Describing The Seemingly Indescribable Aspects of Creativity

Over the past five years or so, my work has been culminating and really starting to take on form for me.  To put it another way, it’s been synthesizing and crystallizing into clarity. As I’ve noted in my last post though, while this clarity has been emerging for me, it’s been difficult and a struggle to relay it to others though.

Articulating The Unknown

Particularly I remember one conversation with someone, where I expressed my desire to write my research all out into a cohesive form but how difficult it was to do so. This person had written some of his own fictional work already and said to me, “What’s the problem? You just need to write it out now.” The problem I think people like this are missing is that I’m not writing a fictional story, where I can just make up elements to make the narrative work, nor am I writing about something fully known, like writing a technical manual for some software. I’m writing about something that is unknown, yet struggling to be known.

The closest comparison I can give to trying to understand creativity is trying to understand quantum physics. You can’t just easily write out what you know and are observing because what you know and are observing often goes against everything conventionally know. As it was noted in an article I found the other day, this is because creativity destroys paradigms. So it’s like trying to explain something to someone in which you can’t use a basis of knowledge (i.e. an existing paradigm) to describe it. This is why people often have to use metaphors instead, saying at best it is similar to this or that.

Metaphors Bridge The Unknown

For myself, I’ve used metaphors existensively over the past years to try to encapsulate what creativity is like, yet I find trying to find and use just one metaphor often doesn’t fully encapsulate all of creativity. Thus I’m continually going in this loop, using different metaphors to describe it, yet unable to find a metaphor that encompasses it all. Because of this, I’ve been quite hard on myself, saying things like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I figure this out?” But that all changed recently.

A few weeks back, I came across a new book entitled The Storm of Creativity by Kyna Leski and John Antonelli which I’m currently in the process of reading now. What pulled me to the book was the metaphor of creativity as a storm, as I’ve used similar metaphors describing creativity like a maelstrom, tempest, tornado,  and hurricane which has chaos on its outside, yet a calm stability within its core. What really excited me was the book structure though. In effect, while the storm metaphor was the overarching theme, each chapter tried to give a different perspective of creativity, thus helping you truly understand creativity only by synthesizing all of these diverse perspectives into one.

Why this is remarkable is that I’ve used this same metaphor to describe the creative process as well. In effect, the creative process is like virtually walking around something unknown, seeing it from different perspectives, and then synthesizing those differing, almost contradictory, perspectives into one integrated perspective which helps you understand it as a whole (which mirrors the often told Blind Men and The Elephant parable).

Being Comfortable With Ambiguity

So today, I now feel much more relaxed with my work and with my struggle to articulate it. In effect, if some of the leading people on creativity research are having difficulty articulating what it is, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for my struggle in articulating it as well. To put it another way, this struggle is a normal part of the creative process itself. So while it may feel like you’re doing something wrong and failing, it’s actually a normal part of the process. Best of all, I’m excited because many of the metaphors I’ve used to try to articulate creativity are similarly being used by others to try to describe it as well. Thus collectively our differing perspectives are merging and finding a commonality with one another, helping creativity to take shape with even more clarity.

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.

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