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.

The key is understanding creativity within the individual as though the individual is a complex system as well, a multitude.

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.

Video: Stars Wars The Last Jedi Clip (Rey in cave)


Innovation Is Doing New Things

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


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.


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.”


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.

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

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.

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

Revealing Connections

We need awareness of the ways we are connected with others, reflecting on the characteristics we share with others.

Dalai Lama

I Make The Path

From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole, I’ve been told what I must do and what I must be.

But this is my dream. I’ll decide where it goes from here.

I make the path.

Alice in Wonderland

The Connectivity of Creation

God is just what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God.

Each one of us is a creator. But together, we are the Creator.

Jim Gilliam

Nowhere Always Leads Somewhere

It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning.

P.D. Ouspensky

Find Your Crossroads

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.