How Does Something Come From Nothing?

Crow standing on a man thinking

How does something come from nothing?

This is the age old question for innovation and creativity.

But, it is a false problem, as Henri Bergson acutely argued over a century ago — we are mistaking the more for the less. We are assuming that nothing has to come before something. That, what is now, had to be there in the beginning.

These false assumptions underpinned a branch of greek philosophy that became central to the explanation of how the christian god could create reality from nothing as the “unmoved mover”. And this driving question and this model became central to the development of western approaches to creativity: individual, immaterial, from nothing and imposed.

Our classical ideas of innovation are “ex nihilo” — they imagine we start from something close to a clean slate ("think outside the box")— removed from the world and developing novel ideas to impose on the world. These processes also tend to focus on individuals for this spark of “ex nihilo” creativity.

But neither creativity nor innovation is “ex nihilo” — from nothing, rather they are “ab initio” — from the beginning. Creativity and innovation have always been there and are ongoing — reality is composed of dynamic spontaneously self-creative processes.

Our habits, concepts, practices, and tools need to be developed for engaging with ongoing emergence.

- Creativity and innovation are always already ongoing.
- Innovations are emergent outcomes of distributed emergent creative processes.
- It is not about looking inward but looking outward.
- It is not about singular creativity but co-creativity.
- “Either everything shares in creativity or there is no creativity” (Ames & Hall)

Innovation is a distributed process with many agents (beyond the human — such as tools, habits and environments), working across many scales (from self-organizing matter to large-scale social patterns), with emergent system causation and epicycle processes that feedforward playing key roles.

What are your go-to tools, practices and concepts for an emergent process of innovation that is “ab initio”?

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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