The common belief is that lack of structure and randomness enhances creative output, whereas in truth, creativity is enhanced when it is organised, systematic and based on highly structured processes. This article will use Episode III of the Star Wars trilogy – Revenge of the Sith – to demonstrate that point.
First, some basic concepts.
a) We can measure creativity by observing the number of ideas produced, their novelty and diversity and the frequency of production. This allows us to gauge which of the two methods indicated above, produces more output. Using it, we can say for example, whether a structured approach with incremental deadlines and goals yields more of a screenplay than a “do your best approach.” Graham Green, the famous English writer, insisted that his success was due to writing, without fail, 500 words a day. Similar examples of incremental goal setting, the experience of people who regularly have to generate ideas (e.g. creatives in advertising) and experimentation reveal that incremental deadlines do indeed help us complete that screenplay much faster.
b) Creative output versus applied creative output. Creative output is enhanced to some degree by unstructured and random thinking. This is the essence of lateral thinking, where ideas are generated for i) the sake of generating them, ii) without direction, iii) without evaluation, iv) using random stimuli to open up pathways and so forth. However, applied creativity results from i) the use of frameworks that relate to the problem and ii) critical thinking – reducing the idea pool to feasible ideas. In effect there are three stages, first creative thinking which is a combination of lateral and logical idea generation and second, critical thinking.
c) Structures and formal processes trigger a problem finding and resolving attitude and induce the goal state. This establishes boundaries, consistency, focuses creative energy and is a major source of motivation. It is commonly noted that people seem to be creative when constrained to some degree.
d) Prolific output. Structures such as incremental goals force output and lead to prolific production, which increases the likelihood of quality. It can be declared with great certainty that quality positively correlates with quantity. The single best creative product appears at that point in the career when the creator is being most prolific.
e) Incubation. Incremental goals can be short and longer term. Short-term goals increase output. Longer terms goals allow problems to incubate at various cognitive levels and lead to richer insights.
With the above in mind then, how did George Lucas go about writing the screenplay for Revenge of the Sith? He didn't just sit there and hope for the muse to strike. He had a deadline, a budget was involved and distributors and marketers had expectations. So he used structure.
As screenwriters know, the modern screenplay has evolved from three and four act structure. The modern dividers are known as plot points 1 and 2 and the midpoint, which break up the screenplay into four thirty page parts. By page 30 George knew that he had to set up the characters and Anakin had to set off on a journey, triggered by a set of events. A cataclysmic event had to take place around page 60, which sparks the meat of the Ordeal and significant change and by page 90, the scene is set for the final confrontation between the Jedi and the Dark Side. In effect, each section is reduced to a set of problem finding and solving exercises.
Going even further, classical story structure (on which the original Star Wars is based) breaks a film into 19 parts and many of today's successful movies are framed around it. The parts are: Ordinary World, the Call, Refusal, Supernatural Aid, First Threshold, Belly of the Whale, Trials, Meeting the Goddess, Woman as Temptress, Atonement, Apotheosis, Boon, Refusal of Return, Magic Flight, Rescue from Within, Crossing the Threshold, Return, Master of Two Worlds, Freedom to Live (Campbell, 1968). Thus, even four acts are too random. Screenwriters need a structure of 19 distinct stages of problem identification and idea generation to maximise their creativity in terms of speed and output.
The above 19 stage structure can legitimately be expanded to around 40 stages and there are theories that allow for as many as 240 micro stages.
In conclusion, creativity can be measured by the frequency, speed, novelty, diversity, amount and applicability of output. Significant research and practical experience indicate that organised, systematic and highly structured processes increase creativity, so if you want to help George write Star Wars Episode VII, don't take a random and structure free approach (commonly known as waiting for inspiration) – use the appropriate structures and get on with it.
These and other topics are covered in depth in the MBA dissertation on Managing Creativity & Innovation, which can be purchased at http://www.managing-creativity.com
You are free to reproduce this article as long as the author's name, web address and link to MBA dissertation is retained.
Kal Bishop MBA
Kal is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller.