Feeling Ripped Apart

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.

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.

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.

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.

Creativity By Any Other Name

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.

Using Creativity To Articulate Creativity

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.