Affordances for a Coherent Approach to Creativity

A soccer ball, grass and bare feet enable constraints to form a pickup soccer game

Affordances, Constraints, Assemblages, Agency, Exaptation, Enaction – these are not just a set of discrete sexy concepts to add to your innovation practices piecemeal – they are part of a coherent approach to creativity.

Nor are they a set of exceedingly hard to grasp, non-practical, “only good for theorizing” concepts. We engage our worlds pragmatically everyday via these logics.

An Example of Affordances: A Pick Up Soccer Game in the Park

Think of sitting in a park (a short grassy field) with a few friends and a ball. You have a blanket and the field affords lying down, and the under inflated ball affords pillowing your head and napping. At some point you take off your shoes and use them as goals, not far apart. The socks become markers of the field’s dimension. There are not many of you and a style of play emerges – you are finding what this organization of the field and your barefooted bodies affords you: no long passes into space, no hard kicks at goal, short passes and light touches emerge, you use your body to create space. Heads, knees, insides of feet, shoulders and hips come to the fore in new ways, as does specific bits of grass and irregularites in the ground.

Someone has to leave, so shoes and socks are gone and the goals become a single shoe at each end and the field is marked in memory only. Again the affordances shift, play happens around the “goal” and strong passes make the ball bounce over the shoe in the grass and that is not considered a goal. A new style/organization of play is emerging in the dance of affordances cohering evolving bodies, goals and environment.

Exhaustion envelopes the spirit of play and the players transform into seekers of rest. The picnic wanders to some trees which afford backs rest, the cool shaded grass affords the legs respite, and wine can be drunk in the dappled light.

The space has been “territorialized”, “deterritorialized” and “reterritorialized” many times over the afternoon – a napping place, soccer field, & furniture for rest… and so have the people, tools, concepts, practices and habits – each coming into being, and shifting in identity as relational dynamics shifted. And with each shift the emerging relations (the emergent affordances/constraints) led the way. That an underinflated ball on rolling grass with bare tender feet aimed at a shoe affords either erratic bounces or slow passes pulls the world into a certain logic.

Here creativity is everywhere, new styles emerge as ways of making affordances bend and shift are inventively stabilized. Subjectivities and meaning co-evolve in the feeling of the play.

We can, in this, understand the integrated coherence of a set of creativity/innovation concepts that can all too easily just become a list: affordances, constraints, distributed agency, emergence, exaptation, assemblage, etc.

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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