Learning and Thinking Skills looks at a range of different ways of assessing students’ creative development, and engaging students in that process, including Geoff Petty’s model of creativity

In this issue, we will look again at Geoff Petty’s model of creativity and explore how it might be used to help students reflect on and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as creative thinkers. The term ‘creative’ is used here in the widest possible sense, to include the creative arts, but also invention, design, problem solving, writing, entrepreneurial initiatives and so on.
Future bulletins will look at a range of other approaches to assessing creativity.

The ICEDIP model

Geoff Petty’s ICEDIP model of the creative process outlines six key working phases: inspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation and incubation. During a particular piece of creative work, each phase should be experienced many times. They will not be visited in any particular order, and you may visit a stage for hours or for just a few seconds. Petty refers to each stage as having its own ‘mindset’ and believes that creativity can be increased by making sure that you use the most appropriate mindset at a given time. The model recognises, therefore, the importance of thinking dispositions in the creative process.

The ICEDIP phases

Inspiration: In which you generate a large number of ideas.

This is the research or idea-generation phase. The process is uninhibited and characterized by spontaneity, experimentation, intuition and risk-taking.

Many people wonder where creative people find their good ideas. The answer is, in amongst a huge pile of bad ones. Creativity is like mining for diamonds, most of what you dig is thrown away, but that doesn’t make the digging a waste of time. If you ‘can’t think of anything’ you are having difficulty with this inspiration phase, perhaps because you are too self-critical or expect good ideas to come too quickly.

In the field of the creative arts the inspiration phase is often associated with a search for an individual voice, and with an attempt to conjure up deep feelings of (for example) empathy, spirituality, or an intense identification with the subject matter.

This is not a phase in which to be negative or worried about form, practicality, rhyme or quality. For reasons to be examined later you should be rejecting at least 90% of your initial ideas. Let yourself off the leash! If most of the ideas you create are workable, then you didn’t take enough risks.

Clarification: In which you focus on your goals.

Key questions are:
What am I trying to achieve here? What am I trying to say? What exactly is the problem I am trying to solve?

What would I like the finished work to be like?

And in more open-ended work:
How could I exploit the ideas I have had?
Where could this idea take me – what could I make of it?

The aim here is to clarify the purpose or objective of the work. It is easy to lose your sense of direction while dealing with detailed difficulties in creative work. So you need occasionally to disengage from these obstacles and ask: ‘What exactly am I trying to do?’ If you ‘get stuck’ in the middle of a project then, rather than dreaming up a stream of alternatives, you need to clarify exactly where you want to go. How to get there is then often straightforward, or even blindingly obvious.

Clarification gets you out of the mire, but it is also required when, say, an artist or designer agonises between two or more equally attractive approaches. Such decisions require a clear sense of purpose.

If you feel lost, stuck, bogged down, confused or uncertain about how to proceed, then clarification is what you need. In this clarification phase you have your eye on the ball, you are being strategic and logical, focusing on how the finished work will look.

Distillation: In which you look through the ideas you have generated and try to determine which ones to work on.

Here ideas from the inspiration phase are sifted through and evaluated usually in the light of the findings of a clarification phase. The best ideas are chosen for further development, or are combined into even better ideas.

This is a self-critical phase. It requires cool analysis and judgment rather than slap-happy spontaneity. However, it should not be so critical as to inhibit productivity entirely. Remember, the ideas you have had are only ideas, not complete solutions – you must not expect too much of them. It is where the ideas can take you that counts, not the ideas themselves.

Perspiration: In which you work determinedly on your best ideas.

This is where the real work is done. You are involved in determined and persistent effort towards your goal; this will usually involve further inspiration, distillation and clarification phases.

Evaluation: This is a review phase in which you look back over your work in progress.

In the evaluation phase you examine your work for strengths and weaknesses. Then you need to consider how the work could be improved, by removing weaknesses but also by capitalising on its strengths. Then there will probably need to be another perspiration phase to respond positively to the suggestions for improvement. Perspiration and evaluation phases often alternate to form a cycle. Hardly anyone gets things perfect first time. Creative people adapt to improve.

Many people dislike the evaluation phase at first. However, highly creative people are nearly always inveterate revisers. They tinker with work that would make others gape in delight. Actually this evaluation phase can be very rewarding, and no work of real merit will be produced without it.

Incubation: In which you leave the work alone, though you still ponder about it occasionally, leaving it ‘on the surface of your mind’.

Many brilliant ideas have occurred in the bath or in traffic jams. If you are able to stop work on a project for a few days, perhaps to work on other things, this will give your subconscious time to work on any problems encountered. It will also distance you somewhat from your ideas so that you are better able to evaluate them.

See the Talking about creative thinking activity for ways of helping students explore the benefits of ‘incubation’.

Incubation is particularly useful after an inspiration or a perspiration phase, or if a problem has been encountered. Creative people are often surprisingly patient and untidy, and are content to let half-baked ideas, loose ends and inconsistencies brew away in their sub-conscious until ‘something turns up’.

Those are the six phases of the creative process. In contrast to this complex, multi-phased process, many students, though they may have the skills necessary for original work, will tend to latch on to the very first idea that comes to them, and complete the work quickly and uncritically, without revision, and without serious thought about what they were trying to achieve.

The first letters of these six phases can be arranged to spell ‘ICEDIP’ which may help you to remember them. Remember, though, that each of these ‘ICEDIP’ phases should be encountered many times, sometimes for very short periods, and not necessarily in any particular sequence. The important thing is to adopt the right phase at the right time. For example, no amount of distillation can help you if you need clarification. Many creative blocks are due to the determined adoption of an inappropriate phase. So, if stuck… try switching phases!


One of the main difficulties for creative people is that the different phases require radically different, even opposite ‘mindsets’, each of which is difficult to sustain without deliberate effort. These are outlined below:


In order to generate a large number of different ideas you need to be deeply engrossed, fearless and free: spontaneous, risk-taking, joyful, ‘slap-happy’, intuitive and improvisational.

It is very common instead to be self-conscious and fearful, and to try to use inappropriate logical thinking. There is also a common tendency to accept your first decent idea, instead of exploring more fully.


In order to clarify what you are trying to achieve you need to be: strategic and unhurried, analytic, logical and clear minded, and not afraid to ask difficult questions.

Many people fail to clarify – they fail to achieve their goals because they don’t know what they are.


In order to improve earlier work you need to be critical, positive and willing to learn; self-critical (ruthlessly so sometimes), but positive about your vision of how the work could be, and your ability to do this. You must see weaknesses as opportunities to improve and to learn.

Instead, creative people often see criticism as a threat and so fail to improve their work and to learn.


In order to choose your best ideas from the inspiration phase you need to be positive, strategic, and intrepid. You need to be judgmental, but optimistic about where each idea might take you, clear about where you want the ideas to take you, and daring enough to take on original ideas. You need to be realistic but ready to take on challenges.

Common mistakes are to choose ideas which are familiar and well worked out instead of those that will best achieve your intentions.


In order to leave work for your subconscious to work on you need to be unhurried, trusting and forgetful. You must expect difficulties, trust yourself to find a way round them and not be panicked into adopting a weak solution.

Few people realize that some ideas take time to hatch, and difficulties and indecision are often seen as a sign of failure.


In order to bring your ideas to fruition you need to be: uncritical, enthusiastic and responsive. You need to be positive and persistent, deeply committed and engaged, and ready to respond positively to any shortcomings.

It is common for even very creative people not to make the best of this phase. They are often uncertain and self-critical and see weaknesses as lack of talent instead of as a need for more work or a different approach.

The creative person needs to switch continually between these radically different and difficult mindsets. This requires enormous flexibility as some mindsets are almost the exact opposite of each other. In the inspiration phase you need to be uncritical, risk taking and subjective, but in the clarification phase you need to be critical, careful and objective. If you use an inappropriate mindset you are in deep trouble: you will not get many original ideas if you are critical, careful and strategic, and you will not clarify your purpose effectively if you are slap-happy and uncritical.

Using the ICEDIP model in the classroom

If we are to engage students in assessing their own creative development, an important precursor will be to help them explore for themselves what is meant by ‘being creative’ and uncovering what the creative process involves.

Rather than serve up the ICEDIP model of the creative process ‘ready-made’ to students, it would be far better to help your students to produce and refine their own model over time. This could be done in the following way:

1) Prepare a small-scale creative challenge for your students. Whether this is highly structured or more open will depend upon the age and experience of your students.

2) Students work in small, mixed-ability groups to complete the challenge.

3) Following the activity, debrief the students on the stages that they went through to complete the challenge. They could capture their ideas in diagrammatic form as in the following example from year 10 D&T students: Reflecting on what it means to ‘think like a designer’ – a year 10 model of the creative process.

Questions to guide this process might include:

How did you go about creating this piece of work? What did you do first… and then…?

What were the steps that you went through to complete the challenge?

What part of the process did you find the most demanding?

How did you overcome the problem?

What qualities did you need to overcome the problem?

What part did you spend the longest on… or keep returning to?

What would you do differently next time if you had to do a similar task?

What steps would you advise other students to take?

For students who would benefit from a more scaffolded approach, you could also provide them with  set of cards showing different possible elements of the creative process based on the ICEDIP model. Ask your students to sort and sequence the cards in order to reflect on and demonstrate the stages that they went through. Encourage them, also, to be critical of the cards – would they change any? Or add any new ones? You might also like to leave out an important step or include some blank cards to give your students the chance to introduce ideas of their own.

4) In helping students to talk about and record the process that they went through, you are beginning to make the skills and dispositions involved in creative activity explicit. Keep a visual record of your students’ thinking on the classroom wall, refer back to this and encourage your students to use and refine their model over time, as they engage in future episodes of creativity. If necessary, share with them the ICEDIP model, or a model of your own, as a point of comparison, but only once your students have had the opportunity to devise, work with and refine a model of their own.

As demonstrated in a previous bulletin — Exploring subject-specific enquiry skills — PLTS can be mapped onto the epistemological frameworks of different subjects, along with appropriate ‘thinking tools’ to support their development. The following example available for download — ‘BE a designer‘ — shows how the ICEDIP model of the creative process can be mapped against the skills and dispositions of the PLTS framework.

Using the ICEDIP model as a self-evaluation tool

Geoff Petty’s model of the creative process can be used to help students reflect on and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as creative thinkers.

Most people find they are stronger in some phases of the creative process than in others, perhaps because our personality often gives us a predominant mindset. Some people have masses of ideas, but little idea how to work them to a successful conclusion. Others have difficulty getting the ideas on which to exercise their persistence, skills and good judgment. A given piece of creative work involves a long chain of the different ‘ICEDIP’ phases, each phase being revisited many times. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You need to know your weakest phases and the techniques and mindsets which will help you make them stronger.

Download here a Creativity Questionnaire that tries to help students discover how effectively they use the creative process during, say, problem solving, design, invention, artistic expression or other creative work.

A better understanding of each phase along with its techniques and mindset will help avoid those blocks and frustrations which prevent students from performing to the best of their ability. Previous bulletins have shared a range of ‘thinking tools’ particularly useful to support the inspiration phase (to help with the generation of ideas), and with the perspiration phase (to help with idea development). See also issue no 7 for a useful tool to support the evaluation phase.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2009

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.