Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 101! And the Winner Is…
Greetings, summer revelers,
This week we continue our review of newsletters and the “golden nugget extraction” in celebration of our 100th newsletter!
Plus, today’s the day we announce the winners of our book giveaway!
To get everyone caught up, a few weeks back, we made an offer: 10 free copies of our book - Innovating Emergent Futures in honor of our 100th newsletter. The rules to qualify were as follows:
 Be a subscriber of our newsletter prior to the publishing of our 100th newsletter (August 11, 2023, 7:59am EST.)
 Between July 17th and August 10, you must add a substantial comment to one of our (Jason's or Iain’s) LinkedIn posts. (substantial meaning - contribute to the conversation… something more than “I agree or nice post”)
Then on August 12, we’ll randomly select winners and announce the winners in Newsletter 101 on August 18th, which is today!
So, without further ado - in no particular order, the 10 book winners are:
Thank you all for being in dialog with us over the years over Zoom, Linkedin, email, and in person at conferences, workshops, retreats, consultations, and in other ways. This dialog has really helped us evolve – a real thank you!
We’ll DM or email each of you separately to get your address and send the book, along with a few extra goodies…
Finally, before we dig into this unusually long newsletter below (even for us), we recommend viewing it on our website, as any and all email clients are certain to crop this newsletter due to its length.
Now let’s get to the golden nuggets roundup; Volumes 1-49 from last week. And here below, we present to you golden nuggets from volumes 50-99:
Vol 50 - Processes Begin in the Middle: This get’s into the heart of our work and the “emergent” in our name:
Not The Inventor but the Inventing
The process philosopher Brian Massumi puts it this way: “Invention is less about cause than it is about the self-conditioning of emergence.”
This self-conditioning of emergence is how the event is taking hold of the parts and transforming them. This is what is called ‘system causality’ (or ‘downward causality’ — but this is a bit of a misnomer). Once an emergent whole comes into being — going from a complex situation of many discrete components interacting to one of simplicity — wholeness, where things ‘snap’ together, then we have the emergence of ‘flight’ and this emergent event has a form of agency that transforms the component parts. Sometimes we talk about this as ‘co-shaping’ or even ‘circular causality’ because the parts make the whole and then the whole makes the parts. But from a big picture perspective this gives too much agency to the parts, and what is really driving the whole process is the emergent event. Thus, as Massumi suggests, it is more relevant to focus on the ‘self-conditioning of emergence’.
Vol 51 - Processes - The Astonishment of Feedback: We’re all mired in feedback loops. But what is it exactly and how can it elevate our creative game? This leaped off the page at us:
But What is Feedback?
Feedback is not one thing but rather two differing processes: there is stabilizing feedback and transforming feedback. Most often these are simply referred to as negative and positive feedback. But this way of expressing things can be confusing so we prefer to refer to them by what they do: stabilizing and transforming.
Feedback in general requires that a process have a way of sensing/monitoring itself. This can be quite simple and direct like in the classical household thermometer or far more complex like in the process of drinking coffee throughout the day to maintain a steady state of heightened alertness.
Sense-making is part of all but the very simplest of linear processes. Of course this form of sense-making can be quite minimal, but it is worth noting nonetheless that processes sense and via feedback they are active in their sensing.
1. Stabilizing Feedback:
Stabilizing Feedback is a self-maintaining process. As a system falls out of a desired state an action is triggered to return that system to the desired state. This is why it is often called negative feedback, because there is no change — things stay roughly the same. But it is not negative in the value sense of the word — it can be a very good thing if things stay the same. That our body temperatures stay within their narrow range is critical to us staying alive.
2. Transforming Feedback:
Transforming feedback is a self-reinforcing loop so as to enlarge or magnify whatever change is happening. It will push a system across a threshold either into a differing state or cause it to fall apart.
Coffee or wine — our two favorite drinks are great examples of both Stabilizing and Transforming Feedback:
When one feels tired — senses one's energy is low — one grabs some coffee and you feel more energetic. Sipping coffee during the day as one's energy dips will roughly maintain this state — we are utilizing a stabilizing feedback loop. But if we were to increase how much we drank — hoping for more of the great buzz that coffee gives after a few too many espressos our metabolism will transform, we will get jittery, start shaking and not be able to concentrate.
Similarly with wine, in moderation it produces a mildly euphoric state, but pushes it too far and we cross a threshold into a new state: drunkenness.
But it would be a mistake to conceptualize transforming feedback as always leading to negative outcomes. Crossing thresholds into differing stable states is what processes do. And crossing thresholds are critical to all innovation.
A second thing to note is that while human and personal examples like our coffee and wine example are helpful in understanding the process, feedback is everywhere and everywhere it is allowing processes to have both autonomy (stabilizing feedback) and agency (transforming and stabilizing feedback working in concert) without the need for an internal fixed essence or an external director.
This is what is so astonishing — we live in a world of processes that self create, self regulate and self transform in open and dynamic ways that are irreducible to linear cause, essence or source.
Emergent events like last week's example of flight are great examples of this. Flight as an event is self generating, stabilizing and transforming. Creativity and innovation are likewise similar events.
But to get to this level we have to understand that it is never one feedback operation — in complex processes there are multiple feedback loops occurring at multiple scales and across multiple scales all the while influencing each other.
Vol 52 - Processes Pt. 5 - Feeding Forward — The Process Takes Over: In wrapping up a series of posts on Processes, one passage, in particular, stood out for us that addressed the “irreducibly relational” argument and why we say it all starts in the middle:
This phrase “irreducibly relational'' is what is critical. Relationality is not just that things are connected in some formal manner like all the stuff piled up on my dining room table: books, glasses, computers, papers, cables, mail… The irreducible relationality of reality is something quite different: we should understand relationality as both a “thing” in its own right and as what determines the “parts” in a process is a critical shift in the reinvention of creativity as a process (without falling back into a substance viewpoint). Relations begin in the middle (see above diagram).
Our historical reductive and atomistic logic has us always searching or proposing an origin — some stable ground that everything builds up from (this is at the heart of the linear ideation logic as well)— but there is origin: “since processes achieve stability at different levels of complexity, while still interacting with processes at other levels, all are equally real and none has absolute ontological primacy.”
The middle is the beginning…
Vol 53 - Into and Beyond Paradigms: Is the logic of ‘paradigm change’ both helpful in understanding how large-scale creative change happens— and a useful approach to practically engaging in this change? We are interested in moving the dialog beyond the framework of paradigms and paradigm change…
…Kuhn and the model of theoretical change in some sciences is not as robust as one might have imagined. Without a focus on experimentation and tool building we are left with only one leg of a tripod. And, for us the question is: when we put the missing legs back on this tripod, will we still have anything like a Kuhnian model of change? Will it still be useful to focus on “paradigm change”?
Our sense is that it is not. The logic is too theoretical, and does a poor job of taking the distributed and emergent logic of processes into account. Our exploration of processes, emergence, feedback and especially feedforward suggest a differing approach.
Paradigm 2.0 for us is to return the term to a more modest and local meaning: it is a shared example. And in the context of creativity and innovation it is a shared example of an exaptation that when abstracted might suggest novel world opening possibilities.
But, novel paradigms are not novel worlds. Those need to be made — there is no switch, despite what Donella Meadows says “…in a single individual it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click of the mind, a falling of the scales from the eyes, a new way of seeing…” It is not happening in our minds, it is always emerging from a middle — a middle of doing.
Curious how we develop an alternative framework further? Check out Volume 53 – and Volume 54:
Vol 54 - Generating Change — Generating Epicycles: After many weeks of dissecting and examining innovation processes and the limits of the “paradigm change” framework, this felt like a conclusion of sorts:
Yes, we do need novel paradigms — novel shared sufficiently unprecedented examples of exaptations that suggest a possible path to explore — really to make. But more than that we need the techniques and processes that will participate in the emergence of novel worlds. And those are much closer to what we discussed last week with the concept of Feedforward and Epicycles.
Paradigms are a tool in the practice of exaptive emergence in feedforward processes and the stabilization of novel epicycles — they are not the "silver bullet.“
(Epicycles are one of the most helpful concepts and perhaps the least discussed…)
Vol 55 - Move Differently and the Mind Will Follow: A few great lines found buried in the middle of 55:
Rather than saying you need to change your mind and everything will follow. We prefer to say:
Follow and everything will change including your mind.
And in regards to ideas — they do matter, they matter quite a bit — but they too emerge from the process:
No ideas but in the making
Vol 56 - “A Picture Held Us Captive…” On Embracing Process: We love this story, as it gets to the heart of so much that is wrong with our conditioned perception of creativity:
Wittgenstein Goes For a Walk
Ludwig Wittgenstein out walking with a friend:
“Tell me," Wittgenstein asked,
"Why do people always say, it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?"
His friend replied, "Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going round the Earth."
To which Wittgenstein responded, "Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating…?”
Vol 57 - HOW? Examining Causality in Creative Processes: We believe strongly that you must know what exists to disrupt it, which is why we spend so much time queueing up the historical, which tends to jolt reader's common misconceptions:
Historically, we believe we can accurately explain complex things by a two step operation of (1) breaking things apart into their discreet and essential parts, and (2) ascribing a position and role in a causal web.
Linear processes are thus direct and additive. To this we need to add a third concept: causality is proportional (1+1=2). The outcome of all of this is a resultant aggregate.
But, is this really how the vast majority of our reality works? Is this really how creative processes work? Can we go from ideation to carry out a plan to a final novel result? Has any creative process actually operated in this manner?
Vol 58 - It’s Not Top Down, Nor Is It Bottom Up: On Immanence And System Causation: A beautiful note found sleeping among our piles of paper:
"The word experimental is apt, providing it is understood not as a descriptive of an act later judged in terms of success & failure, but simply as an act the outcome of which is unknown."
~ John Cage; Silence p.13
Vol 59 - Getting Constrained — Getting Creative: For us, it's all about the practice. Not sitting, talking, and theorizing about creativity and innovation. Rather, living it. Practicing. Taking action:
7 Practices for Systems Creativity Processes
For creativity this is quite interesting and leads to an important set of practices that stand in strong contrast to some of the classical practices of creativity (esp. those focused on internal mental states of individuals and ideation):
1. Active Joining: The multiple specific tendencies of a system cannot be known from the outside. To “find” these states requires an engaged experimental practice of creative probing (perturbing) that will push the system into its different states. Even in well understood dynamic systems there are novel stable states. NOTE: These states are relational and qualitative — and this involves you directly. See: Generating Epicycles.
2. Active Discovery: Experimental perturbations can move the system into a state that has always been there but never realized. This process of “discovery” is an active one of co-making: it takes creative effort to both get into such a state and to stabilize the state.
Experimental perturbations move the system into a novel state by shifting the relational dynamics such that the “topology” of attractors shifts (this is rarely a shift to just one novel state— but a set emerges, often categorized as unintended consequences). See: Engaging with Emergence
3. Blocking: Deliberate blockages can be experimentally introduced to reconfigure the system into a new set of attractors. While blocking can sound similar as a term to constraints — they are very different. Constraints are emergent processes that generate statistical regularities. These are not things you can see or point to. They are only noticeable in the pattern of outcomes that emerges over time. Constraints are the multiple propensities of a dynamic system.
A Blockage, on the other hand, is a deliberate rule to not do something. The goal is to push experimental behavior into explorations that do not fall back into the normal patterns (constraints) of a system.
A blockage is a special type of perturbation — probing. One would think that upsetting a system would lead to an increase in disorder but that is not the case it leads to the emergence of a new system of order — a new set of “constraints” (patterns of regularity) — a novel world in its becoming. See: On Blocking
4. Disclosure and Critical Cartography: Mapping patterns is a significant aspect of such a creative practice. Perturbations led to an understanding of regularities. As one scales up these regularities one can begin to see larger (still immanent) dynamic patterns. This takes work that joins direct experimentation to conceptual research. This is the work of critical disclosure that looks at regularities that occur across longer temporal periods (say the emergence of “nature” in the west, or the genealogy of the modern subject). Here the work of history, critical philosophy, political science and anthropology are critical — but used in an experimental and immanent manner (a great example of this type of work is visible in John Protevi’s Political Affect: Connecting the Social to the Somatic). One cannot shift away from historically emergent system regularities (which are often take as “how things really are”) — those now wholly implicit and unstated assumptions/processes — if we do not have the critical tools to recognize them and connect them to their relational immanence (this is the direct experimental aspect). Blockages will be trivial (which is not necessarily always a bad thing) if practices of critical disclosure do not reveal the pervasive historical patterns.
5. Time, process and emergent agency: It can often feel like that these emergent regularities are just “there” even if that there is not actual. It is critical to see how a system is constrained as emerging in and over time. Some constrained regularities are built upon and require the stability of earlier constrained regularities. And all of the patterns are dynamic and shifting as the system dynamics co-evolve with the dynamics of sub processes and external forces.
6. Caution and irreversibility: Exploration and co-creation are conjoined. Discovering and making are not truly distinct activities. Creative processes happen in time, they lead to emergent possibilities that exceed what can be known in advance (and will continue to do so), these will change both you and the system in ways that are irreversible. Creativity — systems creativity is not an action that has an end. Change is happening in ways that one needs to follow, and continuously actively co-shape. You emerge and transform alongside the change. Creativity involves making durative processes — adaptive, dynamic engaged processes of critical and responsive co-emergence.
7. Threshold seeking: moving from one constrained regularity to another within a dynamic system is a form of threshold crossing activity. Simply agitating a system in a one-off manner leads to statistically expected quantitative outcomes. To get beyond these outcomes requires a concerted effort that only works if it is commensurate with the work needed to cross a threshold from Change-in-degree to Change-in-kind. E.g. if you just heat up water a little bit — it is still a liquid. To get it into a different stable state requires enough energy to heat it up to 100C — then we have a different state: steam. Exploring and co-creating novel states of systems requires threshold seeking and crossing techniques. These require more than “effort” — these require experimental reconfigurations of the system — novel relations, tools, environments, actions etc.
Vol 60 - Can the New be New? We’d just got back from Lisbon, where we facilitated a workshop themed around “not letting the new do the work of the old.” This emerged from a favorite quote from Marshall McLuhan:
“All [prevailing technologies] work us over completely — they are so pervasive in personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected or unaltered.”
Vol 61 - Creativity and the Myth of Human Exceptionalism: At 61, we were in the throes of crafting a 90-minute keynote speech for the IRDG in Dublin. We focused our talk on the myths of creativity, which led to the following:
The 6 Myths of Creativity:
Vol 62 - Experimentation Does Not Lead To Discoveries: We don’t view LinkedIn as a uni-directional bullhorn. But rather a poly-directional medium that allows us to wrestle with questions beyond ourselves. Here’s an example:
“Discovery” in Innovation?
The questions and the comments in Linkedin were in themselves quite simple (it is a format that favors brevity)— but they were, for us, quite catalytic — and really helpful in how they got us thinking and talking.
We just want to pick out a few key concepts from the comments:
“To me, exaptation feels more like an act of unintended discovery in a context that is somehow restless…”
“…Single moments of realization”
“Came from noticing…”
This got the two of us discussing (in taxi’s, planes, buses, over frequent coffee’s and the odd glass of wine) — what do we mean when we talk of “discovery” in innovation?
Is the framing of “an act of noticing… that is a single moment of realization… or an act of unintended discovery…” the right way to frame key moments in the process of innovation? For us, all of these phrases are forms of the “discovery narrative” — and the question is — Is it helpful to say that anything was “discovered.”
Our basic concern is that if something is genuinely novel it does not pre-exist the practices that lead to its emergence. And thus speaking of a “discovery” the way one could speak of discovering an unknown planet is problematic.
What makes all of this even more interesting is how many experimental scientists talk of their innovations — they are using the language of “discoveries” too.
This is exactly how, many years after the fact, Alexander Flemming talks about the invention of Penicillin… click through to the volume to read the Penicillin example.
Vol 63 - Debunking the Five Myths of Creativity: You won’t find many selfies of us in our work… just not our style. But, once in a while, there is a picture worth sharing:
Here we’re delivering the keynote and doing an all-day workshop on innovation at the IRDG Leading Business Innovation Conference 2022 in Kilkenny.
It was a pretty special two days working with some amazing people and having time to go deeper into things.
Vol 64 - On Habit, Experience and Process Blindness: Process Blindness is something that we see quite often in our work and workshops:
In regards to experience and attentional blindness much of the attention has been focused on single moments — a gorilla walks across the field of view or shows up in one image [that few if any notice]. But this form of blindness is also part of longer experiences — we can be “blind” to whole processes — and this is a more significant issue for innovation.
When we do workshops on introducing new techniques for innovation (such as last week in Austria and Ireland) — specifically on how you can develop genuine novel outcomes without using the process of “Ideate, Plan and Make,” — we will get a very similar response as that with the gorilla experiment:
After participating in a team based highly iterative process that does not allow for the participants to begin with ideation and the carrying out of a plan — and where they end up with astonishing and radically novel results, we pause and reflect collectively on the experience.
“Could you have predicted this is where we would have ended up?”
Pretty much everyone will, on reflection, say “No.”
But then when we ask the teams to describe and diagram the process in a step by step manner, a good percentage will report that they began with ideation, then planning and finally carrying out that plan.
In fact, depending on the innovation processes and conceptual frameworks they are most experienced with, these will become the basis of their retrospective retelling of the experience — despite it being totally distinct….
(Now, we spend far more time on process blindness and how to see process…)
Vol 65 - Knowing and Not Knowing — Creativity Outside: In rereading, we found this subtle reminder:
The important point for innovation & change in general, is that:
Our world in all its aspects is enacted — comes into being as a specific world by what we do with things.
This world is always already there. We are always already of a world.
This world is nothing more and nothing less than our embodied engagement with things in an environment. As such it cannot be explicated fully.
How we know and create is embodied, embedded, extended and enactive — there is no other way.
Vol 66 - Making Creative Sense Of Sense-Making: Innovation won’t be “easy, fast or neat”:
To do something different — to invent or join creative processes is never just a matter of changing clothes — taking off and putting on a new hat so to speak.
It is never a matter of sitting down in a conference room and deciding to ‘think different” and then just doing it with a handful of sticky notes, practices of divergent thinking, some other creativity tools and good people. If it were only so wonderfully easy!
But, because we are wholly of a world we need to actively disclose, deconstruct and ultimately refuse (block) a whole way of sense-making — a whole way that we are co-shaped. And it is ultimately us — what we cannot even clearly see about us and our world that we are trying to transform. In creative processes we are trying to come to sense differently — co-emerge a new mode of sense-making — of being alive… — a new “value-chain” — a new value enacting process…
This can sound vast, abstract and overwhelming (who said innovation was going to be easy, fast and neat?). But the insights this offers us are both profound and quite actionable.
Vol 67 - Books! At Last An Annotated Bibliography: The number one question we’ve been asked by readers of our book is: “Do you have a bibliography.” It was a conscious omission on our part – we wanted to make a living annotated bibliography on our website to support the book with further resources. We were also hesitant to focus too much on books – here is a bit on the reason for our reluctance:
“...we are also loath to focus too much on books. Books do matter, but they never matter alone — they only matter as part of some meaningful experiment that you are undertaking. Doing connects to reading and that folds back into an experimental practice as a relay.
Books are not a fixed repository of knowledge but tools that are open to inventive reuse — the way in which one can use a shoe to open a bottle of wine. Some books were useful to us only in one context and when we returned to them later they no longer glowed and radiated towards any use. Others seem to really matter over quite some time.
For creativity and innovation, we do not subscribe to the model that there is a fixed cannon that one must be read. Sure, for us there were books that became necessary and critical — and in our annotations we make this visible, but take this list how you will. All we ask is, be experimental — put concepts to work, experiment and change things.”
Vol 68 - Putting a Bow on 2022: Over the last few months, we’ve been redesigning our website (more on that next week.) It’s the result of our responsive and immanent approach to our work - we are also changed by the process. So when we read the quote below, it was comforting to know that it was still true and did not require a rewrite to reflect our current selves:
Our daily motivation [to write this newsletter] was both our own curiosity about all things creativity and innovation — and to add value to your engagements with creativity and innovation processes. And while we lived up to our own curiosity — we’ll leave the judgment of value up to you.
Vol 69 - 23 Ways to Practice Innovation and Creativity: This weeks topic was on “23 ways to Practice Creativity” – the confluence of writing this newsletter and the theme of repetition struck us:
Repetition over reflection: Do it again differently. And then do it again differently. Then see the patterns and frameworks. Now step outside of these (block them) and do it again. You are looking to move across the threshold from quantitative to qualitative difference.
Vol 70 - Begin Again, Forget Again: One of the most successful things we’ve done over the last 100 weeks is this presentation: “Innovation Led Leadership with Complex Adaptive Systems” as part of the Agile to Agility Leadership Conference covering how the event of creativity can lead.
You may find it of interest…
Vol 71 - Chat GPT and the Blind Adventures of the Analog: We began a longer reflection on Analog algorithms, Chat GPT and innovation by referencing very interesting paper that was recently published in Nature making the argument that fundamental research has become “less disruptive over time”:
“We find that papers and patents are increasingly less likely to break with the past in ways that push science and technology in new directions. This pattern holds universally across fields and is robust across multiple different citation- and text-based metrics. Subsequently, we link this decline in disruptiveness to a narrowing in the use of previous knowledge, allowing us to reconcile the patterns we observe with the ‘shoulders of giants’ view. We find that the observed declines are unlikely to be driven by changes in the quality of published science, citation practices or field-specific factors. Overall, our results suggest that slowing rates of disruption may reflect a fundamental shift in the nature of science and technology.”
It is a very interesting paper and there is quite a bit of interesting research work in this area of trying to measure the frequency and type of innovation that is happening.
Vol 72 - Problems, Emergence, Worlds, Chat GPT, and Creativity: As professors, we could not possibly ignore the impact and ramifications of ChatGPT’s release. So we put it through the paces using an example we like to employ frequently, that you may or may not be familiar with: writing without the letter E. ChatGPT was not up to the task, as you can see from our final screenshot… worth going back and looking through the entire prompt dialogue.
Vol 73 - A New Alphabet of Creativity: We love and know how important glossaries are – words are living things – tools that morph in shape and logic. For volume 73, we invested a fair amount of time in our glossary - which was long overdue. This project is far from finished. Here we talk a bit about the fundamental creative importance of glossaries and playing with words and concepts:
To do anything new it is even more important to figure out a new language. A new language has as one of its key focuses for the development of novel concepts – concept creation. New words are an expression of the development of new concepts and new approaches.
This work of concept creation might involve coining new words, (such as affordances, assemblages, enaction and exaptation), but most often it involves the work of experimental redefinition. Both of which lead to their own confusions and frustrations. But ultimately the new and the different require a new vocabulary – there is no way around this.
Words are tools, not representations, and as such their definitions are user guides – suggestions for pragmatic use and not the final truth of a term. As new uses arise with new practices new definitions are needed.
For us, recognizing that words have no fixed, proper or final definition is critical. Words are how they are used. And the definitions follow from our everyday creative acts of ongoing innovative meaning making. One of the great joys of being alive is playing with language – making meaning in our lives.
Vol 74 - How to Reinvent the Wheel But Different: This was too good to pass up:
While presenting at the National Academy of Sciences conference: Strategic Innovation and Commercialization - Supporting IP and Tech Transfer to Advance U.S. Research Competitiveness, we were speaking on the panel: Next Horizons and New Models for Driving Innovation Landscapes Across US STEM Sectors, and prior to our presentation we heard DARPA proclaim “they invented the Internet” — and we all know Al Gore did – but either way this concept that some one or group “invented” something like the internet illuminates all that is wrong with so many approaches to creativity and innovation:
Inventing the Internet
How so? Here is one of the examples we presented at the conference – the invention of the internet. We chose this primarily because of DARPA’s involvement in the conference where they claimed in an earlier presentation that they had invented the internet. Nothing could be further from the truth. DARPA did play a number of important roles in the development of the internet – but they certainly did not invent it – ultimately no one did (but that's getting ahead of the story).
What DARPA developed (based on international work that emerged in a highly distributed manner) was a closed physically distributed computer network with four nodes. Other similar systems were being developed internationally. For computing this was a challenge but conceptually it was not a radical departure from other communication systems – it was certainly not a new radical and transformative world making event.
If DARPA had then applied the innovation strategies they proposed at the conference (that all the new technologies the Department of Defense does not “pull forward” DARPA would push to commercialize seeking “product-market fit.”) – and had it worked where they achieved product market fit, we would have ended up with a series of closed communication systems being commercialized – interesting products but not anything like the thing we now call the internet.
Yes, “the internet” comes from what DARPA (and others) worked on – but it did not come out of it in any linear fashion. – It is an emergent outcome of a process by which unintended affordances joined with other logics into a rich self-organizing complex ecosystem that came to have its own emergent agency. The emergent “internet” is something genuinely emergent that is irreducible to any one causal relation.
In hindsight we can now see the internet as “obvious” – but it is important to remember that, as something radically novel and emergent, it was ontologically unknowable in advance of its emergence.
Vol 75 - Breaking with the Colonial Practice of User Centered Design: This critique of human-centered design is worth a reread:
The problem with a universal model of human-centered design — and any other model that assumes we are all deep down the same — is that it cannot come to terms with actual difference and new emergent difference.
The modernist universalizing Western perspective explains “rivers as people” as simply “superstitions” to be overcome, or as elaborate “metaphors” that are not meant in any literal sense — “of course, no one is claiming rocks are people, that would be silly, they are simply getting at the fact that everything is energy and “alive”— but they don’t have our modern words for it!”
Multiculturalism explains away and denies real difference.
Let’s focus on the style of judgment being used in this universalizing perspective:
Vol 76 - On Users and Use Generated Creativity: Has there ever been a sexier, scarier dinosaur?
Vol 77 - Scratching Discovery: We love music. All kinds. All genres. From all cultures. Across millennia. So digging into the history of Hip-Hop as an exemplar of creativity and innovation processes was a real thrill (one I suspect we’ll return to at some point down the line.)
Goes without saying a killer Hip-Hop playlist was necessary to accompany the text.
Vol 78 - The Two Faces of Innovation: We find it always helpful to go back to these lists detailing, contrasting, and comparing the differences between change-in-degree (linear, iterative, incremental) versus change-in-kind (dynamic, emergent, and relational):
We can summarize it this way: change-in-degree is:
… and the tools that work are:
We can summarize it this way, change-in-kind is:
and the tools that work are:
Vol 79 - On Games, Tools, and Probes for Disruptive Innovation: This captures the ethos and energy of the last 100 weeks quite well:
Well… we are back from our twenty three hour round trip to Austin. It was one of those leave-the-house-at-4am days: land in a strange town, get briefly oriented, prepare, do a great all-day workshop that ends with a wonderful group dinner, sleep a couple of hours and head back to the airport at 4am, and then it's a new day and you are back where you started.
The return was made thrilling by landing in Newark during a full-on Nor'easter…
Vol 80 - On Creative Styles: The title of this presentation was provocative enough:
“We just got back from Alexandria, VA and the VentureWell Conference where we co-led an extended workshop + discussion into new approaches to teaching and practicing innovation titled “Fuck Ideas: How to Innovate After the Failure of Ideation — A Workshop and Discussion on a New Approach to Engaged Innovation and Entrepreneurship Parts 1 & 2”.”
Vol 81 - Who Is the Individual and Who Is Creative?: These two images compare and contrast the variables of linear models of innovation versus nonlinear causality:
Vol 82 - Games Creativity Life (Part One): Games as means to creativity and innovation? You bet – starting with this great definition:
“Playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.
There is so much one could say about this statement, but let's just focus on the end: “overcoming unnecessary obstacles.”
Now, this is a controversial position, but we want to explore it:
Innovation, when it is most disruptive, is also involved in a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles….
Vol 83 - Games Creativity Life (Part Two): There is so much to revisit from 83 - we’re left in a difficult spot to choose… Thus we highly recommend going back and reading it in its entirety:
Classically we conceptualize a problem as having two qualities:
But, this alone cannot effectively define a problem, to this we need to add:
Games invent problems: how can you achieve a certain objective under these conditions?
If we remember Suit’s short definition of a game: “Playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” we can see how a game produces a problem – that which we strive to overcome. And in doing so games invents (or produces) a modality – a way of being of the problem – a form of agency…
Vol 84 - What's the Problem with Problems?: The “Garden of Eden” as our generic default model for approaching problems?
Looking at this model we see that there are four critical aspects::
And where does creativity come into this equation? The role of creativity is in step three – the invention of a solution. Notice here that the problem is taken as a given and that creativity only begins with working on the solution – creativity only comes at the end.
This critique was the beginning of a series on “the problem with problems” – all worth revisiting.
Vol 85 - How Using Creativity Can Be Anti-Creative: We have spent countless hours trying to articulate in the clearest and most concise fashion possible, how the problem-solving approach is anti-creative. This was a real challenge, as there are so many moving parts and variables that must be accounted for. That said, rereading this now leaves us content we did a fairly decent job with it. We’d consider this volume a must-read:
14 Issues with the Generic Approach to Problems (A Summary):
Here is a summary of the most critical aspects of the Generic Approach to Problems:
Vol 86 - For Creativity's Sake – Let's Leave Our Problems Behind?: The problem-solution approach is so fully part of our lives and environments such that we tend toward understanding innovation as solving problems and fixing things, to get them back to where they were. But this is neither a creative nor innovative approach whatsoever:
In a creative intra-dependant dynamic world of many worlds – we are not in the business of trying to fix things – running around solving problems to get back to some prior state of things – we are always mutually sensing and caring through ongoing creative co-making – we have a living situated concern for what has emerged, what is emerging and what could quite radically emerge altogether differently if we truly problematize things…
Vol 87 - The Paradoxes of Re-Orienting Towards Co-Action: Easy to criticize what we don’t like. Much harder to offer and practice alternatives - we do our best here:
…how do we effectively embrace far more dynamic, non-linear, emergent, distributed, and more-than-human approaches to creativity?
And to move more in this direction, we can suggest that we should:
Vol 88 - The Enabling Constraints of Creativity: Iain’s cat, Blacktop! Little fella was on the brink of using his tenth life when we wrote this… now, the birds and mice are on high alert again…
Vol 89 - You Are Creative – Sorry That’s Life: Roll through the images in 89 - tells a brilliant story and has us feeling like if this whole innovation thing doesn’t work out, we could go into comics:
Vol 90 - Coasting into Affordances: Look, the text in volumes 89 and 90 are critical to exaptations, but the images just don’t get enough air time… continuing the image roll from 89:
Vol 91 - Affordances - Expanding the Creative Terrain: This is another must read. Great care was taken to achieve depth and clarity around what we believe to be a critical element of creativity and innovation - affordances. Here’s a definition we lifted from 91… but again, add this volume to your read-it-later app (we recommend Reader by Readwise,) highlight it, make notes, and dig in - there’s a wealth of knowledge in here:
Affordances are RELATIONS between aspects of the material environment and the EMBODIED abilities of an active individual. They are NOT things or simply aspects of the environment. They are situational – CONTEXTUAL relations that are creatively developed and sustained.
Vol 92 - Affordances, Cultures, Creativity and Worldmaking: In an effort to make the challenging more understandable, 92 is the first time we pivot to a conversational style newsletter… a glorified Q&A, if you will. We hope it helps you grasp these critical concepts (hit reply and let us know if you love it or hate it). We could have selected from the start of this dialogue or the end. We chose the end because it’s strong enough to stand alone, making you better for it:
To conclude, can we come back to the relation between affordances, worldmaking, and creativity?
To recap then:
The question to ask is, what does this or that way of being-of-a-world afford? What new creative modes of being, doing, thinking are now possible?
Creativity is an ongoing worldmaking practice – from worldmaintaining to deworlding to reworlding.
Creative worldmaking is always an ontological project.
Our everyday creative practices are never separable from this logic of worldmaking. It is important to always be asking of what we are doing:
Each of these is an experimental question – a question that can only be answered in doing – in developing a creative process to work with, in, of, and on what is afforded us as part of an ongoing worldmaking process.
Vol 93 - Affordances, Exaptations & Creative Practices: 93 is the middle of a deep examination of affordances… and what pops off the page right at the top is another important way to define affordances for creativity and innovation models that are non-linear:
The concept of affordance gives us a way to understand how our reality, as it is perceived and engaged, is something that is relational – it is the outcome of the meeting of our embodied abilities and some aspect of the environment. And this meeting – this relation gives rise to specific opportunities for action.
We diagrammed it as this:
Vol 94 - Exaptation 3.0 – Affordances, Niche Construction and Innovation: Here, we dig into the history of Exaptations 1.0, 2.0 and make an argument for Exaptations 3.0:
Ten Concepts for Exaptation 3.0
After having directly experimented with exaptation processes for over thirty years I can attest to the real value for human innovation in understanding and pragmatically utilizing the processes of exaptation. Our critique of Exaptation 1.0 is about developing a real, robust, effective approach to innovation that learns from practice, the continued development of the sciences, and our own theoretical speculations.
Our contention is that we should understand (and utilize) exaptation as one of the creative (evolutionary) processes involved in how novel affordances and their co-enacting relation between agent and specific environment move towards radically new modes of being alive. Exaptation is not a stand alone process for innovation.
Exaptation, in close connection with other processes, is critical to radical innovation because it allows for the emergence of novel ways of being that are not reliant on any form of pre-existent determinate plan.
Ultimately, we would argue that exaptation is best understood as a one of the sub-processes that can lead to innovation only because it is necessarily embedded in a larger series of integrated processes that are directly involved in the production of novelty.
Exaptation must be understood in the light of affordances and niche construction. This is why over the last four weeks we have focused on Affordances. Understanding affordances changes everything about innovation. And it gives us a new and far more effective way to connect the key innovation process of exaptation to other processes and logics to develop a holistic effective innovation methodology.
Some of these process in relation to exaptation are more general:
And some of these are more directly involved:
Vol 95 - Affordances: Summarizing an Alternative Approach to Creativity: Enough of the definitions, let’s surface something practical:
The first and perhaps most important thing is that: Simply being alive is a profoundly creative activity.
The active relation between our bodies + our actions + our environment creates our lived perspectival reality. We are en-acting what we experience, we are en-acting what is afforded us.
To talk of creativity, perspectivalism, and action is to ultimately talk about enaction. The prefix “en” signifies a “belonging to” – thus, en-action is a belonging to, a being created by the activity. And we “belong” to it in the way it is co-creating us.
Our bodies + action + environment are enactive – they are creatively coming from these things, and they are also creatively making them. The now classical example of this is from the poet Antonio Machado, who explains it as a “laying down a path in walking.” And what is being enacted is a landscape of affordances. The “path” of Machado’s poem is the landscape of affordances.
Thus, when we say “simply being alive is a profoundly creative act,” it is because “we” are enactively laying down a path in walking…
Vol 96 - Affordances: Leaving Mindsets to Gain Worlds: Here’s a detailed diagram that ties these last few volumes together:
Vol 97 - Resources for Affordances: This newsletter was another addition to our annotated bibliography – here focused on the world of affordances.
Here is a bit of insight into our perspective regarding sources and books we read:
… while we are really happy to share recommendations, we are also a bit cautious. We do draw extensively on the work of others – it deeply informs our own research and the development of our concepts, practices and approach, and in our newsletters we try to share this via links, so you can follow concepts out to sources.
But – here is the thing, we are rarely drawing upon texts that are directly about creativity, innovation or management. Rather we find primary sources on specific topics – exaptation, affordances, complexity, emergence, etc.-- far more helpful. This primary research is something that we can test, synthesize, transform and put to work. But, this means that from a pragmatic perspective, any concept we are introducing in the newsletter is not coming from a book – rather it is coming from multiple sources – books, conversations, research, experimentation and application – that we are synthesizing in a unique manner.
In our own practice, we are always working behind the scenes testing, experimenting and researching – we are never just apply some idea we read directly. Our daily goal is to develop new concepts, tools, and approaches that can help others in how they engage with creative processes in practical ways. Therefore, there are no books directly about the exact topics we discuss in the newsletters.
More importantly, these books have been important to us – but they are not the last or even the first word on these topics – nor are they necessarily relevant to you. The latter point is why we are ok with presenting a long list of books. But, please do not, even for a second, take it as “you need to read all of this before you can say anything relevant on this topic”. We viscerally abhor this form of intellectual blackmail. It goes without saying, you can do astonishing things in the space of innovation without these works and you can do astonishing things in the space these books cover without reading these books.
Vol 98 - Summer Creative Practices: Not sure we’ve written a more complete newsletter than this. Challenging the norms of acting, action, and activity to providing detailed practices that you can participate in to attune your senses to a creative reality – this volume is a must read:
We have been thinking a lot about activities and creativity as we wrote on affordances. In a very real sense there is only action – activity. Activity in life does not have an opposite. We are always in motion – from the subatomic scale to the scale of the universe, everything is in motion – in ceaseless activity. And from a very human-centered practical perspective, even staying still – bringing ourselves into a meditative posture – is a complex and even challenging activity.
But, nonetheless, we, as a culture, do circulate constantly around the opposition between the active and the passive. We, for example, oppose bodily activity and thinking – we have sayings like “think before you act,” or “stop and think,” or “I'm much more a thinker than a doer.” And then there is a similar opposition between action and perception “Don’t do anything – just observe,” etc. When we pay attention to this, we can see that much of our self-understanding relies on this dichotomy of being active and equally being inactive.
The divide between thinking and acting is a dangerous illusion – as is the related divide between sensing and action, or perception and action. Perception is an action. Perception is a deeply embodied and situated skilled cultural activity – as is sensing in general, as is thinking – thought is always in the act. Thought is always an embodied and extended tool-centric cultural activity as Michael Anderson in the above quote frames it.
The issue we have with this opposition is that it pulls thinking and perceiving out of the active, really the enactive, flow of life and makes it something quite separate.
To say that thought is “in the act” is not only to refuse the active-passive duality but to also, equally importantly, refuse the logic of reducing thinking to a location. Thought is not an activity that can be clearly located in the head – it is not the activity of certain brain cells. Thinking is in activity – it is both distributed across activities and emerges from the middle of activity. Thinking is an extended and distributed activity done with and of an environment, tools, practices, and others.
“Thought is in the act. Every practice is a mode of thought, already in the act. To dance: a thinking in movement. To paint: a thinking through color. To perceive in the every day: a thinking of the world’s varied ways of affording itself.” (Manning & Massumi)
The arising of novel thoughts is a process that involves novel ways of engaging with ongoing creative processes of the world that stream through and thrive all around us.
We’re taking a two fer’ here at the end - this drawing by Iain’s partner is too stunning to leave on the cutting room floor:
Vol 99 - Summer Reading and Listening: We’re concluding this 9,845 word marathon with a shockingly magnetic audio track:
Well, this concludes our celebration of 100 newsletters!
Thanks for sticking around through it all. And we sincerely hope you will be with us in two summers when we celebrate 200!
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