at Google

Read more about the Conception stage of The Creative Lifecycle »


This is a critical decision point that can occur and recur anywhere between conception and the full scale introduction of the new creation.

Is each team member prepared to do whatever it takes to usher the concept through the gestation process and into the physical world? Is everyone ready to say ‘Yes’ and proceed in faith, despite the ocean of uncertainty that lies before them?

Read more about the Commitment stage of The Creative Lifecycle »


Throughout the gestation period, the project team loves the embryonic creation like a mother loves her unborn child, providing essential nourishment and protection, and acting as its voice.


The pretotype is developed into a prototype, which is piloted in the real world.

A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process.

Prototypes explore different aspects of an intended design:

  • A proof-of-principle prototype serves to verify some key functional aspects of the intended design, but usually does not have all the functionality of the final product.
  • A working prototype represents all or nearly all of the functionality of the final product.
  • A visual prototype represents the size and appearance, but not the functionality, of the intended design. A form study prototype is a preliminary type of visual prototype in which the geometric features of a design are emphasized, with less concern for color, texture, or other aspects of the final appearance.
  • A user experience prototype represents enough of the appearance and function of the product that it can be used for user research.
  • A functional prototype captures both function and appearance of the intended design, though it may be created with different techniques and even different scale from final design.
  • A paper prototype is a printed or hand-drawn representation of the user interface of a software product. Such prototypes are commonly used for early testing of a software design, and can be part of a software walkthrough to confirm design decisions before more costly levels of design effort are expended

Building the full design is often expensive and can be time-consuming, especially when repeated several times—building the full design, figuring out what the problems are and how to solve them, then building another full design. As an alternative, rapid prototyping or rapid application development techniques are used for the initial prototypes, which implement part, but not all, of the complete design. This allows designers and manufacturers to rapidly and inexpensively test the parts of the design that are most likely to have problems, solve those problems, and then build the full design.

Source: Wikipedia—Prototype.
In some cases, pilot work will be conducted using a minimal viable product.

A minimum viable product has just enough core features to effectively deploy the product, and no more. Developers typically deploy the product to a subset of possible customers—such as early adopters thought to be more forgiving, more likely to give feedback, and able to grasp a product vision from an early prototype or marketing information. This strategy targets avoiding building products that customers do not want and seek to maximize information about the customer with the least money spent. The technique falls under the Lean Startup methodology as MVPs aim to test business hypotheses and validated learning is one of the five principles of the Lean Startup method.

Source: Wikipedia—Minimum viable product.
View the article: Pilot projects–making innovations and new concepts fly, by Shane Zbrodoff, on Project Management Institute website
Read more about the Gestation stage of The Creative Lifecycle »



The fully-formed and thoroughly-tested creation can now be introduced to potential beneficiaries, other relevant parties and the world at large.

Between the pilot
And the full scale
Lies the shadow.

Inspired by T.S. Eliot.
View the academic research paper (agricultural focus): Scaling – from “reaching many” to sustainable systems change at scale: A critical shift in mindset, by L. Woltering, K. Fehlenberg, B. Gerard, J. Ubels, and L. Cooley, on Elsevier website (no paywall)
Read more about the Birth stage of The Creative Lifecycle »

Related articles

The Creative Lifecycle

The creative triad: the practitioner, the manifest and the unmanifest

Edward Matchett, design genius

The human is a rig for creating the new

Now-to-new: what’s it all about?

Readiness work

Synthetic and creative forms of imagination

Talking with Angels