Creative Process is an Ecosystemic Process

Two girls playing under a tree

Human creativity is an ecological practice. A critical aspect of getting a grip on this involves going down the worm-hole of “affordances”.

Affordances are “possibilities for action provided to us by relevant aspects of the environment” they structure & scaffold & ultimately co-form our activities – including our skilled engagement in creative processes. Crucially they are not objects out there in the environment – rather they are relations between embodied abilities & co-shaped aspects of the environment. It is an easy confusion, as affordances – these relations act as objects – we externalize the relation into the things we use. We see this in statement likes “the coffee cup handle affords grasping” – but the context – the relations matter:

To a spider my bike when placed in a bike rack on a sunny day affords web building and hunting possibilities. To me, the affordances will be quite different. Same environment, different affordances – different lived ecology of affordances.

We are able to engage with an ecosystem rich with affordances because of our embodied skills – abilities. Biking, feeding a cat, writing, making breakfast, having a conversation – these are socially acquired embodied abilities that require our skilled engagement with a rich field of socially formed affordances.

And this extends to other complex tasks such as creative practices.

We open up a very specific “landscape” by how we selectively respond to the pull of multiple affordances – but not all aspects of the socially co-constructed environment. And in doing so we will be changing our environment and ourselves. This action can be considered a response to the dynamic tensions of our situation in the larger context of a self-organizing system of changing context & changes in our activities.

As we develop skills in such a context it could be said that we are getting a “grip” on a field or relevant affordances. “Grip” is a wonderful term in how it is so suggestive of how things come together as being held together by a shared activity. Here we are collaboratively getting a grip on an event in the process of ongoing becoming: We join with an emerging field of affordances into a feedback & feedforward looping where on one hand we are transforming an environment into a type of “taskscape” an emergent relevant stabilized ecosystem, & on the other hand new embodied & enactive habits, practices, concepts & skills.

Creative practices involve experimentally pushing such an emergent focused ecosystem-agent coupling towards the new via strategically and experimentally blocking aspects of a historical “grip” (or coming together of a taskscape) to push the system into potentially co-emerging new affordances & abilities. These will lead towards a new transformative taskscape – ecosystem. An ecological practice…

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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