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.
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.
“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 quote 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.”MATHEMATICIANS ARE BUILDING A UNIFIED THEORY OF GEOMETRIC RANDOMNESS
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.
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.HERMINIA IBARRA, WORKING IDENTITY
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.HERMINIA IBARRA, WORKING IDENTITY
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.HERMINIA IBARRA, WORKING IDENTITY
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.Herminia Ibarra, Working Identity
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.
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).Petro Poutanen
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.
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.Petro Poutanen
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.