Nollind Whachell

Life in Design

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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.

Understanding the “Relationship” Between Creativity & Social Innovation

The challenges we currently face are without precedent. More people live on this planet now than at any other time in history. The world’s population has doubled in the past 30 years. We’re facing an increasing strain on the world’s natural resources. Technology is advancing at a headlong rate of speed. It’s transforming how people work, think, and connect. It’s transforming our cultural values.

If you look at the resulting strains on our political and financial institutions, on health care, on education, there really isn’t a time in history where you could look back and say, “Well, of course, this is the same thing all over again.” It isn’t. This is really new, and we’re going to need every ounce of ingenuity, imagination, and creativity to confront these problems.

Sir Ken Robinson

While it’s becoming more and more apparent today that creativity is becoming essential within the 21st century, it may be difficult to see and understand how creativity can help us transcend these problems, especially since many of them are often social and inherently intangible in nature (i.e. culture). A simple way to bridge this gap of understanding though and make these social problems tangible is by seeing them as social systems and then understanding how creativity is able to transform these systems as a whole.

Creativity & Innovation

Before we jump into the systems part of it though, let’s try to understand the basics of creativity first by taking a look at one of the definitions of it.

“Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.”
Wikipedia

And just to be on the safe side, let’s get one more perspective and definition of creativity but this time showing how innovation relates to it.

“Creative thinking is characterized by unusual ideas and distant associations. To be considered creative in scientific terms, an idea must be original or novel and also appropriate, useful, relevant to a task. Innovation is a product of creativity.”
Explorations of Creativity

Memory network diagram from Explorations of Creativity showing how "Linkages among distant items may produce innovative output."

Memory network diagram from Explorations of Creativity showing how “Linkages among distant items may produce innovative output.”

Systems

Now lets explore the basics of systems using the following definitions and quotes below.

“A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.”

“Before going too far in that direction, it’s a good idea to stop dissecting out elements and to start looking for the interconnections, the relationships that hold the elements together.”

“A system generally goes on being itself, changing only slowly if at all, even with complete substitutions of its elements — as long as its interconnections and purposes remain intact.”

“If the interconnections change, the system may be greatly altered.”

“Changes in function or purpose also can be drastic.”

Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems

To summarize and simplify the above, a system is a collection of elements organized within a relationship and working collectively towards a common purpose. Transforming a system isn’t achieved by changing the elements of the system but rather by changing the relationship and/or purpose of the elements.

the-nature-of-the-future-distributed

Diagram from The Nature of the Future by Marina Gorbis

Examples of Social Systems

Before we go on though, let’s quickly go over some examples of social systems to help visualize them within our minds.

Systems Thinking, Wikipedia

Systems Thinking, Wikipedia

Networks, communities, organizations, and institutions are often the ones that easily come to mind when thinking about social systems today. More complex social systems that are often difficult to grasp for people would be things like cultures and world views.

What most people completely miss though is that our sense of self-identity is a social system itself. In effect, we are comprised of a collection of elements (i.e. experiences, knowledge) and they collectively define our sense of identity by the way they are organized within a relationship that achieves an overall purpose.

Transforming Social Systems

So within an organization, many people may change within it, coming and going, but those people as elements won’t change the organization much until the collective relationship and purpose of those people change as a whole. And with regards to the Future of Work, that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Silos, boundaries, and borders are dropping within organizations and people are connecting and interacting in completely new ways and with completely new values. In effect, old relationships that previously limited the way the organization worked are now being broken and reformed to create new ways of working.

Stage diagrams from Building Smart Communities Through Network Weaving by Valdis Krebs

Stages from Building Smart Communities Through Network Weaving by Valdis Krebs

In terms of individuals, it’s the same thing. Many of us are being limited today by an old relationship which has us defining our identity and self-worth almost completely upon society’s extrinsic needs and purpose with little value for our own. But with the Future of Work, we are rethinking the extrinsic relationship and purpose that often defines us by others and are now seeing new ways to intrinsically define ourselves through our own chosen relationship and purpose. In fact, another more common word that represents this “relationship” of your life redefined in a more intrinsically unified way is passion (i.e. your passion & purpose).

Creativity: Breaking & Reforming

So to summarize and simplify all of the above, creativity allows us to transform ourselves, both individually and collectively, by redefining the relationships and purpose both within us and between us. In effect, creativity isn’t simply an act of forming new relationships or associations between things but rather an act of forming new relationships between things by breaking and letting go of old relationships in the first place. One cannot occur without the other, as it is this creative destruction which makes the creative construction possible, which is why creativity can often be seen as a divergent act that can threaten the stability of things.

Opening, Exploring, & Closing from Gamestorming by Dave Gray

Opening, Exploring, & Closing from Gamestorming by Dave Gray

But remember one key important thing though, especially with regards to transforming ourselves. The elements which form us stay the same. Thus we don’t have to fear a sense of losing ourselves because we aren’t starting over from scratch but rather are rearranging the way we look at ourselves as a whole and becoming more of who we are. This is the emergence of who we are in action. And I can speak from experience when saying that when you finally shift the way you look at your life, with a new sense of passion and purpose to it, you’ll suddenly start seeing an evolving, meaningful order to it, whereas previously you may have only seen a chaotic, meaningless mess.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.
Professor Charles Xavier

Embracing Your Craziness

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the results of this years Peter Drucker Forum and based upon what I’ve seen so far, it appears that things haven’t change much from last year. While it does seem like more and more people are seeing the changes needed to transform the way work works, it seems as though many do not want to accept these changes and then act upon them. Now if it sounds like I’m being judgemental of these people, I’m not. If anything, I want to show how this is completely normal behaviour.

What I’m talking about here is how people deal with paradigms, as described by Joel Arthur Barker within his book Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. Paradigms effectively act as physiological filters that can prevent us from seeing things, even if they are plain as day under our very noses.

You are quite literally unable to perceive data right before your very eyes.

But it is not just visual. You listen but do not hear. You touch but do not feel. You sniff but don’t smell. All the senses are mediated by the Paradigm Effect.

But as I noted above, I think people are finally beginning to see things. What’s holding them back though is that they still don’t believe what they are seeing. It just still seems too crazy. And that is where the greater problem lies for many. We are fearful and afraid of being seen as crazy by our peers. Any yet to move forward, we need to learn how to embrace this craziness and make the leap.

Making The Impossible Possible

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Alice in Wonderland

You see I’m realizing that the more we ignore what we are seeing, the more crazy and agitated we become. Therefore,  paradoxically it is only by accepting and believing the craziness that we can prevent ourselves from going crazy. If this seems ludicrous then you just have to remember where we are going.

The world is changing rapidly and we must change rapidly with it. We need to let go of the Old World that is dying and step forward into the New World that is emerging. Only by letting go can we grasp and take hold of the new. Therefore, to step into this New World, you pretty much need to be crazy because everything within it has been shifted and works differently than the Old World. In effect, the whole system has changed.

It’s Hard To Let Go

To give one example of this, I keep laughing every time I see a discussion around the problem of managers. They are a social artifact of management that is no longer needed because management, while still existing, transforms and shifts to the entire organizational body with everyone self-managing themselves and the organization as a whole.

Some of the recaps of the Drucker Forum have pretty much stated this outright as well (i.e. everyone is a manager) but in the same breadth of saying that managers are no longer needed, they continue describing how managers should work within these new organization. This only shows how strong a hold the old ways of work are so ingrained in our minds that it is almost next to impossible to let them go, even when we want to do so.

Leading By Example

Finally, the most humorous thing I noted of all about these recaps is this foreboding sense of “What now? Who’s leading the charge?” In effect, for those who do seem gung ho about stepping into this future, it seems as they don’t want to be the ones taking that messy first step and landing flat on their face. But that’s the only way to move forward because every first step is always a difficult one and that’s how we learn through failure.

Therefore, the people leading the charge will need to be everyone everywhere to make it a collective momentum and tipping point. This in turn is the future of leadership and how it shifts to the entire collective or organization as well.

To close things off, I’d like to enclose a quote below that I wrote back in 2013 after last years Peter Drucker forum. While people are finally starting to grasp my first two points about everyone being a manager and leader, it appears that it still might take another year before they understand how everyone is a customer.

Transforming work. Everyone is a manager. Everyone is a leader. Everyone is a customer.

When The Many Become One

In the past, I’ve tried to express that I keep seeing all of these patterns around me and I’m noticing that these patterns are converging into a greater narrative. For example, I keep seeing all of these notable people writing books around seemingly diverse different topics. Yet if you go deeper below the surface of what’s being said, all of these books are talking about the same thing but just from different perspectives or disciplinary languages.

Today, I feel like I’m going insane with the weight of what I’m seeing because I keep seeing all of these patterns around me and they are almost everywhere I look now. Why it’s overloading is because of the repetition of the pattern. It’s like a tornado approaching me and everything is being picked up and tossed into the air. You don’t know which way is up anymore because you’re overloaded by all that you see.

Copernicus' Solar System from De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium

Copernicus’ Solar System
from De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium

And yet what I’m slowly realizing is that all of these patterns have a commonality in that they overlap and connect with each other. The best way I’ve tried to describe this in the past is imagine what it was like being an early astronomer studying the heavens. At first, you just saw a jumble of patterns that seemed chaotic. But over time, after seeing the patterns over and over again, you begin to see a relationship between them and behold the chaos transforms into a unified and integrated order of our solar system.

The Web of Life

Now while the above patterns are almost effortlessly for me to see on a daily basis, the difficulty of course is trying to explaining what I’m seeing and put into words. One thing that I can be sure of though is that this greater narrative goes way beyond just business and changing the way work works. It almost goes to a more universal level and changes the very notion of what it means to be human and our potential both individually and collectively.

To put this another way, I’m seeing how this greater narrative relates to both not only organizational development but also personal development. In effect, the pattern and approach is the same for both. Therefore collectively combined together, it is a social development approach that can help humans take the next step in their evolution.

Therefore just as our organizations today are trying to break down their silos and boundaries to release their untapped potential, so too are individuals doing the same very thing. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t want my identity to be tied to my job title because my past jobs have never adequately encompassed all that I am. Therefore, I’m trying to express myself, all that I am, in a new way by taking all of the seemingly fragmented aspects of myself and making them one integrated whole.

Value The Marginal

Now while this may seem grandiose, it doesn’t feel this way to me. If anything, it feels simply essential. And more importantly, it is not something I’m so much creating as something I’m just seeing emerging. Therefore I more often feel like a messenger than a creator, witnessing this emergence. And in terms of communicating, my struggle is in trying to simplify what I’m seeing and trying to put it into words that anyone, even a child, could understand because I want it to be understood just as universally as I’m seeing it.

What I’m also realizing is that this is not something new. In effect, life is cyclic in nature and to me it seems like we are not discovering but instead rediscovering these development approaches, just in the same way that we are rediscovering ourselves. In effect, some of our best potential often arises from the aspects of ourselves that we have discarded within ourselves in the past because society didn’t deem it of value.

It is only when we take these marginalized aspects of ourselves and of our society and integrate them completely together that the many fragmented parts finally become one purposeful entity. This relates to what I’ve said before about the need for leaders with sight and vision. It is not about recruiting new talent out there. It is about seeing the potential and talent already within your organization and already within you in your personal life.

Use edges and value the marginal.

Permaculture Principle #11

Integrating Ourselves

While starting to read the book No Boundary by Ken Wilber, I stumbled across something that I’m surprised I never noticed before. In the opening of the book, Ken describes five levels of consciousness which we traverse through in struggling to identify ourselves. This wasn’t that new to me because it mirrors closely with what I’ve learnt from action logics.

What did differ though was how I was looking at the different stages of action logics. I was perceiving them as a linear line or arc of progression. In reading Ken’s elegant description though, it became apparent to me that these stages weren’t a linear line but rather a circle. In effect, our progression is like Life itself, the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.

I find it elegant because it removes this sense of levels, of one person being higher or elevated over another if they are at a different stage of development. Instead it creates this sense of a circular 360 degrees of awareness instead (which fits with his usage of the word spectrum). Thus the more stages you achieve, the greater your sense of awareness and perception of the world around you. This reminds me of a documentary on Ancient Egypt and how they perceived an evolved and empowered individual.

Moving Beyond The Deconstructed World

What also struck me as interesting is the way Ken described this progression. Over our lives we create more and more boundaries between things as we further analyze ourselves in relation to the world around us and even within us. For many of us, this is the world we grew up within and learnt of from history. In effect, the world is like a machine, a great clockwork with many separate parts.

Yet this isn’t reality. It is paradoxically everything and yet nothing, all at once. Thus we struggle to make whole again that which we have ripped apart through analysis. This is the synthesis we desire, not only to make sense of the chaotic world around us but also the chaos within us. We seek to be whole again, integrated, rather than something with so many pieces that we feel like we are going to dissipate into nothingness like some ethereal creature.

Opening, Exploring, & Closing from Gamestorming by Dave Gray

Opening, Exploring, & Closing from Gamestorming by Dave Gray

And in thinking of this, it struck me how poignant Joseph Campbell’s cyclic Hero’s Journey is and how it relates so closely to what Dave Gray describes in his book Gamestorming. The first “opening” part represents analysis, a breaking down of things, until we enter this middle limbo world of chaos, where we don’t know which way is up because we are swimming in so much information. The final “closing” part represents synthesis, a reforming of our ideas, our world view, and of our very selves, as we re-enter the world once again, albeit a completely new one, having crossed the “bridge”.

Designing Your Life

I think this is what I’ve always found lacking in so many books that I’ve read. Many of them are technically focused on business or design, yet what they are missing is that their techniques can actually enable people to design their own lives. For example, Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work has a section which talks about “Stock and Flow” which is just another way of describing the flow and emerging structure in your life.

Stock and Flow from Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Stock and Flow from Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

For many of us, we seek out flow states because that’s when we seem happiest. Yet we are happy not because of the flow state itself but because of what is created from that flow state: structure. In effect, we’re productive and have created something that flows from the creative expression of ourselves, our sense of identity. Thus we have not only created something, a product for example, but in the act of creation we are creating ourselves.

And like Life itself, this structure doesn’t just magically appear overnight but instead slowly emerges via emergence which is how larger complex things arise from simple patterns and interactions. This mirrors with my Connect, Empower, and Inspire mantra of creation whereby Connecting is about seeing patterns in the flow (which is the easy part) and Empowering is seeing the structural relationships between the patterns (which is the hard part) until it all comes together like a map and Inspires you into action (because you finally see the way).

Moving Forward By Letting Go

Now here’s the final icing on the cake. While some might say that an emphasis on analysis has caused the “break down of this world”, I don’t think it is something that should be discarded but rather it should be seen as a stepping stone in our development. In effect, for synthesis to occur, you have to have analysis first. Therefore the deconstruction leads to the reconstruction and the transformation as a whole.

To put it into another perspective, without this ability to deconstruct ourselves, we lack the ability to flexibly adapt and reconstruct ourselves for the changing times. Thus this analysis and synthesis combined together allows us to make the evolutionary leaps we need to continue growing and surviving.

And we do survive. We are not disappearing and we’re not starting over from scratch, losing our identity in the process. Instead we are reshaping and transforming ourselves, our identities, for the times, so that our story can continue. Paradoxically by letting go of what we were, we become more of who we really are.

© 2016 Nollind Whachell. All rights reserved.

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