How to Make Decisions: Know the Process


In this article, we will turn to the creative process and how to apply this to decision making. As before, we first must establish the meaning of relevant terms, in this case – creativity. This is a word that represents progressiveness and new ideas, a move away from the traditional. Therefore, the essence of this article will be instruction on how to make decisions based on "out-of-the-box" or nontraditional thinking. Let us first understand the creative process separately, and then decide how it applies to decision making.

The Creative Process

It should probably come as no surprise that we will define the creative process in four steps. Creativity, like problem solving, is a cognitive process; however, often it diverges completely, because it emanates from a place of internalized inspiration or personal drive that cannot always be iterated in plain language -- at least, not at first. The creative process is often felt, an inner urge that builds like a crescendo, until it can no longer be quelled and must have an outlet. The four steps to the creative process are: preparation, incubation, illumination, and implementation. We will consider each of these separately and then form a connection between creativity and decision making.

Step 1 – Preparation as part of the creative process

The term "brainstorming" means to excite the mind to think existentially, to imagine all possibilities, without restriction. It is the act of letting your mind wander – and perhaps it will have some direction, or perhaps not. Sometimes the brainstorming is deliberate. In other words, the thinker might instruct him or herself to remember a particular incident and anything connected with it. He or she might purposefully force a remembrance of the sights, sounds, and smells associated with a particular memory -- or not. Or maybe they might nudge their minds to imagine what sights, sounds, or smells could be associated with a particular incident. This is brainstorming. Many liken it to the act of "throwing everything against a wall to see what will stick." Brainstorming is an excellent foundation for the creative process, and it is now a skill so important that it is being coaxed from children as young as preschool age.

Step 2 – Incubation as part of the creative process

Incubation is the growth and maturation process, as a chick that has not been hatched from the egg. The idea is evolving, it is ripening, but it is not yet ready for presentation. There are two approaches to the incubation process. On the one hand, proponents of this step claim it requires a passivity to bringing it to fruition. It cannot be hurried along, and if pressed too hard – an idea may disappear for good. It is always an excellent idea to jot down thoughts on a piece of paper or some other recording device, no matter how fleeting they may seem. One never knows when an incubated idea may be ready to hatch prematurely or unexpectedly. The best advice is always to be prepared. However, there are those who believe the incubation process should be addressed head on, that ideas should be deliberately fanned and nurtured, or massaged and worked like a piece of soft clay, shaped and readied for the kiln.

Step 3- Illumination as part of the creative process

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One universal explanation of this point is called the "ah-ha moment." Who among us has not had this very experience? We are working an idea around in our heads, like a splinter right under the skin, and you press it one way, then another, until it surfaces and can be plucked. Frankly, the creative process can be as painful as a splinter, as well, for there are few things more confounding than trying to give life to the germination of a thought. Ideas are works of art, and as such, they are subject to all the whims and tantrums so often associated with the artist. Certainly we would like to believe that the creative process is simple, something that is easily embraced and realized with the same effort as breathing itself. Often, it is just the opposite. Creativity, and the development of the illumination of an idea to its point of recognition and usability, is nothing short of hard work. Here it is advised that one become expert at the use of graphic organizers, as well. Although they were explained as the tool of choice in problem solving – they have applicability in the creative process and, as will be revealed, in other components of decision making. The mind, either in the heat of problem solving or the passion of creating, needs a point of reference. Visual representations are exceptional manifestations of such.

Step 4- Development of an idea

This final step in the creative process can be the most satisfying. It is the point where the individual is able to develop a model of their idea to share with others. That is not to say that this is every bit as challenging as any other part of the creative process. For example, let us apply the creative process to a freelance writer. The potential author may have an idea bouncing around in their head for days, weeks, or even months. It might be nothing more than a couple of words, like futuristic humans, but the writer is well aware that he or she is impotent to growing the idea beyond those two words, which they have wisely learned to jot down somewhere and notice it in passing over time, such as on the back of an envelope pinned to a bulletin board. There the idea sits, and occasionally the author may choose to brainstorm how the idea might look. Could the futuristic humans be werewolves? Zombies? What shape and form will this type of story take? Then it slides into incubation, where the author is prepared to spend a little more time massaging the concept to see what shape it might take.

What if it were werewolves – what implications would that have for the earth? What if they were the good guys and the bad guys were sheep? Brainstorm and incubate – sometimes the process bounces back and forth, but it will eventually segue to an "ah-ha" moment, a "eureka" of an idea that excites the creator to a flurry of activity, after which the final step – implementation – cannot be held at bay. The idea must be realized, in the form of artistic expression, a discovery, a business, or something. Then the creator is sated with the completion of the idea. Needless to say, it will likely need to be revisited, honed, reworked. But it is down on paper, in three-dimensional form, or as a product of some type, and the essence of the creative process has been realized.

Applying the Creative Process to Decision Making

Let us briefly review the steps of decision making. The individual identifies the goal that requires a decision, gathers information relevant to the decision, makes the decision, and then implements and evaluates the decision. As creativity speaks to the nontraditional, its value in the decision-making process cannot be understated. Decision making was explained as a process that appears to rely on reason, and that alone. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Decision making can benefit from original thinking, lest the choices be limited to the parameters of the tried and true. So, the creative process applied to decision making might include any or all of the following.

First, the active creation of new and fruitful alternatives to the choices available for decision making is a progressive, if not cutting-edge approach, more and more being embraced by laymen and experts in all walks of life. Second, for the decision maker that has learned to iterate the components of a decision – graphically, through the statement of objectives, aims or goals, or in other forms – the analysis process for the development of these steps would benefit immensely from the use of creativity. Frankly, it is obvious in a variety of fields that the tried and true, traditional methods of decision making (and problem solving for that matter) have netted ordinary results that are no different than what has been seen historically. Today's problems – either of a personal, professional, or global nature – are begging for new solutions that can only be based in forward thinking. What follows is a framework for applying creativity to the decision-making process.

A framework for melding creativity and decision making

1. Become educated in creativity. Learn what it means, how one can embrace it and internalize it for their personal use, or -- in the case of community -- national and international instances where creativity could be helpful when decision making about a concern is at hand. For example, a local community park was being shuttered, because the city could not afford its upkeep. When neighbors learned of this, they attended a city council meeting, formed an action committee and their first order of business was to create a list of 100 creative alternatives to closing down the park. This graphic representation was presented at a later city council meeting, and they utilized it in their decision-making process in making a choice that did not result in denying the neighbors access to this property.

2. Just as it is important to understand how creativity can be enhanced, it is equally germane to examine the ways in which it can be stymied. For example, in a public forum, outbursts from opponents may cause certain people to refrain from contributing their ideas to a brainstorming discussion on many issues. Once this has been brought to the attention of the audience, and they are asked to refrain from public displays of dissatisfaction, there is a greater chance that more people will feel emboldened to add their creativity to the decision making.

3. Encourage, encourage, encourage. No matter whether this means encouraging yourself to be more creative, or urging others to do the same for their personal benefit or that of others, people must learn to support each other in their creative growth. We simply have no idea when the next great idea will materialize, or if we have squelched some life-changing decision because we tend toward the negative instead of the positive.


Creativity is the ability to transcend common or traditional thinking. It may seem that this is the purview of the view, or that only people who are naturally artistic might also be creative, but that is hardly true. Anyone and everyone can learn to be creative. The creative process involves the four steps of preparation, incubation, illumination, and implementation. All of this refers to an idea or concept that begins often without realization that it exists, and like a delicate ash, through incubation or tending to the thought, illumination or growing the idea, and implementation or bringing the concept to its first full fruition, we have the creative process.

The creative process is especially transferable to decision making. In the decision-making process, the idea of identifying the decision, gathering information about the options of the decision, selecting the option most appropriate, and implementing and evaluating it are all subject to improvement through creativity. What is necessary is examining each component of the decision-making process from the point of view of an artist of sorts – feeling the choices that are available for the ultimate decision, and brainstorming all options without a sense of parameters. This is a time to permit all ideas to be brought to the table, and each evaluated on its merit and viability. Frankly, the creative, problem-solving and decision-making processes are very intertwined, but understanding them separately should ensure a greater expertise in the application of each.