Welcome to Emerging Futures — Volume 25! On The 4 Tasks of Innovation...
This issue marks the twenty-fifth issue and just over eight months of publishing. In parallel to the newsletter we’ve been posting an article each week on an important aspect of innovation/creativity.
At first we wrote these as LinkedIn articles, then we shifted over to publishing them on our website. The result is a rich resource of articles on all things innovation and creativity. We encourage you to check these out — they are a treasure trove of insight, exercises, useful links, diagrams and some fun drawings.
Our focus to date is the “what” of creativity and innovation. We began by making an argument for the need for new approaches by looking at the deep history of our current approaches. And have carefully tried to go through key aspects of an alternative approach.
Here are some key articles worth reading:
The “what” can never be separated from the “how” and while we have offered along the way a series of exercises — it is now time to turn our attention and focus to the how.
The how of anything new also takes time to love, learn, understand and creatively fold into our practices.
Whitehead, the first western philosopher to engage with the modern concept of creativity, liked to say that education consists of three phases: Romance, Precision, Satisfaction. We begin by falling in love — wonderment and joining a journey of shared path making. Then we learn what needs to be learnt (precision), and in the end all the learnings give rise to a new holistic sensibility (satisfaction) — what we would call “being of a world” and in this stage wonderment remains: “beauty is a wider and more fundamental notion than truth” (Whitehead, Modes of Thought).
There are no clean breaks, fresh starts, or blank slates. We are always in the middle. From birth — and even when we are part of our mothers in her mothers womb we are already learning a “how” — an embodied know-how that will later give rise to a knowing-what.
Thus the learning of a new concept is always connected to new embodied practices, habits, tools and environments. As we move into the how — it is important not to take what we say as abstract information — immaterial ideas that can be slotted into a bank of ideas. All concepts live between their abstraction and their actualization in our bodies, habits, tools and environments.
To change how we think requires we change how we live. This is something we have stressed: thinking is doing and doing is embodied, embedded, extended and enactive. As we write about the how we will always try to make sure these aspects are present — but it is important to invent for yourself new habits, tools and environments that will give rise to a romance and an emerging path of joining creative processes. Without this we will simply have old wine in new bottles.
Many approaches to innovation and creativity talk about stages or steps or phases. Design Thinking is one example which suggests innovation happens in four stages: Empathize, Ideate, Prototype and Make. This makes things too discreet, formal and linear. It makes it seem like reality itself comes in steps or stages and that an approach has simply discovered these universal true stages.
We favor a much more practical approach to engaging with process: any process consists of useful activities — we cannot do everything at once so we focus on one activity or task at a time. Talking about “tasks” or “activities” is only meant to be practical.
Sometimes you need to do certain tasks in a specific order — think of baking, it does not help to add the yeast after the bread has come out of the oven. But other times the order will vary.
We like to use the word “tasks” to talk about what one does in creative processes because it strikes a balance between the informal nature of an “activity” and the overly fixed formality of a “stage”.
A task also suggests a larger scope of activity — an activity that will require tools, techniques, environments and an investment of self and time.
(If you are super interested in how to think about tasks vs stages, etc. Stephen Batchelor writes beautifully about this in regards to Buddhism (he transforms the Four Noble Truths in the four tasks) in Buddhism Without Beliefs (affiliate).
Let’s examine what some of the tasks might be:
Creativity and innovation are processes of change making in general.
Change in general can be understood as the production of a difference.
At a very basic level there are two forms of difference:
Engaging with each requires different tasks with differing habits, practices, tools and environments.
Change-in-kind asks us to take a step back (which is why we draw it as a left moving arrow). We need to step out of what we are “in” — this requires tasks of Engagement and Disclosure. And we build up Disclosure by Deviating and developing a new world.
While Change-in-degree is about continuing what exists — it is about the tasks of going forward with some changes. These are the tasks of Engaging and Emerging.
Speaking quite generally at this point we can talk about four basic tasks: Engage, Disclose, Deviate and Emerge.
While these two trajectories and their tasks are unique and distinct — there is an important connection between change-in-degree and change-in-kind:
All doing, and making is part of being-of-a-world. And in this ongoing activity we are either expanding a world or making a novel world.
With this two loop diagram it is important to see first that it is a useful, but limited abstraction to get at these two forms of change. In reality the connection between the two is far more entangled and discontinuous/emergent.
But none-the-less if we follow the arrows from the middle we can see that we can go in one of two directions, and that either way we go we will always have the potential to loop in the other direction. Not that we have to — most of our lives are lived in the world expanding loop. It is rare that we go into the worldmaking loop. For right now it is important to get a feel for these two loops as connected processes of differing forms of change and how this can be mapped to our lives and our innovation efforts. Take a moment to do this.
We can at this point roughly overlay our four tasks onto this diagram of our two loops of change:
At this point the details of each task matter less than the feel for how they flow into each other and how you could see yourself moving with them.
Understanding the two distinct forms of change, the pathways of innovation and these general tasks still leaves a key practical question unanswered: How to begin?
All activity of change begins by leaving your office, leaving your studio — getting out of your head and joining with the world in a fully engaged manner.
In this way we don’t start by ideating, empathizing or innovating, we start by immersing ourselves deeply in an ongoing reality. Therefore, the Engage task is the pragmatic beginning of the process. This is something we focused on in the last newsletter.
From engagement we find ourselves at a true crossroads — we have to decide:
Thus we show engage as moving both:
And so our looping activities begin and our tasks emerge in concrete actuality with our engagement.
We wish to leave you here for the week. Try inventing for yourself techniques, tools, habits, environments and practices that would be critical to each task. How would you do this?
Get concrete: Engage with something. Disclose it’s logic. Deviate from this experimentally. Develop something like a novel “micro-world” and then Emerge with it. Have fun — remember as John Cage loved to say “I prefer laughter to tears”. -- You can look back to last weeks newsletter to help you get started.
Let us know how this works!
If you are struggling with classical models of creativity and need disruptive innovation design - we can help in one of three ways:
1. Buy our book
2. Book us for a one to one call. We have 2 slots remaining for March.
3. Hire us to consult on your next project. We help clients design innovation for impact across scales and industries focused on the good.
Till Volume 26,
Jason and Iain
Emergent Futures Lab
We’re How You Innovate
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🏞 P.P.P.S.: This week's drawings in Hi-Resolution