Generative AI and the creative process

Generative AI and the creative process

ChatGPT and its peers offer new ways to approach the stages in innovation projects.

Generative AI and the creative process
GenAI can help push up idea quantity, thus contributing to achieving the aim of the ideation stage of the creative process.

ChatGPT is one of those rare moments in technology where you see a glimmer of how everything is going to be different going forward," the American tech entrepreneur Aaron Levie said recently.

Since its launch in November 2022, this large language model-based chatbot developed by OpenAI has taken the world by storm. In recent months, we have witnessed the advent of many more generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools that promise to enhance productivity, effectiveness and speed in business massively.

While there has been a broad consensus that AI will replace many analytical, knowledge-based tasks, professional roles and business functions, most experts have predicted that this would not apply to work related to human creativity. Well, that was before the emergence of the latest GenAI tools.

How will GenAI affect creativity in the workplace? And more specifically, how can we use it in workable, meaningful ways in the creative process? Based on my preliminary experimental experiences, I'd like to share my thoughts on how to use GenAI tools to augment a creative process method.

What are creative process methods? Creative process methods (aka innovation methods) are structured process flows that outline the steps and cognitive activities we need to follow while solving a problem creatively or working through an innovation project case. In short, such an innovation method gives us an order of working or thinking steps to follow.


In the following, I use my X-IDEA method with its five process stages (Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation and Action) to explain how we can sensibly use GenAI tools to augment the work of an innovation team.

The initial Xploration stage aims to help an innovation team gain insights based on a deeper understanding of the project case to frame the real challenge (which is almost always different from what members initially perceive it to be). In this first stage, GenAI fulfils primarily the role of a (secondary) research assistant:

During the first step (Xpress your understanding of your innovation case), GenAI can add additional knowledge to the team's knowledge base and the initial project brief.

In the second step, the team takes the time to explore its case by checking facts, assumptions and rules, asking great questions (and seeking to get answers), looking differently at the challenge by embracing different viewpoints and perspectives, and mapping out information visually. Here, we can treat a GenAI tool like a separate team by giving it the same work instructions to work on specific exploration tools (such as doing a stakeholder analysis or creating archetypical customer profiles).

Finally, GenAI can help synthesise all identified insights into a meta-insight description that supports the human innovation team members' effective framing of the final challenge.

While the GenAI outputs are often on a more general level and sometimes lack specificity, they can augment and broaden the more case-specific, profound human outputs. As such, these AI tools can help an innovation team uncover perceptual blind spots and knowledge gaps, thus limiting the danger of team members failing to notice some essential aspects of a particular innovation challenge.

Now let us turn to Ideation, with AI as an additional source of raw ideas. Ideation aims to generate a large pool of ideas with the help of creativity techniques. Here, as creative process facilitators, we can use GenAI tools to generate additional ideas that we later add to the human-generated idea pool.


Apart from ChatGPT and its key competitors (such as Google's Bard, Microsoft's Bing Chat, and, there are also special AI Ideation tools, such as, where you can enter an innovation challenge and ask it to give you a specified number of ideas.

When gauging AI-generated ideas, many are on relatively high levels of abstraction, meaning they often do not deeply cater to the nuances of a specific innovation case of a particular company. However, some ideas contain interesting aspects we can use in the subsequent creative process stages.

As such, GenAI can help push up idea quantity, thus contributing to achieving the aim of the Ideation stage. And because X-IDEA is one of a few creative process methods with two distinct creative stages, Ideation and Development, we can also confidently add these AI-generated ideas into the raw idea pool with the peace of mind that in the second creative stage, we will have solely humans take care of transforming idea quantity into quality.

Interim conclusion and outlook: GenAI tools can support an innovation team well at the front end of the creative process. ChatGPT and other GenAI bots can help team members broaden their perspectives during the first explorative stage and boost the team's idea quantity.

How can we best use GenAI in the later stages of the creative process? In the next column in this three-part series we will explore when to include -- and choose to exclude -- GenAI in the final stages of the creative process.

Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Limited (, the Innovation Company in Asia. He is also an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University, and an innovation adviser at the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation - South-East Asia, Bangkok University. He can be reached at

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