Nollind Whachell

Life in Design

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Reflections: GamesBeat 2016 Creativity & Diversity Panel

I’ve mentioned in the past that my origins were in building communities online around video games, first doing it personally on my own than eventually professionally for some of the largest video game publishers at the time (i.e. Sierra, Activision, Konami). Today though, I’m researching and writing on Creativity, Social Innovation, and the Future of Work. To some these might seem like completely different things, thus they don’t relate even slightly, but to me one is a natural progression of the other. That’s because the Future of Work is about building organizations that function more like communities, whereby playing and learning are just as important as working, thus giving a greater sense of meaning and purpose to everyone within the organization, both as an individual and as a whole.

While my foray into building communities around the video game industry fell off a cliff with the Internet Bubble bursting in 2001, I did try to find my way back in around 2005 but the companies I approached were pretty conventional and thus couldn’t see these shifts that I could see. Hell, most companies back then saw communities as an expense rather than as an asset, a bridge to their customers. Luckily today though that’s still not the case, as companies on the leading edge are becoming self-aware of this need for community and how it can release the creative potential of people, be they employees internally or customers externally.

This became clearly evident when reading the results of a recent GamesBeat 2016 panel on creativity and diversity, headed by an equally diverse group of people from within the industry. The following is a breakdown of the key topics covered by this panel and how they mirror key points and perspectives within my own research. Of particular note, Megan Gaiser’s perspective and insights were the most relatable to my own, as it was apparent she was often seeing things a step beyond her peers.

Nicole Lazzaro: “Our panel is about creativity and diversity: “What has love got to do with it?” If you think about it, creativity is the power to create something new. It’s to buck the status quo. Unconscious bias is the thing that divides us, the thing that separates us one from another. It’s almost like two separate trucks on the same highway, pulling in different directions.”

Diversity – Over the years, I’ve noticed that many notable authors have been all talking about the same thing but from different disciplinary perspectives, often using their own technical language to do so. Within their articles and books, they will even mention creativity as an element or aspect of their research and findings. In reality though, I’ve found it’s the other way around. All of these authors have been unknowing talking about creativity and their work is often an element or aspect of it. Diversity is no different. It is an element or building block of creativity. In fact the first stage of creativity relates to a sense of divergence, deviating from the norm and stepping off the path.

Love – Love is the perfect word to describe the outcome of creativity as social innovation when applied to ourselves. It is a sense of integration and wholeness, a unity of many becoming one. This is achieve through an evolutionary growth process of trusting, believing, and finally loving, be it ourselves or others.

Creating – Creativity is like energy shifting from one state to another. To transform and create something new, it often means letting go or destroying something else in the process. This is why the first stage of creativity has a sense of divergence to it. You often begin by questioning the status quo, thus opening yourself up to emptying your cup and letting go of old beliefs or perspectives that may be limiting you. Only by doing so, can you think of new possibilities and ideas. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of creativity called creative destruction that’s often unknown to most people.

Tension – Tension is an integral and generative aspect of creativity. I first started understanding this years ago when reading The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, when he described it as “creative tension” which is the “juxtaposition between your vision and your current reality”. I saw this replicated in other books like Practical Visionary by Corinne McLaughlin and even in organizational development research whereby people at the highest mindset stage of action logics (aka human development) are so in tune with creativity as a way of living that they can fluidly switch back and forth between practical present matters and future visionary matters with ease.

Megan Glaiser: “The reason I believe that creativity is the mother of diversity is because it takes an open heart and mind to genuinely welcome diverse people, perspectives, and as a result products. People know when they’re not respected as equals. They can feel it. That’s why most people only bring half of themselves to work, because they don’t feel safe enough to let down their guards and truly collaborate. By using creativity to problem-solve, we inspire diversity.”

Openness – People fear the unknown, or at the very least feel uneasy and uncomfortable around something they can’t relate to or categorize within their worldview. This has been shown time and again in many recent articles that note how most “mainstream” companies don’t want people being creative because they often think outside the norm and often proactively try to solve problems autonomously on their own in an entrepreneurial way. Thus creative people are often seen as being “disruptive” and “rocking the boat” to conventional management mindsets who’d prefer people to do just what they’re told like “reliable machines”. Therefore to be open to the creativity of others, it means one has to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and stepping into the unknown. In effect, as someone mentioned to me, you have to become comfortable disrupting yourself.

Equality – I’ve strived time again to be seen as an equal at work, yet time and again titles, departments, and bureaucracy often get in the way, regardless of how beneficial my ideas may have been at the time. I remember in particular one company, after coming up with a simple yet highly innovative solution that appeased a large portion of their customer base, that I couldn’t be a part of the feature team because I didn’t have an engineering degree. Even worse, I go no financial bonus for my idea, even though the company founder thought it was ingenious at the time. Today though, with breakthrough books like Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, we’re seeing a whole new worldview and approach to working which dissolves most of the inequality and bureaucracy in organizations, letting ideas emerge from anywhere (just as leadership will as noted further below).

Wholeness – Back in 2005, I was frustrated with the way work worked and wanted to “feel alive” in it. I felt like I couldn’t find a job that could contain all that I am, my true potential, nor find a company with a culture that felt like home, where I felt safe enough to take risks and reveal my whole self. Today I find it no different but now realize that it’s because we need to go beyond the concept of a “job” and a “resume”, as these outdated social artifacts are limiting the way we look at ourselves, both from an individual and organizational perspective. Of course to go beyond these things, allowing individuals to become more interdisciplinary (aka polymaths), we must do the same in organizations, breaking down departmental silos allowing teams to become more interdisciplinary in turn. Mash-up! by Ian Sanders and David Sloly touches upon how individuals are embracing this shift. And The Connected Company by Dave Gray and Everything Connects by Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer touch upon how organizations are embracing this shift.

Inspiration – Creativity as a process, in terms of trying to achieve a Social Innovation, is broken down into three stages: Connect, Empower, and Inspire. While many might see inspiration as a starting point, I’ve realized it’s the ending point, the final stage. Don’t get me wrong. While you can most definitely be inspired to start your own creative process by viewing the creation of someone else (as a spark if you will), you often won’t be able to complete the process until you learn to inspire yourself. This is why most artists and authors will say not to sit around waiting for inspiration because one must learn to create an environment, a space, which inspires us and awakens us emotionally, thus helping to sustain our creative heart and energies perpetually.

Megan Glaiser: “Creative leadership is simply encouraging what’s possible for the greater good. It’s leading with curiosity to discover new ways to do things instead of sticking with the status quo. In our case, we redesigned the system, since the system didn’t include us.”

Curiosity – I’ve liken the process of creativity (connecting, empowering, inspiring) similar to being an explorer, navigator, and storyteller of a whole New World. To leave the Old World though, one has to have a curiosity for what’s out there in the unknown. Without that curiosity though, there is no interest or drive to playfully explore.

Systems – In exploring this unknown New World, I’ve likened the process of creativity to stepping outside of something known into the unknown (so not just on the edge but beyond the edge) and then walking around this unknown virtually within our heads until we are able to view it from many different perspectives at once. Once we fully understand these perspectives and integrate them holographically as one, we then attain a leap of logic and see the whole of what we’re looking at as a complete and unified system (in effect, creating a whole new worldview of understanding within our minds). This mirrors Margaret Wheatley’s article on creative emergence as a three stage process of shifting from networks, to communities, and finally to systems. It also mirrors the work by Valdis Krebs and June Holley on Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving

Ru Weerasuriya: “For all of us as developers, especially in teams, to look at exactly the same problem, but find a solution for it, you need different thinking. Different thinking comes from your background, your culture, your gender, your religion. Whatever it is that makes you different will make you look at the same problem in a different way. That’s how we’ve always worked. We’ve encouraged our team because they’re diverse to look at something the same way and come up with different solutions.”

Nicole Lazzaro: “One of the major obstacles to that is unconscious bias. It’s a way of thinking that puts walls between people.”

Ru Weerasuriya: “For us it’s always been a meritocracy. Quotas go against that. For us it’s always the same thing. There is a position open. You want to be a developer, you need to be good at it. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Ultimately, no one will respect you if you can’t do the job. Whether you’re a man, a woman, minority, whether you come from anywhere, you need to be respected for the job that you do. So I don’t truly believe in quotas.”

Bias – Whatever your current perspective, mindset, or worldview, it has limitations to it which equate to this unconscious bias mentioned above. Of course the problem is that these biases create invisible “walls” and boundaries that we can’t see, thus we are often unaware of how they limit us, even when they’re right under our very noses the entire time. For example, I agree with not having quotas because they force us to act on picking talent rather than allowing the talent to emerge naturally. But of course this only works if you can overcome your unconscious bias by becoming consciously aware of it. We do this by looking inside ourselves which paradoxically allows us to step outside ourselves, thus giving us a more objective view of ourselves as a whole.

Ability – A perfect example of this unconscious bias is in meritocracy mentioned above. Ultimately it comes down to “Can the person do the job?” Well if you’re looking through a “job” and “resume” lens, as I mentioned earlier, you will be unconsciously removing people before you even get below the surface of them and understand their complexity, capacity, and potential for the work because you will auto filter and scan based upon previous job titles. In effect, it’s not about going “outside” the company to hire. It’s about going outside your existing perspectives and beliefs to hire. In this way, hiring internally or externally is irrelevant. It’s about seeing a potential in someone that you wouldn’t normal hire based upon existing beliefs. In this way, we begin to see potential possibilities, ideas, and people lying dormant under our very noses, like raw gems waiting to be mined. One way of diving deep and understanding the true potential of people is looking at their D.A.T.A. (Desires, Abilities, Temperament, Assets) as mentioned in the book JobShift by William Bridges.

Megan Glaiser: “I think it’s great that companies are putting diversity quotas and those types of tactics in place, but it doesn’t necessarily address the root of the problem, which is the need for leadership transformation. People want to be a part of the community, not a work force. Unconscious bias is holding us all back. It requires that we first become conscious of our biases so we can recondition the way we think to act differently, to lead more inclusively. True diversity — and I totally agree with you — requires a cultural reformation. And so not only do we need to ensure that diversity is hired, we also need to ensure that we put diverse people in leadership positions, so they’re in the room also making those key decisions. We need to ensure that the current leadership team — we invest in them to make sure they’re also diverse thinkers. The call to action is to reimagine how we fundamentally do business. In order to do that we need to tap into our creative intelligence, or rather re-learn it, since we were all born with it. That’s when we’re going to inspire collective intelligence, which is actually what diversity brings.”

Nicole Lazzaro: “We’re looking for a new type of leadership that’s coming. From the ground up we want to look at our processes and encourage diversity.”

Megan Glaiser: “Creativity is the most important leadership skill in the 21st century. We should be leading with it. It’s the antidote to unconscious bias, because it encourages us and inspires us to do and be better. Creativity has been dismissed in leadership historically because it couldn’t be quantified, but that’s no longer the case. There’s significant research that underscores both the logic and the benefits of leading with creative intelligence supported by analytical intelligence.”

Leadership – As I noted above, when we become more aware of our unconscious biases, we begin to see invisible connections and relationships that were hidden under our very noses the entire time. At the same time, we begin to see the true potential of people as well. This is great because suddenly we begin to see the leadership potential emerging all around us. But don’t stop there. Don’t stop at thinking who can we promote or hire to our leadership team to ensure a sense of diversity. Go beyond that. Let go of traditional leadership altogether, as being a select group controlling and managing the actions of others. In this way, leadership doesn’t become a pipeline for a select few but a core aspect of your company culture that is embodied collectively in everyone, thus evolving your organization into a self organizing one. Again books like Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux can show the way here, showing how leaders bubble up and emerge more naturally in these types of cultural environments.

Megan Glaiser: “Make curiosity a key part of everyone’s job. View the design of everything as a tool for connecting and uniting the company.”

In closing, I just want to wrap this all up by returning to my past origins in building communities online around video games. Around 2003, I began curiously questioning why the communities I helped build were so successful and positive. I realized it was because of their culture and how “we created a diverse and inclusive culture from the start”, just as Megan described how Her Interactive got started for her colleagues and herself. Later around 2008, I realized this even went further. These communities around video games were actual sandboxes where next generational organizational development approaches were being experimented with and the more I reflected back on my intuitive approaches to teamwork and self-organization within these communities, the more I saw the Future of Work mirrored within them. This is something which the books A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, as well as In The Bubble by John Thackara, are noticing as well.

As I said at the start of this post, while some may see my background in building communities online around video games as completely different from my research and writing on Creativity, Social Innovation, and the Future of Work, I see instead a natural progression and evolution that has almost taken me full circle, returning me back to my roots of where I originally started but in a different context. At the same time, it’s nice to see game development companies awakening to this same thinking and beginning to consciously design playful learning environments inside their organizations to foster creativity and diversity at work in turn.

Creativity as Random Growth

“In a paper posted online in 2013, Sheffield and Miller imagined what would happen if, every few minutes, the blind explorer were magically transported to a random new location on the boundary of the territory she had already visited. By moving all around the boundary, she would be effectively growing her path from all boundary points at once, much like the bacterial colony.”

Mathematicians Are Building a Unified Theory of Geometric Randomness

The quoted from the linked article above is freakishly similar to the way I describe the process of creativity. You are effectively stepping outside of something known, thus letting go of its existing beliefs and boundaries, thus allowing you to walking around outside of it, beyond its known edge, thus exploring a complete new unknown. The process of exploring this unknown is exactly as stated above. This unknown is like an empty circle, a landscape of a new world that one has to explore and discover. To do so though, the path around this unknown isn’t linear but random, like your teleporting between points and looking at it from different angles (so you actually feel like a “blind explorer” at first).

Over time, as you teleport between these points and understand what you’re seeing from many points at once, you see and understand the meaning of what you’re looking at. I’ve likened this to a hologram with each perspective or point on the outer boundary being like a beam that adds to the clarity of what you’re looking at.

Most important of all, this process can be applied to ourselves. In effect, we let go of societal expectations and discover who we are and what we want on our own. In effect, we forge, or grow, our own path just as the quote above indicates. Over time, when we do so, we start seeing the invisible relationships between things which empowers us and gives us new capabilities in the process (which mirrors how emergence works), just as another quote from the article notes below. 

“It’s like you’re in a mountain with three different caves. One has iron, one has gold, one has copper—suddenly you find a way to link all three of these caves together,” said Sheffield. “Now you have all these different elements you can build things with and can combine them to produce all sorts of things you couldn’t build before.”

BTW, following this analogy, two of these caves are finding and understanding your Passion & Purpose. Or put another way, these three caves are the three stages of the creativity process itself. 

PS. I also just realized that this “randomness” correlates perfectly with how emergence works which is encapsulated by the second stage of the creative process. 

Embracing Your Shadow Self

One of the key things I’m discovering on my journey is that to transform and integrate ourselves, we have to not only accept that we have a shadow self within ourselves but to openly embrace it. The reason being is that if we ignore or deny the existence of it, the stronger its hold will be upon us. By recognizing and accepting it though, we are able to step beyond it. 

The thing is though, while I’ve read this time and again in the articles I’ve researched, when I encounter other people who are also undergoing this deep journey, there seems to be this fear or aversion of openly recognizing this side of ourselves and discussing how we are striving to overcome it. In effect, there is this whitewashing of the deep struggle within us, striving to maintain a facade of positiveness to avoid discussing this darker aspect of ourselves. It reminds me of people wanting to avoid admitting or talking about depression which only makes its hold on us all the more stronger.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. If we give into our shadow self and our depression, we shift and become a victim of it by accepting it without seeing a way around it. In effect, “This is my reality, I may as well accept my lowly fate.” Obviously this is a trap that our ego wants us to fall into and we must learn to avoid it as well. Thus the trick is to accept it being there, what it’s trying to do to us, but step beyond it at the same time. Nevertheless to do so is a monumental challenge which is why I believe those who have undergone this struggle should share their experiences with it, so as to help others better understand the process of doing so.
With that in mind, I’d like to point out two great sources who I believe are doing wonderful work in this area.

Brené Brown is without a doubt a seasoned traveller in this field because she, herself, has openly talked about her own struggles within her own journey of acceptance. Encapsulating this as vulnerability, she emphasizes the acceptance and sharing of this side of ourselves so that we can collectively rise above it. 

Maria Popova, at her website Brain Pickings, is another excellent source of inspiration, as she often discovers and shares the stories of countless creative icons of our time and how they have struggled through this process themselves. Intimate details of their battles with and within themselves are revealed, showing how with time and reflection that battle shifts to one of love and acceptance of oneself. 

Shifting & Aligning to 21st Century Work

Fast Company has an article entitled LinkedIn’s Top Three Secrets To Getting Hired In 2016 by Eddie Vivas, Head of Product at LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions. What I found interesting about it is that it does show where things are headed in terms of The Future of Work but at the same time shows how most companies (even those at the forefront like LinkedIn) are still missing what’s under their very noses, thus hampering the very change they are looking for.

The top two hottest skills in 2016—cloud computing and data mining—didn’t even exist a few short years ago. The world is simply changing too quickly for even young professionals to rely on the hard-won skills from their college years. You may choose a well-researched major or what looks to be a stable career path, but there’s no guarantee those skills will be in demand in 10 years’ time—sorry!

In such a world, it’s difficult to predict which industries and jobs will face decline and which will be the next wave. How many companies employed a chief data scientist or an economist in 2011? Now some companies (LinkedIn included) have both.

For employees, that means everyone should be thinking about developing new skills right now in order to keep up, or how they could adapt their existing skills to a new specialty. Job seekers who will come out on top will be those who stay curious and are lifelong learners. For companies, it’ll mean arming existing workforces with new knowledge, getting creative with job requirements, and keeping an eye out for skills that could transfer well into newly imagined roles.

Leaping Into The Future

For anyone who has read JobShift by William Bridges, they’ll know that what’s described above is a clear marker and waypoint to a future without jobs (something which Mr. Bridges foresaw back in 1995). To grasp this leap of logic though, one needs to first understand that a future without jobs isn’t everyone being unemployed but rather a future with bountiful, “unpackaged” work. In effect, just as organizations are beginning to break down the borders and silos within themselves, so too will the borders of work itself—a “job” as a rigidly defined package of work—be broken down as well.

The second leap of logic that one needs to understand to embrace and understand this emerging future is that it’s about going beyond adapting your existing skills to a new speciality and instead understanding how your skills can be adapted to multiple specialities at once. In effect, what’s being described above in the article is nothing more than a stepping stone to something bigger. In other words, to deal with the ever increasing change before us, organizations will need individuals that aren’t just capable of adapting their skills to something new every few years but are capable of adapting their skills in the moment, as the need arises. By doing so, this allows both the individual and organization to not only cope with change but to creatively embrace its complexities as well.

These types of individuals and organizations are so creatively adaptable, they are often referred to as being fluid. They’ve achieved this state because they have let go of the outdated structural limitations of a job and evolved to a more expansive social structure of passion and purpose which allows them to easily flow between seemingly diverse work. In effect, instead of a future of scarcity focused on the problem of finding their next job, individuals are focused on a future of abundance with unlimited work opportunities before them, thus finally truly releasing their creative potential in the process.

The third and final leap of logic is understanding how work will shift away from being centered around jobs and instead centered around passion and purpose. This mirrors the noted shift, mentioned in the article above, from you having to push out to an organization to find work as a job and instead the pull of your passion and purpose (integrated together as your life’s work) gravitating and aligning the organization to you. This is achieved when individuals begin to see what unifies their skills at a deeper core level which in turn emerges as their passion and understand their own deeper values as their purpose

Conventional Lenses Limit Our Vision

As I noted above though, many organizations, even those at the forefront of this change like LinkedIn, are actually impeding this change rather than embracing it. The reason for this can be revealed by looking further at the article, in particular the following quote below.

That suggests many companies are holding out for “A” players with all the right skills at the same time that more and more professionals are looking to change employers. But they don’t seem to be finding each other—which means we may need smarter ways to get connected.

In effect, it’s not that they aren’t finding each other but rather they aren’t seeing each other. That’s because they are still looking at each other through a job lens which limits them to what they are seeing. Thus the company doesn’t see the potential of the individual and the individual doesn’t see the potential of themselves for the work because both are trying to achieve an alignment through job titles rather than aligning through transferable skills (which reveal and define the individual’s unifying passion). Thus no matter how often they look, there’s always this disconnect because of the method or lens of comparison.

New Lenses, New Vision

When both individuals and organizations start looking through a lens of passion and purpose though, suddenly there is an abundance of potential people for the work, even to the point that the organization starts seeing potential people within their own organization, thus avoiding the need to look externally. To put this metaphorically, many individuals and organizations are often blind to what is under their very noses. By shifting or reframing their perspective, suddenly they awaken to a whole new world of possibilities that were previously hidden and invisible to them before. In effect, nothing’s changed. We’re still the same people. But we’re looking at ourselves and our potential in a much greater, inclusive, and empowering way.

Last but not least, with this new vision, did you notice the universal pattern between finding people and finding your passion? Just as we are now finding more and more connections and relationships between people below the surface, so too are we seeing these connections and relationships within ourselves. In effect, look beyond and below the direct visible links, both within and without, and start understanding how these weaker invisible links are allowing not only organizations to become much more dynamic and complex but individuals as well. 

So while I wouldn’t downplay the value of a first-degree connection as a valuable “in,” it’s important to pay close attention to that second layer if you’re in the market for a new opportunity…

Striving To Overcome Complex Judgement

I mentioned before that I don’t have any mentors or guides that can relate to the transition I’m going through, so I often end up learning and growing by reading books and articles by others that I come across that seem to be on the same journey as myself. One author, Venessa, who has a blog called Emergent By Design, I’ve read repeatedly in the past few years but I haven’t been to it in a long while. In visiting recently, I noticed two blog posts by her from last year, What Mental Slavery Looks Like: Repressive & Reactive Patterns and When The Mind Hijacks My Flow State, that really resonate with the struggle I’m going through.

The Maelstrom of Voices

Within these these two posts, she talks about a “society of personalities” within her head that often sidetrack her from making creative progress in her life.

the Critic would cluck its tongue, “tsk, tsk. look at you. totally out of control. way to keep your shit together.”

the Servant would apologize, “ugh, i didn’t mean it. i’m a horrible person.”

the Slave Driver would spur me on, “be more self-righteous! remind them of all the ways you do more than your fair share!”

the Victim would be both helpless and indignant, “everyone’s always trying to use me, and i guess that’s what i deserve.”

at the end of the day, neither of these patterns was what i actually meant to say or do. they were the result of pathways laid down long ago by the desire to meet the expectation of family or cultural conditioning. and apparently they were still calling the shots.

i can’t remember what it felt like to be connected to my creative essence, or who i was then. i only know that i have become a society of personalities. i am exhausting myself maintaining the dynamics between them. the tyrant and slave, the victim and abuser, the oppressor and oppressed, all playing out their parts. one faction mercilessly berating me for my failures, the other trying to survive the onslaught. i keep trying to “push through,” hoping that there is a hump somewhere in the not too distant future, that if i can just get over it, things will right themselves. this of course is not true, and no matter what output i produce, i’m dissatisfied with it, and furious and disappointed with myself. every day i get more and more frustrated, more and more depleted.

In reading this, I know that she is ahead of me on this journey. Why? Because she’s aware enough of the voices that she is ability to differentiate them into their different perspectives. In my case, they are all just one voice (as I’ve never thought of differentiating them). And often times for me, they’re not so much voices as flashes of imagery that relay a feeling of expectation and judgement from each.

Transcending The Voices

In thinking about this today though, I had an epiphany. Each of these voices, these society of personalities, almost sound like they each match a specific stage of human development of making sense and meaning, also known as an action logic. For example, the Servant sounds like it matches the Diplomat which is an early stage of human development whereby the individual wants to belong so much that they will do anything to conform to the group. And the Slave Driver almost sounds like it matches the Expert which is the next stage of human development whereby the individual focuses on differentiating themselves from others so much, that they strive to impose, control, and belittle others in their efforts to do so.

If it sounds like these are just very negative stages of human development, they’re not. I’m just focusing on the negative aspects or fears of each stage. Each has a positive side as well.  The emphasis here though is to show the striking similarity to these voices and how they seem to match the negative aspects of each of these stages of human development. In effect, even though one is able to progress and develop positively through the various stages, each one of these negative aspects from each stage still sits in their mind, making their ego more and more complex as one develops to the latter stages.

Increasing Complexity

What I find remarkable about this is that it matches the descriptions of the tests by the Devil in the Bible and even the stages of testing in The Alchemist. In effect, the more one gets closer to integrating the complexity of themselves as a whole person, the more complex the challenges they face to do so. I’ve describe this before as an increase in paradoxes that one faces, the closer they get to the final (albeit as far as we know) stage of development. In fact in the final stage, the goal isn’t so much to integrate and control these voices but to let go of trying to control them and just accept and witness them as they are. In doing so, one transcends them and lets go of a fixed sense of individual identity, taking on one of a much more transpersonal nature (i.e. beyond the self, universal, timeless, fluid).

Of course, I know this all, having researched and figured it out over the years, but knowing is not enough. It’s like reading something versus actually experiencing it. In experiencing it, you finally truly understand the depth and simplicity of it, its wisdom. Thus in my mind, it sounds simple and logical for me to just let go of having expectations and judgements on myself so that I stop having expectations and judgements of others but it’s easier said than done. The societal conditioning goes so very deep and it’s hard to unravel.

Valuing Oneself

In fact, what I find interesting is how I differ from Venessa in her struggle (or at least from external appearance based upon what I’ve read of her from her posts). You see I often find it fairly easy to obtain a flow state in my writing and love the curiousity and exploration of researching my life’s work in understanding creativity. Where everything falls apart for me is what to do with all of this amazing knowledge and wisdom I’m accumulating. In effect, while my exploratory research side feels amazing and fruitful, my other side sits their judgementally and says “What are the results of this? How are you supporting yourself with your work?” That’s where everything falls apart and I feel irresponsible and useless (regardless of all of the amazing things I’ve discovered along the way).

It’s a struggle for me. My research implies a letting go of expectations and judgements of myself and others, yet it seems impossible to do so until I can sustain myself economically and in such a way that works within this new way and New World of thinking and doing. Why? Because if I just fall back into a conventional job, all of the things around it just keep pulling me back into the old way and Old World of thinking and doing. In effect, it causes a regression in oneself as you fall back into an earlier stage of development. 

Alas, it seems that unless I become a monk, giving up my worldly possessions and live based upon what others give me, this goal of letting go seems unrealistic to attain. And yet I know people have already made this leap. And yet how did they get around this stage of the journey? Alternatively is it because while I’m living authentically with my writing and taking leaps with it, I’ve still yet made the full leap in living what I’m writing? In effect, as my mantra of old goes, I’m not fully yet “working on living what I have learnt through play” which represents creativity as an integration of playing, learning, and working in harmony with each other, thus allowing you to finally live a life whereby you truly feel alive.

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

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