Creative States

Go Creative!Continuing the Go Creative! Series. Last time: Everybody is Creative, Everything is Created.

Human beings move through different states of creative consciousness, as we progress through life but these are not demarcated levels as implied by laying them down on the page as we are going to do below.

Consciousness elevates itself in an oscillating flow, rather than a steady upwards progression. It's not so much like a stairs or ladder as a musical scale, and that's the organising principle we've used to explain the eight states and how they shift. The tonic sol-fah (doh — ray — mi — fah — sol — lah — ti — full-scale). 

  • Each state is a note of possibility across a spectrum of possibilities, rather than a demarcated condition of consciousness.
  • Each state goes beyond – or transcends – its predecessor but also includes it, much as a cell transcends and includes molecules, which transcend and includes atoms.  Or as a paragraph transcends and includes sentences which transcend and includes words which transcend and include letters.

  • And each state melds into the other, as in the musical notes. Where does doh stop and ray begin? Are not strains of all the notes to be found each other?

The states are suggestive, not set. “We are not the self who hangs in the balance at this moment in our evolution,” says Robert Kegan, author of The Evolving Self. “We are the activity of this evolution. We compose our stages [states] and we experience this composing.”

Knowing our dominant creative state can help us greatly as we try to become more creative in life.

Read the eight states below and see which one most closely represents your dominant creative condition.

States of Creative Consciousness

The overview of creative states outlined here (and over the next two blog posts) draws on the work of psychologists and theorists like Don Beck and Chris Cowan, Susanne Cook-Greuter,  Erik Erikson, Clare Graves, Robert Kegan, Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevinger, Abraham Maslow, Jean Piaget and Ken Wilber, all of whom base their psychological models on extensive research and data.

“These are not simply conceptual ideas and pet theories, but are grounded at every point in a considerable amount of carefully checked evidence,” says Wilber.  “Many of the stage models, in fact, have been carefully checked in first-, second- and third-world countries…. and there have been no major exceptions found to the general scheme.”

The state-stage models differ, depending on the interest of the psychologist. Jean Piaget, for example, focussed on children and proposed a four-stage model between birth and adulthood: sensorimotor: (birth to 2 years), pre-operations: (2 to 7 years), concrete operations: (7 to 11 years), and formal operations: (11 to 16 years).

Abraham Maslow, one of the first psychologists to look at psychologically healthy adults, developed a hierarchy of needs, with Self-Actualisation and Transcendence representing the highest levels, providing the psychologically healthy person’s prime motivation.

The overview of states of creative consciousness below draws heavily on the work of all the psychologists named above and most particularly Abraham Maslow, and his famous hierarchy of needs (the eight-stage model). Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Maslow gave us a more positive account of human behaviour simply by looking at the full half of the glass and studying what goes right. Maslow was interested in human potential, and how we each fulfil ours.

“'It is quite true that [the hu]man lives by bread alone,” he wrote in his groundbreaking book, A Theory of Human Motivation (1943). “When there is no bread. But what happens to [hu]man… desires when there is plenty of bread?” His answer was that other, “higher” needs surface and begin to dominate, and when these in turn are satisfied, again new and still “higher” needs emerge.

As well as drawing on the work of these theorists, the scheme outlined below and in the Go Creative! books is also based on my own practice, and almost twenty years of teaching and mentoring those who want to be more creative, in writing and in life.

Those interested in learning more are encouraged to read the work of the psychologists cited. The website, Simply Psychology, provides good introductions to their work and to all psychological subjects. (Please note: The percentages of population and influence below were provided by Dan Beck and Chris Cowan’s  work for Spiral Dynamics.)



1. DOH. (0.1% of the adult population, 0% influence. ) Survival.

Dominant Note: Instinct.

Beliefs: None or in archaic-instinctual gods e.g. Sun God.

Motto: “Life’s a bitch and then you die”.

Drives: Food, water, temperature, sex. Life is a matter of survival and humans rely on habits and instincts to survive. Form into survival tribes and their sense of other people is barely differentiated from sense of self. Adults in doh consciousness are often mute, and dependent, or institutionalised.

Where seen: Prehistoric humans, the newborn, senile elderly, mentally ill and disabled, the starving. Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear.

Exerts Influence through: Engendering compassion and protective instincts of others.


2. RAY. (10% of the population, 1% of the influence). Preservation.

Dominant Note: Allegiance.

Beliefs: Magical-Animistic gods e.g. Voodoo.

Motto: “Blood is thicker than water.”

Drives: Safety, kinship, belonging.

Life is a matter of obeying ancestors, elders and the clan. Hold that the people who do well in life are those who organise around lineage and tribe to meet their safety needs. Preserving the places, objects and memories that are important to the tribe is important. Ray consciousness is guided by magical spirits and mystical signs, curses and spells.

Where seen: Mafia. Gangs. Extreme sports fans. Blood oaths, ancient grudges, good luck charms. Destructive family rituals. Magical beliefs and superstitions. George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones.

Exerts Influence through: Throwing tempers. Rioting. Stealing. Demanding. Spells, curses and charms.


Next time: Creative States from Mi (Dominion) to full-scale Creative Consciousness. Which note on the scale is yours?



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