Creativity: It's Not Flow

Feedback cycles of creative flow

Creativity: It's Not Flow

Or rather, it's not the psychological flow that matters.

Creativity is a team sport that is far too often made hyper-personal & even purely psychological. It is a team sport because being alive is a collaborative event – even in its seemingly most individual moments. We are always in & of a dynamic collaboration between environments, tools, habits, formed bodies, others & infrastructures, – moving in a mutually co-creative co-shaping dynamic.This is a far more a distributed, self-organizing, emergent condition than it is one driven by the internalized individualized subject of psychology.

As a highly networked system feedbacking into itself – it has an emergent agency that can supersede the agency of the parts. In a real sense we don’t notice this because it just works (things flow).

What of creativity? Outside of any stable set of dynamic processes which acts like a ‘closed’ system there will be elements that play a significant role in determining the system— even controlling the system, but are themselves unchanged by the system — these are called “feedforward” elements. The term feedforward signifies this pushing of a system from the outside in a direction — toward a different or new state.

Feedforward is a critical aspect of creative processes: consider the development of a coherent novel process that separates itself enough from the conditions that gave rise to it. It has developed some limited autonomy, & agency – such that it has self-organizing and self-sustaining abilities – a type of autopoiesis (it’s own flow). This more-than-human process is not simply a budding off that becomes independent & exists in parallel to the dominant process. This “epicycle" — a process cycle that has come to stand outside of the major cycle “can function as if they were controlling, feedforward elements, altering & determining the system from which they arose with little change to themselves.” (Gary Tomlinson)

Flow, & “flow states” is highly relevant to the study/practice of activities such as climbing, running, playing music, etc. where one becomes so immersed in the practice that things just seem to happen – here it is correct to talk about a person being in a “flow state”. In some cases this is a requirement of the task – you cannot successfully ski down a highly technical & highly dangerous couloir if you are not in this state of flow. Similarly you cannot play a complex violin concerto outside of a flow state. But conflating this psychological state with the ecosystemic condition in a creative practice when novelty gains an agency in a feedforward manner is a serious category error. Creative processes are types of feedforward processes – what Brian Massumi calls “the event of self-futuring serially repeating itself”. For creativity, we are experimenting with the wrong spaces of flow when we take this to be about us and our felt experience.

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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