Tools That Limit My Creative Momentum

I feel like I’m at an important point in my life’s work, a point where it’s momentum needs to shift and change, transforming into something else, so that it can naturally evolve. The key problem I’m encountering with trying to increase this momentum is energy, specifically trying to maintain and increase this energy, thus increasing my momentum in turn.

For example, right now I have a process whereby I collect and gather information by reading it in digital Kindle book form or PDF form, by archiving website articles using PrintFriendly. This process is very fluid and easy, letting me highlight text using different colours to signify importance and also to annotate highlighted text with my own notes to connect them to this larger picture that I’m seeing. The key problem with this approach is that all of my research is hidden to everyone else though (yet it’s very portable, always with me, even offline).

I’ve tried other services to replicate this process publicly but my main concern as always is maintaining the life and portability of my research. I’m tired of my research being stuck or locked within a third party service and if that service goes out of business then I’ve lost all that work (at least from a public perspective, since most services allow you to export an archive of your work for yourself).

I’ve likened this throughout the years to constructing a telephone every time you want to make a phone call.

Of course the flip side of this is using open source software that you host yourself (i.e. WordPress) but with which doesn’t offer the same fluidity and ease of use compared to other third party services. So then I have to jump to trying to figure out ways to emulate this functionality within the software which deviates from my research itself. I’ve likened this throughout the years to constructing a telephone every time you want to make a phone call. It’s ludicrous and frustrating, as from my perspective, web software and platforms, haven’t really evolved that much over the last couple of decades.

All said and done thought, it’s where I have go though if I want to continue forward, building momentum. In effect, I need to stop, modify my own platform to my own needs, so that I can progress forward.

Reflections: GamesBeat 2016 Creativity & Diversity Panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Your Shadow Self

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting & Aligning to 21st Century Work

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

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

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

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

Leaping Into The Future

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

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

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

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

Conventional Lenses Limit Our Vision

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

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

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

New Lenses, New Vision

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

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

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