Nollind Whachell

Life in Design

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Sharing My World

Over the past few days I’ve been rethinking and rehashing about what I want to do with my Be Real Creative identity and brand which will hopefully encapsulate all of my research on creativity that I’ve done and will still do. More than anything now, I realize I want this to be a safe space for myself. A place where I can extend as curiously as I want without feeling limited by conventional beliefs and boundaries.

In terms of others though, I want it to be a place where I can share this New World I’ve discovered with them as well, so that they can safely explore and immerse themselves within it, as it is the only way to fully comprehend the complexity of it. In effect, you can’t understand it by observing one aspect of it because it will seem completely impossible and incomprehensible if you do. Instead you have to understand all aspects of it as a whole in relationship to one another, at which point the paradigm shift in thinking occurs and you suddenly step through the looking glass to suddenly see the impossible possible before you. 

Feeling Ripped Apart

Close to a decade ago, I read Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra which talks about how transitions through a career change are unconventional in that you often don’t know exactly what your new identity will be at the outset of your journey but instead you must experiment and explore to find the right fit. Making this transition of change though can be extremely difficult upon us and those around us, as noted below, because changing our identity, as a complex system or entity, is about changing our relationships

We cannot regenerate ourselves in isolation. We develop in and through our relationships with others—the master teaches the apprentice a new craft; the mentor guides a protégé through the passage to an inner circle; the council of peers monitors the standards of a professional group, confirming status within the community. Yet, when it comes to reinventing ourselves, the people who know us best are also the ones most likely to hinder rather than help. They may wish to be supportive but they tend to reinforce—or even desperately try to preserve—the old identities we are seeking to shed.

Changing careers is not merely a matter of changing the work we do. It is much about changing the relationships that matter in our professional lives. Shifting connections refers to the practice of finding people who can help us see and grow into our new selves, people we admire, would like to emulate, and with whom we want to spend time. All reinventions require social support. But as this chapter reveals, it is hard to get the support we really need from career counsellors, outplacement, or headhunters, or even from old friends, family members, or trusted colleagues. New or distant acquaintances—people and groups on the periphery of our existing networks—help us push off in new directions while providing the secure base in which change can take hold.

What I recognized afterwards though—upon reflecting upon the book, my life, and the patterns of change around me—was that I wasn’t going through a midlife crisis to change my career but rather I was experiencing this Big Shift that everyone will eventually go through which is a change of paradigms, mental models, and world views (aka social innovation). You see it’s much easier to shift a career because you’re often moving from one known context to another known context (i.e. job to job, albeit in different disciplines) within the conventional world that everyone knows. Making the Big Shift is radically more complex and difficult, as you are effectively moving from a known context to a completely unknown context that 99% of the population cannot relate to or understand. So not only will your friends and family think you’re crazy but most of the world will think your crazy as well.

You’re Not Crazy

Another important role a guiding figure plays is to reassure us that we are not out of our minds, to convey that what we are contemplating is not only reasonable but totally consistent with a wise assessment of our potential.

This is why mentors or guides are so essential to your journey because they help you to realize that what you’re experiencing is completely normal and you’re not going crazy. In my case though, while I’ve found tons of diverse articles and books on the subject, I’ve yet been unable to find anyone I can interact with who can relate to what I’m going through and who can see and understand this big picture of societal change on the scope that I do. Thus right now, my only mentors are those within the articles and books I’m reading which makes it difficult for me to make this transition because I’m continually being pulled back into the Old World—it’s outdated beliefs and behaviours—by those close to me, rather than stepping freely into this New World.

But People Will Think You’re Crazy

Our close contacts don’t just blind us, they also bind us to our outdated identities.

This is also why I feel like I’m continually being ripped apart between two worlds, as I’m struggling to step forward but continually feeling pulled back. Because of this, I’ve lost a couple of really close friends over the past few years because they no longer can relate to me. I even find the same thing happening with my family, as I begin to distance myself from them. Basically any friends and family I interact with now about my journey and these bigger changes affecting society, I know they are either thinking I’m crazy or I’m possibly on to something but their lack of understanding of this “unknown” makes them feel uncomfortable because they can’t relate to it at this moment

A perfect example of this is the typical convention of asking someone what their job is or how their job is going. Neither of these apply to me because this New World is about going beyond a “job” and discovering your life’s work (i.e. your passion & purpose in life). Thus any “job” that I’m doing is just to pay the bills and my real work is that which I do in my days off and evenings. In effect, I’m having to work in two worlds to bridge myself from one to the other. But to fully make the transition though, I eventually need to let go of the Old World’s conventions and beliefs so that I can fully become the potential of that which I wish to be in this New World, my true self. 

Without meaning to, friends and family pigeonhole us. Worse, they fear our changing.

Creativity By Any Other Name

I was going to wait on relaying this, mainly because I find that when I relay things of this nature, I’m assuming it can be very disruptive and upsetting for certain people who may have spent years of their lives on something only to realize it is something else. What’s funny about this though is that I speak from experience on this, as I’ve spent a decade researching something only to realize that it was something else completely.

Researching The Unknown

You see when I started my research, I didn’t know what I was researching (actually I didn’t even realize I was researching, as it was more curiousity). I was just upset about the way work worked and wanted to see a change. I found The Cluetrain Manifesto and it made me realize others felt the same way, thus I gained the confidence to begin questioning everything in my life.

Over time, I felt my research focused on Social Business and then more currently the Future of Work. Then I realized it was more than just about transforming work but about transforming playing, learning, and working as a whole. I then thought it had to do with the identity of all of these things as a whole and how systems thinking helps us define our identity. But no matter what name I gave it, it didn’t feel like it contained what I was researching. 

Creativity Encompasses Everything

Finally one day in watching a PBS video, I saw many of the same patterns mirroring my research in the video and I realized that what encompassed everything I just talked about above was creativity. In effect, creativity is an integration of playing, learning, and working which in turn helps us to define our identity and that identity of ourselves in turn is being radically transformed today by a byproduct of creativity known as social innovation.

Note though how my journey in understanding what I was searching, researching, and following perfectly mirrors how creativity itself works. In effect, you will often not known what you’re searching when you begin your search and quest. The key thing though is to be open to new experiences and opportunities along the way because that is where things will emerge to surprise you. In effect, what you’re looking for is not always in the place you’re looking.

To encapsulate this all and get to the point of this post, I’ve always repeatedly said over the years that I’ve noticed all of these other notable authors all writing about the same thing but from different disciplinary perspectives. In effect, their research often evolves to a point where they can’t fully comprehend something (as it reaches the borders of their discipline), so they often create words to contain this unknown. What I’m saying is that this unknown is creativity itself. It’s just that most people don’t realize it because they haven’t researched creativity extensively (and in a cross-disciplinary way) thus most people don’t know what it is other than its old conventional premise that it has to do with doing “artwork”. 

The Patterns of Creativity

So what I’m getting at here is that if you see a recent book on a bookshelf that talks about a new way of looking at the world or a new way of looking at yourself but it has some complicated technical words for a title, more than likely it’s a book about creativity wherein the author is unaware that his work is describing an aspect or perspective of creativity itself. Yet it can be revealed as such by seeing the patterns within the narrative. 

One last closing thought to try to put this all into perspective. Realize that coming up with a creative solution isn’t about choosing one perspective or another. Rather creativity is about choosing one perspective and another perspective and integrating them together, even though they may seem unrelated, disconnected, or opposed. This is why creativity is so all encompassing and affects so much of our lives because it is a fundamental simple building block for emergent, complex life, allowing opposites to attract and create a whole new way of life.

Using Creativity To Articulate Creativity

In further reading Petro Poutanen’s paper on Complexity and Collaboration in Creative Group Work, I came across this quote below which pretty much encapsulates the struggles with my life’s work on creativity over the last five years or so.

Weick (1979) has described how humans enact their surroundings, which means that they react and construct meanings from their environment while in interaction with others. The process of sense-making in which people make sense of the different situations and events they encounter is in effect retrospective and iterative (Weick, 1979). According to Weick, (1995), the process of sense-making is actually not about finding the right explanation in terms of its objective accuracy as much as it is about finding a good and plausible narrative to hold the elements of the story together in order to guide action and engage others to contribute to sense-making (Weick, 1995, p. 58). Following the notion of sense-making, it is the process of constructing novel frames of reference and developing and testing them in practice that yields novelty in the sense of creativity. In this way, creativity can be seen as an interpretative process of trying to make sense of different situations and coming up with novel ways to reframe a situation (without the need to see a situation in a new light, there would be no need for creativity, and the old, habitual ways of behaving would work).

Finding the right narrative to contain all of this knowledge on creativity is really the key. I’ve told others before that it’s like finding the right thread for your life that when you pull it, it brings order to all the seeming chaos thus creating a social fabric of it that you can then easily show others.

What’s interesting is that I’ve experienced this already in my life in a more metaphorical sense. While working at a book store for a while, I was told by our wise floor manager that engaging others to read a book is really about finding the right narrative that encapsulates the story as a whole, thus making it relatable and enticing for them to read. I noticed that it would often take me experimenting with many different narratives before I found the right one that fully connected with others and pulled them into the story.

This is exactly what I’m trying to do in finding the right narrative for creativity, as it needs to universally connect with others and pull them into engaging with their own life story as well. So what I surprisingly realized here is that I’m striving to use creativity to try to articulate creativity itself. In doing so though, others can then reflect on their life, make sense of it in a greater way, and creatively find their own newer narrative to contain it as well.

And finally in realizing that I’m using creativity to articulate creativity, I’d love to help others realize that they are often utilizing creativity without knowing about it as well. Once they do realize it though, have that sense of awareness, they can then reflect back on other situations in their life and see where they’ve used it previously as well. In doing so, this empowers them in going forward to use creativity more easily and consciously in other life situations as well.

The Individual as a Complex System

Petro Poutanen has a fascinating academic paper entitled Complexity and Collaboration in Creative Group Work which strives to show how creativity in groups differs from creativity in individuals. In reading his paper so far though, I’m seeing nothing but comparisons to my own research on creativity within individuals though. In effect, the process and results are very similar.

How can this be so though when a group has multiple people to interact with each other, whereas an individual is just alone? The key is understanding creativity within the individual as though the individual is a complex system as well, a multitude. Thus creativity with an individual is not only a dialogue and conversation with oneself but an integration of the conflicting parts of oneself. One begins to trust oneself over time and even believe in oneself, solidifying ones purpose and vision in life. 

It is the following quote that really grabbed my attention though because it perfectly describes the creative process an individual goes through in understanding oneself in a much greater context beyond conventional means. To do so, the individual has to not just look at their life from a technical perspective, seeing the jobs they’ve done, but also from a social perspective, seeing how these jobs relate, revealing a connection to something deeper within oneself that goes beyond a job to something universal within their life.

First of all, both empirical articles (III and IV) highlight the importance of dialogue, which means that a discussion between participants is most productive when it has the characteristics of reflexivity and criticality; when there is no need to refrain from criticality, as is commonly thought, probably due to widespread ideation guidelines, such as brainstorming. The point here is that ideas are in conflict, not people, and from the conflicts of ideas emerge new ones. Therefore, communication that fosters the criticality and reflexivity of both their own and other’s ideas was found to be important.

Secondly, it was observed that the knowledge people shared had a dual role: on the one hand, it was the information and expertise that people could bring to the situation that allowed them to contribute to the common pool of knowledge through their experiences and background knowledge. On the other hand, it was the ability to build knowledge, i.e. to integrate and build novel constructions of what has been said that was of importance. This finding suggests two important but different group roles and ways of communicating: informants or content-experts who communicate their ideas as clearly as possible and, secondly, creativity experts, who have possibly no content- related information but who are skilful in connecting different pieces of information together to form new ideas and suggest novel frames of references for the reinterpretation of existing knowledge. For the latter group the ability to unambiguously communicate one’s idea is perhaps not as important as the ability to ask questions and make critical remarks and use nonverbal techniques. Of course, there is no reason why the same person cannot occupy both roles in a group.

The last sentence in the second quote (bolded for emphasis) is the critical one that made me have a leap of understanding in what I was reading. So to become a truly creative individual, not only does the individual have to look at oneself as both a (technical) content expert and a (social) creativity expert but the individual has to begin to start seeing themselves as a multitude, understanding that the conflicts within oneself are actually creative tension that one has an opportunity to act upon and understand better to integrate oneself holistically as a complex system.

BTW another more common name people are calling these creative individuals by is polymaths. In effect, individuals who are cross-disciplinary in nature. But it is more than just being multidisciplinary, it is evolving and becoming interdisciplinary and eventually transdisciplinary. When one reaches these higher states of integration with ones disciplines, one finally begins to understand the greater narrative and relationship that is connecting these disciplines together. More common names for these integrative forces are what people call passion and purpose

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.
Theodore Levitt

Creativity Is Seeing New Things

Just wanted to get something out before I forgot. Time and again, I keep seeing people saying that creativity is basically “thinking up new things”. While I don’t want to say this is wrong, I would like to say that I think it goes well beyond this (so it’s more than this). For me, creativity is first and foremost seeing new things.

Why the distinction between thinking and seeing? It’s because often times, based upon my own experiences of creativity within my life, you will often see new things before you can fully understand and articulate them. In a way, it relates to the word articulation itself, as it mirrors the creative process itself as one moves from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. In effect, the beginning, where you are seeing new things, is often very emotional and confusing because you feel what you’re seeing is important, like a new discovery, yet you can’t find the explicit logical words to explain what you’re seeing…yet. But in time, those words do come and you are able to make sense of what you’re seeing.

So there’s nothing wrong with saying creativity is thinking up new things, as long as one is aware that that thinking doesn’t imply a full understanding of what one is thinking. In fact, often times, creative thought of this nature is often seen as paradoxical and even seemingly absurd at first. “That can’t be possible!”, you’ll say but in time, as the pattern reveals itself and begins to make sense, it does become possible, so much so that you finally believe it yourself, even if you still can’t articulate it to others though.

The message is clear: If you want to be one of the first into new territory, you cannot wait for large amounts of evidence. In fact, you have to do exactly the opposite. If you want to be early, you must trust your intuition, you must trust your non-rational judgment and take the plunge; make the leap of faith to the new paradigm.
Joel Arthur Barker, Paradigms

Working At Living

In my last post I said I wanted to start applying the knowledge I’ve learnt to my own life and start living it which replicates my mantra of working at living what you have learnt through play. To get the ball rolling on this though, I thought it would be best to reflect way back to the origins of my journey, at the point when I set a lot of intentions and asked a lot of questions of what I wanted out of my life.

What Do I Want?

In reviewing posts back between 2005 and 2007, I noticed that I wasn’t really happy with my life. Not only was I unhappy with the way work worked but I also felt like most jobs really couldn’t encompass all that I wanted to express of myself. Because of this, I said things like “I’m dying to feel alive“, “I want to feel connected“, and “I want to be real creative“. In effect, I felt like a piece of machinery in a lot of my jobs, rather than a human being. Instead I wanted my work to feel like home for me, I place where I was accepted fully as I am, with the ability to express all that I am.

Now that’s what I was feeling at the time. What have I learnt today that applies to this and have I made any head way? Interestingly enough, what I’m realizing right now in this very moment is that, if anything, all I’ve done is improved my ability to articulate what I meant by this. Today I realize that what I want is to integrate my life. I no longer want to try to find a job that can express all that I am because I know now that’s impossible. Instead I want to do work that resonates and expresses all of the diverse aspects of who I am as a whole and collectively unifies and defines the narrative of my life which is often more commonly know as your passion.

What Have I Achieved?

But again, here’s the thing. Even though I’m much more capable at understanding and articulating what I wanted back then, have I really moved any closer to achieving what I wanted? Again, in all honesty, no. If anything, I’ve gone off on a tangent and wanted to “get a job” being an organization consultant or a change agent. In effect, to ask the same question of myself, would a job of that nature express all that I am? No, it wouldn’t. It would definitely express a much deeper aspect of myself but no, it wouldn’t express all that I am.

Weaving My Life

I remember saying way back that when you fully understand your passion and purpose in your life, it would weave all of the knowledge you’ve acquired throughout your life, no matter how marginal, and it would integrate it together eventually allowing your work to just be you living your life (so much so that it doesn’t seem like work). This is why people who often have reached this point in their life say that they can’t believe their getting paid to do what they love because they’d still do it regardless of getting paid for it.

A couple of quick examples of this off the top of my head are restaurant reviews and product reviews. I’ve noticed over my life that I have this knack for perceiving often intangible things that when I later articulate them to others, they often are surprised by how poignant and correct I am on my perception of them. For example, I love discovering new restaurants and taking photos of both the food and decor, as I talk with my wife about the qualities that make it so unique in terms of its identity. In addition, I seem quite adept at analyzing and synthesizing reviews of products, often relaying seemingly intangible yet important things to friends and family that often aren’t seen in mainstream reviews.

What I’m trying to get at here is that I am doing many different things in my life already that I just naturally do without even thinking about. The thing is though is that I’m missing the obvious next step of taking the opportunity to sustain myself with these natural activities, enabling them to become a part of my life’s work. Again in doing so, I’m not only able to express all that I am naturally but in doing so, I’m able to make my life my work and sustain myself by just living it. In effect, I’m working on designing my own life, creatively integrating playing, learning, and working into it in a way that resonates with my own values and beliefs.

There are many other things as well. For example, while I’m not doing desktop computer support work anymore, I love mobile devices like the iPad and love sharing tips and tricks about it. Another thing that both my wife and I love doing is photography, so much so that we’ve thought about selling our photos as cards but again, we’ve haven’t taken that next step to start. Even music has always been a love in my life, allowing me to express myself in ways that words often are unable, thus I’d love to start practicing composing more and seeing if that can lead somewhere as well.

Articulating My Diversity

But if you read the above though, you’ll see that things all weave around and come back to one very important thing that I’ve never been able to achieve yet so far, even though I’ve played around with it countless times. That is the ability to define and express all of this diversity within a single space, a single home, online, within a website, so that people can see all that I am as a whole. Thus it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg story. You feel like you need the one to achieve the other but you can’t seem to start the one without the other.

Anyways, I think that’s enough for now. Time to absorb my thoughts and reflect on where I’ll go from here.

 

You're all right Tia. Even as you are, you're all right. Not everyone fits in this world.
Detective Inspector John River

Stepping Off The Pulpit

I just realized something these past few days that has opened my eyes to what I’ve been potentially doing wrong with my life. And interestingly enough, it’s a slip up that I’ve made before but in this newer context of knowledge that I’m learning, I believe it is creating a wider and wider gap between myself and others. How I noticed it is by reading some of my older posts and then comparing them to my newer posts, particularly ones I’ve done on Google Plus over the past few years.

If you look at my posts on my site here from many years back, particularly between 2005 to 2007 when a lot of my feelings and emotions were finally coming out of me and being articulated into words, you’ll see that what I’m learning and sharing is done so as a personal journey. In effect, my focus is completely upon myself. I’m sharing what I’m learning and what I believe I need to apply to myself. I call this working at living what I have learnt through play, as this allows me to lead by example.

But over the past few years though, there has been a substantial change to how I communicate. More and more it’s less about what I’m learning to apply to my life and instead what I believe other people need to learn to apply to their lives. To some, this might seem like a positive step, as it seems like I’m wanting to help others. Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than to help others, but how I’m doing it could actually be harmful to others and myself in the process. That’s because instead of sharing what I’m learning to better my own life, I’m redirecting what I’m learning and instead preaching to others how they should lead and live theirs.

Cartoon by the Naked Pastor

Cartoon by the Naked Pastor

What’s weird is that I knew I was being preachy some years back and I thought I had altered my writing enough to rectify this, what still hadn’t changed though was that I was still directing what I had learnt outwards at others, rather than inwards at myself. I think this shift occurred within me because I believed that if I could help others become whole in terms of their identity then I too could become whole. But of course with this mindset and belief, it means that unless I make someone else whole then I will never be whole. Thus there is always this constant agenda in the back of my head to “save others and help them wake up and see the light”.

And for the most part, I think this is immediately apparent when I talk to others. I often communicate what I have learnt and what others need to learn to “wake up” to see these big shifts in society. But of course in talking this way, regardless of the validity of what I’ve learnt, it makes everyone else sound like idiots with blinders on. And in turn it just makes me sound like a mad idiot preaching the coming apocalypse and how I can save others by waking them up. All said and done, it is I who needs to wake up and change my methods.

Thus going forward upon my site, I’m going to try to shift everything I’ve learnt and redirect it back upon myself again instead of at others. Of course I’ll still be sharing what I’ve learnt openly but only within the context of how I can apply it to my own life. To get back into the rhythm and practice of doing this, I think the next few posts I write will reflect on what I was searching for back between 2005 to 2007 and determining how far I’ve come in achieving those desires today in my own life.

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