(p. 118) The incubation stage is the most mysterious of the three stages of divergent thinking. Sometimes it appears as if the problem-solving process has stopped altogether.
Incubation is the absolute opposite of the normal business processes of the operating organization. It is often totally unpredictable. But since it is also the heart of the creative process, it creates a dilemma for the business executive who wants to support innovation but has little patience for unfocused activity. In the incubation period, observations stew on the edge of consciousness until something clarifies. As Newton observed, “I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait until the first dawnings open slowly, little by little, into the full and clear light.”
There is no way to plan “enough” incubation time. What, then, can one do to improve the productivity of this period of incubation? One useful tool is what psychologists call “suspending disbelief–suspending judgment on data or observations that seem to make no sense. It allows time for the rearrangement of data, allowing one time to find new images that explain or illustrate how things might work. Suspending disbelief (p.119) is essential to avoiding premature closure on an issue, or entrenchment in existing ideas and approaches. Suspending disbelief helps to improve one’s chances of finding a fresh view of the universe. It is an unnatural act for an operating organization, but an essential trait for an innovative organization.
A second useful tool is to deconstruct the problem so that you can recombine elements of it and gain fresh insight. Sir James Black, Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of histamine antagonists, suggests that one “turn the question around.” Dr. Black prefers an “oblique attack” to a problem rather than a direct one.
One way to change context, Csikszentmihalyi observes, is to position yourself at the intersection of different cultures or disciplines: “where beliefs, lifestyles, and knowledge mingle and allow individuals to see new combinations of ideas with greater ease. In cultures that are uniform and rigid it takes a greater investment of attention to achieve new ways of thinking. In other words, creativity is more likely in places where new ideas require less effort to be perceived.”
Foster, Richard N., and Sarah Kaplan. Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—and How to Successfully Transform Them. New York: Currency Books, 2001.