Does innovation require leaders to lead?
That's the question Iain Kerr and Jason Frasca of Emergent Futures Lab address at the Leadership and Management In Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) Conference, on January 11th 2023.
Presentation: Innovation Led Leadership with Complex Adaptive Systems
Summary: Innovation — the emergence of novelty within organizational ecosystems is resolutely non-linear, distributed, and relation dependent. As such, it is irreducible to the specific actions of any particular individual or leader. From the perspective of innovation that is emerging in the context of complex adaptive systems, is there a better way to approach both innovation and leadership by focusing on the agency (and ultimately leadership) of the system itself? This talk seeks to provide a broad overview of how innovation itself might lead without “leadership” in such co-emergent contexts and how different practices and approaches can assist in this effort.
Below the video is a transcript of the presentation including Q&A at the end. we've lightly edited the text to make it more readable and useful, including adding time stamps throughout.
Transcript of Innovation Led Leadership with Complex Adaptive Systems
Iain Kerr and Jason Frasca - Innovation Led Leadership with Complex Adaptive Systems: [00:00:00] All right. Welcome, everybody. My name is Jason Frasca. This is Ian Kerr. We're of Emerging Futures Lab, we're an innovation strategic consultancy, and you know, if we go to the end, you know, we hope there's going to be time for questions at the end. If you have more questions, you can we're very active on LinkedIn every day.
Feel free to reach out to either of us there or, or our website. So in case we don't get to your question at the end. It's really great to have everybody here. It's been, it's wonderful to be a part of this conference. Today, we're going to talk about creativity beyond our historical deterministic models in a talk that we're calling innovation led leadership with complex adaptive systems.
So when we consider creativity in the light of complex adaptive systems, And beyond determinism, we are making a radical shift in how we approach everything about creativity. I think it's really important to get a sense of how radical, just how radical this is and it needs to [00:01:00] be. We have to come to terms with the long and peculiar European history of grappling with creativity from a highly deterministic perspective.
European practices for creation have been so long a part of a deterministic world that deterministic practices still suffuse all aspects of our lives in ways that are wholly impossible to us, especially in regards to creativity. And so because of this long history, most practitioners and theorists of creativity today follow either explicitly or implicitly the basic assumptions of this tradition.
By critically analyzing this historical European tradition of creative practices, it stretches back to the Roman era, brings us directly to the giant elephant in the room of all concepts of creativity today. Historically, Europe, the European world. never had a place for the concept of human creativity.
And further, this tradition was [00:02:00] ultimately antithetical to creativity as we would understand it today. Because of this, many of our current, most basic and ubiquitous assumptions and techniques for creativity are still radically anti creative.
While this might sound like a bold claim, it's one. That's well understood in the tradition emerging from Europe in the early Middle Ages. Humans are not conceived as creative beings. The ability to create with something, something genuinely new was only something that God possessed. Only God was creative.
We can see this most clearly when we look at processes, the processes by which God enacted his creativity. First. It's important to note he's an immaterial, all powerful, and all knowing god who sits outside of creation. Then, as an all knowing creator, he can conceive exactly what he wishes entirely in his head.
And then, as an all powerful creator, he can will anything into being. [00:03:00] He imposes the passive, fully receptive reality. We think of this abstractly. The process is ideating from the outside.
Make reality exactly to that initial idea here it's critical to note you can only be only be all knowing if reality is deterministic, close and knowable in advance, and you can only be all powerful of our physical is entirely passive and without agency. So what about us? What about, well, as God's special creatures, we had the potential to gain insight into God's plans.
And if we were truly special, we could see and carry out his plan. And this is how great artists, makers, philosophers, and medical practitioners of this era understood their actions. And while we might now. In retrospect, call what they were doing highly critical, but from their perspective and their self understanding, they understood they [00:04:00] were doing is gaining insight into God's plan and following it.
The terms that we still equate with creativity, insight, vision, inspiration and imagination, all originally referred to this process as copying. And so the model was a four step process. And this model should sound really familiar to us. For today, the model is still part of our most basic definitions of creativity, and it's literally at the heart of our most widely used innovation methods.[00:05:00]
From design thinking, you know, which is basically empathize ideate plan and make to equity centered design. And, you know, we show you here. A handful of models, but I think you can get that sense that ideate planning and making is still at the core of how we do things. So what's the problem with this model.
And the problem is that that still contains the basic God model assumptions, one that we live in a fully deterministic world. And I think it contains them implicitly, it's important to say. It's not explicitly there anymore. But implicitly, it's that we live in a fully deterministic closed universe. And two, that we can act in a disembodied, like a disembodied immaterial god of ideas.
And three, that reality is passive and will accept your ideas without change. Given that we do not live in a deterministic enclosed universe none of these assumptions are actually true, and [00:06:00] this model doesn't make sense. But worse than all of that, all of them undermine the very possibility of something radically new emerging whatsoever.
Despite of all of this, it's still our go to logic for creativity. We still have to properly come to terms with this invisible. an unanalyzed legacy of our deterministic history.
But stopping right here will not get us to see both how pernicious this God model is, and how there are genuinely other approaches. Let's turn to doing this by exploring what we see as the three biggest issues with the God model. First, it's a deterministic model designed for a world that doesn't exist.
Second, it's focused on ideation. And third, it's blind to how the new actually emerges in a distributed, more than human manner. Beginning with the first of these, that the God model was designed for a closed and deterministic [00:07:00] world. How can we recognize this in our practices? And I think this is really critical.
The primary way we can see this assumption today is in how we act as a creativity is something we can possess. utilize, and then impose on the world outside of ourselves. And such a practice assumes that reality is deterministic, that plans can be carried out in an unswerving manner. This future backwards, abstract planning process messes with every aspect of creativity.
To see how the, how it does this, we need to pause and ask ourselves. Does creativity really begin with us? Does it begin in a God like way in our heads with an idea? Is reality something passive, awaiting our God like impositions? Are we really the only ones capable of making novelty emerge in the world around us?
Why do we believe that without us imposing order and creativity, life would descend into chaos and nothing new and [00:08:00] novel would happen? But if we step back for a minute, and ask a simple question. Why doesn't life descend into chaos? Why is all life spontaneously and creatively organizing into stable patterns and forms?
Why does snowflakes form? Why do hurricanes and crowds form and behave in such regular ways? There's no hidden plan or leader. inside of the water molecules emerging into a hurricane or secret puppet master directing the crowd. There's no plan being imposed on water as it crystallizes into a snowflake.
Rather, reality as a dynamic relational system spontaneously and creatively self organizes. Creativity is already everywhere. Novelty is continuously emerging without ideas, plans, or impositions of any kind. These creative dynamic systems are everywhere and operating at all scales. This is our reality.
And these self organizing processes are the ones that innovators [00:09:00] are actually continuously attuning themselves towards. These are the ongoing processes that are that are deliberately probing and joining what emerges to elicit new patterns that could be stabilized, followed, and developed. Now, if we asked most people to describe what they did as creative process, they would say something like the God model, that they had an idea, developed a plan, and carried it out.
But if we simply follow as an anthropologist what they did, we will see that it is some form of active adaptive attunement to ongoing self-organizing processes of realities. Spontaneous production of novelty innovators are not imposing ideas, but re-shaping a system towards a certain set of patterns that set up the possibility of it moving more in one novel term.
General direction over others via feedback and feed forward cycles innovation and creativity are not something imposed on reality rather creativity the [00:10:00] spontaneous arising of the new is always a fundamental and intractable aspect of reality itself and all human innovations. Emerge from and rest upon these self ordinates and dynamics.
For us, a useful analogy is that human innovation serves the spontaneously emerging novelty producing dynamics of reality. In our surfing, we are engaging, sensing, learning, and adapting in a novel, dynamic, and emergent context. Context where we're actively probing, coaxing, blocking, and embracing novel forces.
environments, practices, and concepts as they co emerge within the creative reality. To be creative is not to fight a chaotic reality and impose one's will upon it. It's not to come up with the ideas at a distance from reality and impose them via a future backwards plan. That we can even imagine this is what we are, could, or should be doing.
It's because of us being so habituated by our historical legacy of an [00:11:00] anti creative model that cannot grasp the specific dynamic breach nature of reality. Reality has surprising agency. It's not simply passively awaiting their plans, nor when some version of these plans come to fruition, are the outcomes the servants of our intentions.
We can see this in how systems, organizations, events, and even objects all seem to have a mind of their own. What we are sensing is the emergent more than and irreducible to quality of dynamic systems. Effective innovation practices, participants, and leaders Are those who recognize that it's reality that is creative, and they are experimentally joining, working with and of, bending and surfing with reality's self organizing creativity.
So this is a really good moment to pause from and consider a few suggestions for what all of us in an organization could work towards doing differently in relation to the reality of a dynamic and spontaneously creative world. [00:12:00] First, we need to recognize that it's not we humans alone who in some God like form are the creative ones.
Reality is creative and self organizing. We need to work with and of creative processes that never begin with us or our ideas. Second, all of our practices dwell in and of self organizing systems. Reality and its creativity is your ocean and partner. We surf the self organizing. Our creativity needs to become a very deliberate process to engage with and ultimately partner with self organizing processes.
Third, organizations, like any system, come to have a mind of their own. They have emergent propensities. Patterns and logics. They're more than and different from any of their components, be that their leaders, the business plans, the workers, culture, infrastructure. We need to develop ways of continuously getting a [00:13:00] sense of this emergent propensity and working with it and not against it.
Fourth, because causality is profoundly nonlinear, we as humans work primarily indirectly with such dynamics via shaping enabling constraints. Thank But radical innovation processes of any kind are not linear. They don't operate in a closed and wholly deterministic manner. Organizations need to design processes and infrastructure that foster and support responsive, dynamic, and experimentally open practices.
As organizations engaged with innovation, we need to have and maintain an engaged, dynamic, experimental process that will allow us to probe, pivot, shift, learn, and change from doing. In a highly dynamic manner. All right, what we've covered so far highlights and contrast something of the fundamental attitudinal differences between our historical anti creative European legacy and the creative dynamics of reality.
We now need [00:14:00] to turn directly to the question of practice. How does the God model still fundamentally shape our practices of creativity in a detrimental in detrimental manners. Nowhere is this more apparent than our use. of the practice of ideation. Perhaps there's no more basic and assumption about how the creative process begins than that creativity begins with an idea.
Just look at all the main definitions of creativity or how all methods like design thinking begin. They're all driven by an ideation first process. But here's the problem with ideas. If something is genuinely radically new, you cannot ideate. Why? Ideas are based on the known. They rely on existing images, concepts, and past histories.
Ideation is fundamentally conservative. Ideation is the beginning of the creative process, only makes sense in a deterministic world where one can act like a god. We've been a part of this Ideation First, this god model approach to creativity for so long that we see things entirely from its [00:15:00] perspective, despite reality being totally different.
But the reality is that our non, in our non deterministic world, you simply cannot ideate the radically new into existence. The beginning of the innovation process cannot start with ideation. Change, creativity, innovation, these all have to come about some other way. But how? To get at this, in a way before even getting at this, we need to step back and look at creativity from a philosophical perspective.
You know, if, if creativity involves doing something new and different, then what do we mean when we say new and different? I think this is important to distinguish what we mean here. To be creative is to be involved in change. And for most of us, most of the time in our daily lives, change is variation.
Variation of chairs, you know, a slightly new chair, a slightly new table, slightly different cars, people. We live [00:16:00] and work in a world of variation. This form of change or difference is what is called in philosophy a change of variation degree. You know, it's where change is incremental, developmental, world expanding, probabilistic, and has a strong sense of continuity.
Now here, it's fair to say that we can talk about things like ideas because you're, you can rely on the past and vary it. But the problem is that not all change in creativity is of this kind. If something's radically new it's not simply a variation. Or a continuation of what exists, it's fundamentally and totally different.
And this is what's called in philosophy, a change in kind, you know, a change in kind is where you are rupturing. It's disruptive. It's making a different world. It's possibleistic. [00:17:00] There's a discontinuity. And because of this, The radically new does not follow from the past, and conservative processes like ideation planning and making will not work when we're dealing with change in kind.
So while the ideation model might have some limited success on the right with change in degree contexts, it absolutely can't help us on the left. In fact, it's concealed what really happens on the left. The God model and its implicit deterministic logic of ideation has made the left hand side and its distinct processes nearly invisible.
Again, let's pause for a moment and consider a few more suggestions. for what all of us in organizations should work towards doing differently in relation to creativity having this dual logic of change in degree and change in kind. [00:18:00] First, refuse the ideation model for radical innovation. The model might work okay for improvements, changes in degree.
But be very wary of ideation planning and making processes and any linear future backwards ideation process where the goal is radical innovation. Second, and it's really important to say at this point, it's not that thinking and conceptualizing in general are bad when we critique ideation. We recognize that we're always thinking in some manner.
The problem is rather in believing that having a clear idea of what must be realized is how one can begin the creative process. It's the belief that ideation essentially equals creativity and that thinking always precedes making. The reality is that thinking always emerges from the midst of doing. We need to develop infrastructures that support novel doing thinking for disruptive creativity.
Third, how should we begin instead? [00:19:00] In the early stage process, we need to be deeply engaged and not withdrawn into the realm of ideas occurring in boardrooms, studios, and workshops. To stress this, we'd like to call the first task of innovation, not ideation. but engagement. And engagement is about experimenting and doing in the right context.
It's not about executing a predetermined plan, but developing ways of joining, sensing, and attuning to the context situation that is of interest. Fifth, fourth, to do this kind of experimentation well, it's critical to have abstract goals and not concrete plans. We can think of these goals as general horizons or general headings that one is roughly moving towards rather than a world of clear ideas, plans, and solutions.
Fifth, to experiment in an open manner towards something genuinely novel, it's equally important that we actively refuse all solution thinking. The logic of [00:20:00] jumping to outcomes and answers before we've even, before we have even begun, this only keeps us in the world of incremental change. All right, we've established that in an open, dynamic, self organizing reality, creativity is both the fundamental feature of reality and that our creative process cannot begin or rely on ideation.
But there's much more to the problem of the logic of the God model that needs to be critically examined. The God model is fundamentally immaterial, unworldly, wholly conceptual, and internal to the creator. And this logic firmly places creativity in the head and is something that is ultimately individualistic.
But given that they're never separate from reality that is itself creative via dynamic and relational processes, our creativity cannot be either in our heads or individualistic. Why? Well, let's get at this with a simple analogy.
If we see a bird flying, and I ask you to point to me where flight is [00:21:00] in the bird, where would you point? Is it in the wing? Is it in the feather? Is it inside any particular part of the bird? It's not. Flight cannot be found in any particular part, for it's an emergent property of the global state of the system.
Of course you need a bird with its particular shape, wings, feathers, and hollow bones, but you equally need gravity, air density, winds, practices, thermals, land, trees, and much else beside. And no one single aspect is the essence of flight. What matters is that the global state of the system allows for the quality of flight to emerge.
Now, this is equally true of creativity. Just like flight, if you cut open the brain, you won't find creativity. Creativity is also, properly speaking, not in anything. It emerges from the global state of a dynamic system. Because of this, The God [00:22:00] model with its essence and internal property logic of creativity is fundamentally the wrong approach.
And equally thinking individualistically is fundamentally the wrong approach. Thus understanding engaging with creativity can never be reduced to an individual or the contents of their brain. Sure, having a brain in general matters, but it's not the only thing that matters, nor does it matter in isolation.
In all of this, it's important to recognize that our continued intense cultural focus on the brain and the solitary, mainly disembodied, heroic individual is the legacy of that God model and all of its profound problems. But we can put this failed model aside, and in doing so, we can constructively change everything about how we approach creativity.
We're moving from creativity being a problem of personnel, of individuals and their unique individual capacities for creativity and questions of [00:23:00] how we might shape those individuals, coach them into being more creative, to an organizational, really an ecosystemic and emergent question of design.
Creativity is a question of developing effective ecosystemic processes. To get a grasp on this alternative logic, we need to introduce a number of new concepts and terms. The first of these is assemblage. And assemblage is how something novel emerges by way of how things, tools, practices, concepts, habits, are brought together in a specific relationship that is adaptive.
Responsive and active in drawing things together in a highly interactive and relational relation dominant manner. Next is emergence. What emerges from this relation dominant active assemblage. The new is different from and greater than the sum of its parts. It's a nonlinear process working via enabling constraints, such that what merges cannot be traced back to a singular source.[00:24:00]
Third, co emergence. We make and bring together tools and practices and assemblage with a purpose. And when we start working in this environment with these tools and practices, they begin to shape and transform us. We don't simply use tools, tools and practices profoundly shape and impact us. We are the outcome of what we do, and this is a critical and often overlooked concept in creative practices.
What emerges changes the very nature of its components in a process that is called system causality, or top down causality, if you will. If we are part of the process, then the process is also changing us. To think differently, you need to change the environment, your task scape of tools, techniques, practices, and environments.
In short, change the assemblage, and then this will change you, your capacities, and your thinking. Fourth is affordances. What else happens when the environment changes you? Not only is your thinking changing, but what you [00:25:00] see and sense in the environment changes. New affordances in the environment open up to you.
This is the inactive process of sensemaking. What exactly is an affordance? Well, it's an emergent opportunity to act. And when you work in new environments and new ways, new affordances will emerge, and these novel affordances will exceed the identity or fixed purpose of things. So again, let's pause at this point and take a moment to consider a few more suggestions for what all of us in organizations could work towards doing differently in relation to the distributed and emergent nature of creativity.
First, don't obsess about what's inside the head. The psychology of individuals or mindsets. Creativity is about what emerges from collaborations. Active assemblages with others, with tools and environments. The focus needs to be on conditions that foster and support an ecosystem, an assemblage for innovation.
And this will require going to the right places and actively shaping [00:26:00] an ecosystem. Second, this process gives us a far better way to understand thinking. All cognition is extended. It requires and emerges from more than the head. It's genuinely distributed, embodied, embedded, extended, and inactive. The approach of distributed and active cognition is a more useful way to understand thinking and knowing whatsoever, especially in regards to creativity.
For both are emerging from the middle of ecosystemic processes. Third, do ecosystems, not moonshots. Don't focus on a one off process with a singular focus, problem, and goal. Focus on developing holistic ecosystems for creativity. This focuses on ecosystems that will allow for a resilient practice of innovation to emerge in a dynamic, responsive, and ongoing manner, rather than just being a one off gamble.
Fourth, the new, whether it's a thought, a practice or a tool doesn't come about in a linear manner from a [00:27:00] solitary individual or source of any kind, such as the brain. The new always emerges from the middle of an assemblage. The focus needs to be on the ongoing work of producing the right ecosystem. So, when we say ecosystem here, think active assemblages plus co emergent processes involving enabling constraints and novel active sense making via affordances, etc.
And equally important in this is that we protect the novel ecosystem, keeping them open, experimental in one hand, and then the other from falling back in the known. Fifth is feedback. An organization should design their ecosystems to foster co emergent processes that connect novel practices, environments, and subjects via feedback and ultimately feed forward loops that tend towards the qualitatively new.
Sixth, it's important to say that people do matter. People need to be given agency in this autonomy and support to [00:28:00] do the actual work of being engaged, open, responsive, and changed by what emerges. If an organization wants more focus on innovation, people need the flexibility to adapt. Things dynamically have to come off one's workload.
Roles need to be able to evolve and shift responsibly. Teams need to be able to emerge, adapt, and change. And this requires real organizational innovation. There's one last topic we need to cover if creativity is more than human. And, and have, so there's one last topic we need to cover if creativity is more than human.
And we have a sense of now how to work eco systemically because of this. You know, using these logics of assemblages, emergence, and affordances. But I think we are leaving off what we can still say about the process. Yeah, and so we're, [00:29:00] while there's absolutely not one process or method for creativity, we can productively look to evolution in natural systems to see how aspects of our experimental practices could be reframed, especially in regards to an experimental practice that does not begin in ideation.
The term for this creative process in evolutionary theory is exaptation. An exaptation is when some intentional or unintentional aspect of a creature is repurposed for new affordance. The classic and now overused example of this is how dinosaurs evolved feathers for flight. As the story is told, feathers first emerged for thermoregulation, but they had the unintended affordance of allowing for gliding and thus flight, and birds emerged.
Exaptation is a powerful creative process, and it turns out that it's not just about other creatures. We would argue that all human creativity involves exaptations in one way or another. Now today, exaptations are finally getting their due and being [00:30:00] recognized by many innovation researchers as a critical aspect of human creativity.
But the understanding of this is frustratingly quite shallow and still deeply shaped by the God model. It's almost always reduced to stories of innovation coming about via some simple chance accident that's then co opted in one step process. Just looking at one famous example of exaptation, that of penicillin.
We can see the scenario playing out. It's that cliche story of Alexander Fleming leaving some petri dishes out by mistake and coming back from holiday to notice mold, had by chance found their way onto the dishes and killed the bacteria. And this instantly spurs the idea for the first antibiotics and the rest is supposedly history, right?
Right. And none of it's true. This is the big error even major innovation theorists make with exaptation. They're just repeating the model of ideate than plan and make. But just slapping a chance exaptation at the beginning, it's like all that's [00:31:00] required is a one off event of noticing some chance accident and then going back to ideating planning and making.
We see this repeated in stories of how post it notes and microwaves, Viagra, GPS, and many others were invented. But this zombie like return of the god model should make us question these stories. Is this what really happened? Sadly, we don't have time to get into all of these with the necessary detail.
But what we can do is go back to the creative exaptive story of how birds evolved to fly, and try to flesh it out a bit more in the actual process that took place. What's interesting is that Darwin came to exaptation because of a criticism of how the deterministic God model remained in his theory of evolution.
Originally, Darwin proposed a step by small step process that improves fitness. And, of course, flight would ultimately really improve fitness. So with this logic, he imagined that flight is something evolution would bring about in a step process. [00:32:00] But is this really possible? Can evolution look that far forward and work in a future backwards manner?
Pointing out this problem brings us to the famous criticism of Darwin and one he took most seriously. What is the use of half a wing? Because half a wing would really suck. You would have evolved so you can't really walk and you can't really fly either. So how would you evolve all the way to a whole wing for flight?
Well, Darwin realized that unlike God, evolution could not be teleological. It could not be linear or work backwards from the desired end. His answer was that there was never half a way. The wing never evolved to be a wing for flight. It evolved to do something else. The wing was already there serving some useful purpose and had the unintended affordance.
If it was in the right assemblage for flight, the pre existing non wing wing was co opted for flight. Think about that from a creativity perspective. [00:33:00] Nothing creatively evolved for its purpose. Nothing is reducible to its current purpose. This is the real radical and wholly astonishing answer to the God model and the ideation paradox.
You don't need to ideate the new. You don't ever need to think about the final purpose. The beginnings of the new are already there in everything. They just need to be actively experimentally co opted. And there will be no end to this process. Everything is whatever else it can afford. Okay, this is, you know, big, it's critical, but can't this still be thought of as the one step process we were critiquing a moment ago?
You're right. This was not a magical one step process of co option. We need to go back to the humble feather and follow the process. The feather emerged from a scale that initially evolved to sequester toxins that had a hollow in its form. And that hollow... Had an unintended emergent affordance in the right context of providing [00:34:00] warmth, and so warmth emerged as the new product purpose of the scale, and it evolved further becoming elongated hollow tubes that eventually became more feathery.
The next question is, what's the unintended affordance of a hollow tube structure in a new context. Well, it turns out hollow tubes afforded the holding of pigment. And so the unintended emergent affordance of feathers, whose purpose was warmth, became sexiness. And isn't she sexy? And so feathers got big, colorful, and they show up everywhere on dinosaurs that didn't get in the way of their movements.
So what are the unintended emergent affordances of being sexy? Well, being scary was a big one. Lots of big feathers means you look bigger than you are, and this process just keeps going and going. An unintended emergent affordance of big feathery wings whose purpose was to be scary was keeping eggs warm without cracking them.
But the story of the wandering journey of the feather is only one part of this highly distributed story of creative [00:35:00] emergence of flight. Bones are also becoming hollow by an exaptive process that wanders just as much, involving different lung structures. Cells, muscles, and much else is exapting and coordinating.
Additionally, critical aspects of the environment are also changing the exaptation. We see trees and forests emerge, and mammals are showing up via exaptation. In this new assemblage, the first mammals co emerged as some, as small four legged creatures who could utilize affordances to run up trees to escape dinosaurs, who had great difficulty in climbing trees.
Now those short arms and feathers were getting in the way. So how could such a silly, clumsy creature get up a tree? Well, in this context, Wings have the emergent unintended affordance of allowing a flapping that pushed the dinosaur's back legs into the tree and up it could run. So now the mammal gets eaten and the silly clumsy creature has to get back down out of the tree.
In this context, those wings have the [00:36:00] emergent unintended affordance of controlled falling. Then later, gliding. Then, eventually, flying. So it's important to have a clearer sense of the much fuller story of exaptation, and to see that exaptation isn't this magical one step process. It's also not linear, and it's got many different outcomes, and there's no end.
It's creatively distributed. Dynamic and emergent, you know, so from this basic understanding of exaptation, we can lay out a loose set of potential innovation practices that can connect exaptation to what we've already introduced about engaging an ecosystem building. Yes, first, you have a creature experimentally engaging with and of its environment, the assemblage, and in doing purposeful things, it has the potential to experimentally abandon or block or leave behind a purpose to spontaneously co opt the [00:37:00] unintended affordance as a new purpose.
And the creature then co emerges with these co options towards a new purpose. And this process of active experimental exaptive deviation repeats itself many, many times as it radiates out and co evolves with new environments. At some point, one of these co optations pushes the evolving creature across a qualitative threshold.
It goes from merely being a better or different dinosaur, change in degree, to becoming something else entirely, a bird, a change in kind. This is a radical innovation, one that makes a new and qualitatively different world possible. air world as opposed to land world. And while we're in different, while we are different from other creatures, in that we can deliberately, this is really important, what, that we can deliberately influence and shape the process of exaptation.
Our creative processes are as equally exactive and equally complex as those found in the rest of nature. Knowing how complex and involved adaptive [00:38:00] processes are, we really need to stop using the language of discoveries and their associated eureka moments, as if the new is just out there unseen, ready to be co opted.
It's much more involved than that. And there's so much creating and creativity. All right. So for the last time, let's pause at this point and take a moment to consider a few more suggestions for what all of us in organizations could work towards doing differently in relation to the exaptive reality of creativity.
First, Connect an active ecosystem to exactive process, we can now add and connect this exactive process to the ecosystemic approach, we were already developing. Obviously, how this will manifest itself and is context dependent and requires a great deal of experimentation to get right. Second, radical innovations task is to develop a new world, radical innovation does not solve a pre existing problem.
Thank you. And I think this is really important. Rather, it makes a [00:39:00] novel world possible. Third, for radical creativity, we need to focus on exaptive techniques. This involves disclosing what exists, how things are done, and getting to an ontological level such that a world can be blocked as part of an exaptive process for creativity.
Of excuse me, of deviation. Fourth, Remember that we can manufacture novelty with these kinds of processes. We do not need to rely on serendipity or chance to introduce something novel and unintended. We can develop the tools and techniques for exaptive processes that connect exaptation to affordances, such as the blocking, threshold sensing, novel world articulating, etc.
Last. Remember to let the new stay the new. We need to really protect the nascent novel world that is emerging from being pulled back into the old. As we like to say, Keep your difference alive. Well, here we are at the end of our talk. But before opening up things for questions, we'd [00:40:00] really like to take a moment to come back to our title, Innovation Led Leadership with Complex Adaptive Systems.
Before we're talking about leadership in a way that assumes far too much about our historical forms of human leadership, we need to consider the question of who or what is actually leading. In a creative process. There's no simple answer to this question as we hope our talk has shown, but it's certainly not a solitary individual leadership needs to be understood as something far more distributed and including far more than just people.
Or any other singular part of the assemblage, because in a very real sense, the emergent dynamics of the assemblage, the emergent system causality that's making its parts, including those with the title leaders this should, this understanding of that should change pretty much everything about how we approach leadership in the context of deliberate practices of radical [00:41:00] creativity.
We have come from a long European tradition of the God model that for far too long shaped every aspect of our practices and concepts in deterministic and anti creative ways. Working our way out of them and explicitly developing genuinely creative practice is something that we're just beginning and moving to alternatives requires a careful disclosing of all of the ways in which the God model still lingers and in all aspects of our world and our creative practices.
So now we'd like to open it up to questions. There's a few minutes left and we're happy to stay late and as I said hit us up on LinkedIn as need be. We'd also like to offer a QR code. That'll take you to a resource web page that we created that really takes all of these concepts and goes quite a bit deeper.
So if anybody has any questions, just unmute and fire away.
Thank you guys so much. It was an excellent talk. I was wondering. When you talked about a lot of the [00:42:00] concepts that you did one of my favorite authors, Stuart Kaufman, came to mind and he wrote this wonderful book called Reinventing the Sacred about the kind of forward emergent aspects of creativity.
I'm wondering, in addition to thinkers like Kaufman, are there other luminaries that, that you study to, to gain insight on, on what's coming up in, A really big shift in the way we see the world. Thank you. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, cow Kaufman is really interesting and that that's a great book where he's trying to get at the kind of alternative metaphysics.
We have on our website. A page with a glossary. But I think, you know, some authors that are really important to us on exactation is obviously Stephen Jay Gould and his original writings on this. You know, and I think there's a lot of interesting philosophy that [00:43:00] has been written, especially French philosophers like Gilles Deleuze on things like assemblages on embodied cognition and emergence.
The work of Evan Thompson is really interesting. But if you head over to our website
https://emergentfutureslab.com/bibliography, you'll find more. And we keep adding to that all the time. And we'd love your suggestions too.
There was a guy in the chat, Sean, who said, Can you give an example of an exaptive process from an organization, and I was kind of wondering if you guys could do that too. Yeah. There's, like, endless. You know, all of those examples that we mentioned of penicillin, microwaves, GPS, Viagra, those are all examples that are happening in institutions, organizations.
I think what's really important is the [00:44:00] way the story gets told back is to apply the God model and just add that chance accident at the beginning. But if one goes deeper into what happened, one sees that it's really this much more complex story that's much, mirrors much more closely what we see in evolution with our dinosaur example.
In that regard, it's really interesting to look at some of Bruno Latour's early work and the, and all of the work of like the history of science studies, you know, where they're actually doing that anthropology.
Other questions. There says can you set out to apply or perhaps jump into an exaptive process in a given context? Absolutely. I think you're always in a context, right? And I think that's really important for us. Innovation can begin anywhere. You know, and it begins by engaging with your actual [00:45:00] context.
I think the profound realization from exaptation and the idea of affordances is that you don't have to, like, sit around and try and brainstorm and ideate. You can start by immediately experimenting what else can something do to block, you know, intentions, what something's set up to do and try and see what else it can do.
And I think you can go immediately deeper. The moment you start to look at the deeper purposes and intentions of a system and try and block them, but you don't need to go somewhere else. You don't need to. You know, just start ideating and brainstorming. I think it's really important to start engaging, experimenting, blocking, probing, pushing, you know, all of those things we were saying at the beginning, like surfing a process.
And that happens really through that simple act of blocking.
My experience with your approach is when I listened to [00:46:00] you for the first time, I was very philosophical, very. Deeply rooted. But once I learned about the process that you offer because all the methods that you Organized into one slide with full of the Godlike model. They have a very tangible process when it comes to commercializing and innovation or an improvement change of degree.
And I guess what really helps, what I would encourage everybody here is to look at Ian's and Jason's process behind it, that makes it much more tangible. That is actually a process behind it can be applied in organizations, because if Just look at the philosophical aspect. It looks like, okay, how do I go on going to deal with all these big words, assemblages, affordances, ecosystem building.
So I guess it's very important that there is a process behind it that makes it tangible in a commercial environment. Tom, thanks for saying that we didn't pay Tom to say that, but I appreciate it. And if [00:47:00] you want to, if you'd like to see the process on our website, again, emergentfutureslab.com/innovationdesign will take you through the four tasks of innovation. And if you'd like to go deeper you know, our book is available on our website where we, you know, go all the way deeply into the process. But by, by no means, you could certainly get that off our website too.
You know, we'd all, we're happy also just to talk with people and walk through things. Absolutely. Other thoughts or questions? Hello, sir. This is an excellent presentation. But I am very innovative, but I'm religious at the same time. I would rather perhaps suggest we say God creations models or God creation models.
But I mean, if we can use a metaphor to be short here, [00:48:00] we see the manufacturing in the assembly line of God's creation on earth. But none of us was in the design of this universe before we see it. So we only witnessed the manufacturing and how it is going and repeating itself. But the initial pre existence before humans were created, we were not there.
No one knows. We can only suggest. Okay. Thanks, sir. Yeah. I think for us, it's really important. You know, from a religious perspective to say that there's a type of heresy to assume that we can be like gods. And I think that's really what we mean with the idea of the God model is that we've implicitly and unconsciously folded this methodology, this logic into everything we do.
And we've never really stopped to consider, [00:49:00] is it serving us in any way, shape or form?
Any other questions? Could you say more about blocking and challenging realizing testing affordances? I'm trying to bridge the gap between the conceptual model that you've shared and what it can look like in practice. Yeah, I think there's like any number of examples. I think, you know, the most tangible for us that we like to turn to is things like cooking.
Right? Like that you can, you know, once you once you think about like how you cook, you're doing this all the time. Like to cook anything is to sense what it's doing, how it's changing and emerging, what it could afford. You know, when you put an egg, well, when you just hold an egg, you know, you're already in this space of, well, What happens if I crack it?
What happens if I keep it [00:50:00] whole? You know, and if you start to block parts of that process, it will emerge differently. And, you know, as it emerges, it informs you, right? So for example, what if you Put an egg in warm water instead of heating it up. What will happen? It's like super interesting. You get an entirely different type of poached egg when you crack it, you know, an hour later.
But I think it's really important to see that, you know, blocking and following is actually something we do all the time, you know, where we just say, okay, we won't do this. We'll try that. And that in in that way. You're also asking for the world to give you feedback. You know, you're noticing something change.
And you're following it across the threshold. And then, you know, as you notice something change, you're stabilizing it. And you're also changing. I think what happens is we just keep putting on [00:51:00] this kind of God model after the fact. And so then we never can really fully sense what we're doing that is something entirely different.
I would just add really quick in terms of blocking, right? You have control of how radically different the outcome is by blocking some or all of the primary, of the variables, right? So if you, if you block a few of the variables, whether it be cooking or otherwise, right? You'll or buttons on a device, right?
You'll Get to somewhere slightly different if you block all of the variables or the primary variables right you'll get to somewhere truly radical and novel. So it's sort of, it's a tool, you know that you can dial up and down. So you could see, you know, I think Jason your example like the. The iPhone blocks the keyboard you know, the development of motorized vehicles blocks the paradigm of [00:52:00] animals as transportation you know, on and on and on.
So blocking is always there and following, you know, what emerges. And pivoting with it is something we're really doing. So maybe we take one more because just to be respectful of the rest of the conference, which starts at 1 15, the QR code. Well, so maybe it's just somebody have a question just that they want to say, Oh, before me there's someone put the link in the chat up above if you'll just scroll.
Manny, you had your hand up for a question?
No? Can you hear me? Yes. Oh, sorry. Wonderful. Just would like to make a comment. The first time I read your blog a few months back, many aspects of it resonated with my own thinking. Then I started reading your book, and today I get to see you guys present. So thank you for kind of confirming my belief.
In fact, I have actually started [00:53:00] building a smaller experimental ecosystem. Thank you. With a curated, trusted relationships for my personal and professional network applying some of these concepts. Often it takes time even to people to educate some of the concepts that you're talking about, but instead of just asking them to read, I'm actually applying in small doses.
One of the, one of the challenges that has often come across, especially when you try to engage with With the larger corporate client, you talk about an ecosystem, they're thinking supply chain, they're thinking about procurement. When you co create through an emergence, right, you create an IP.
The moment you mention IP, all their businesses go up. Corporate IP, you know, you can't do this. So as I begin to formulate this ecosystem, value creation, value capture, and value exchange [00:54:00] is something that is, it completely knocks the corporate executive, right? You, you get tossed from a sponsoring executive to corporate lawyers, then it gets stuck, it goes nowhere.
So having come across some guidelines in engaging and connecting this thinking and then connecting corporate academy research labs to a corporate executive, most of them are not there. And even if you can find the right person, You have so many roadblocks to hoop through, then it may be the end of your lifetime.
Block the legal department. No, I, I think it's really true. You know, it's, it's difficult, but what's really important, I think, is to be able to move through people through workshops where they can embody these techniques directly. You know, talks like this, I don't think really have a profound impact, you know, on you have to [00:55:00] be involved in the processes.
So what we really like to do is to begin working with organizations by bringing people into. Like a half day long workshop where you kind of experience all of these things without any of the theoretical philosophical or conceptual baggage, and then getting people to unpack what they're doing so they actually generate the realizations and a lot of these concepts out of the workshop.
And I think that's really helpful in getting, you know, organizational shifts, but there's really a lot of parts that need to move. And it's complex and it's context sensitive. And I totally, I totally hear what you're saying. We're out of time. But we're happy to talk with anybody, and we're happy to go on with this conversation.
And I know it's, it's like [00:56:00] 45 minutes is a lot to squish in it. There's lots of great comments in the discussion, other questions, ways to go deeper. Just connect with us on LinkedIn. Check out our website. We're happy to talk. DM us, email us if you'd like to keep chatting, talking, you know, we, we talk to people all the time.
We've got, you know, we, we just dig riffing on innovation. So thank you so much. Thank you everybody. Enjoy the rest of the conference and we'll see you out there.