Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 106! Experimenting Towards Heuristics for Emergent Creative Practices...
Good morning, beings adapting to the changing of weathers,
It is a lovely early fall morning; the moon has set, the bugs are still pulsing, and the sun is hours away.
It has been a busy week for us between teaching, research projects, client meetings, a lecture, and a museum workshop.
The lecture/discussion: “Getting Creativity Right in a Dynamic World” was especially wonderful – both the discussions in preparing for it and then the discussions that were part of it were quite interesting and something
In this week’s newsletter, we wish to explore how we can get practical with “how to work with and of dynamic emergent systems for novel outcomes.”
Dynamic systems require us to consciously consider multiple scales, highly varied modalities, and strangely distributed forms of agency – all at the same time. But, the problem is that the type of embodied beings we are in the contexts many of us live makes it quite difficult to hold multiple dynamic trajectories in one's active consideration at one time.
For example, in our outward speech and in our inner discourse, concepts come out one after another – word by word in a linear and sequential manner. Our most mundane embodied activities, when looked at from a narrow experiential perspective, are loosely linear: reaching out for a cup, standing up and walking, changing the TV channel, turning our heads to look at something…
But these embodied practices, in ecosystems that support linear workflows and practices, give us a limited sense of how dynamic, emergent, distributed, multiscalar, relational, and open to change life actually is.
While it can ultimately be profoundly intellectually challenging – it is easy enough to read and grasp conceptually the importance and general validity of statements such as:
“Nature does not consist of basic particulars, but fields and processes… “
– but how do we bring this truth into our lives and creative practices in pragmatic and meaningful ways?
Consider this longer quote from Evan Thomson, that gives one a sense of the dynamic nature of our reality:
“Nature does not consist of basic particulars, but fields and processes… There is no bottom level of base particulars with intrinsic properties that upwardly determines everything else. Everything is process all the way “down” and all the way “up”...
“…these processes are “irreducibly relational — they exist only in patterns, networks, organizations, configurations or webs… Phenomena at all scales are not entities or substances but relatively stable [relational] processes…”
“...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.”…” (Evan Thompson, Mind in Life, p. 440)
Let’s just be really clear: It is astonishingly challenging. To bring this logic fully into our lives and practices means, in our context, that we are going against 2,000 plus years of enactive practices, habits, concepts, tools, environments, etc. It is no easy task to build a differing world at any scale.
Here is a common example from our practice:
A couple of weeks ago, we had a long discussion with a potential client who works for one of the largest companies in the world. He came to us with the request: Can you help my global teams become more open to learning and trying out new approaches? This is a very reasonable request: Do we have a short online course they could take to be more creative?
As we talked further, he identified his problem as being:
He has developed the right method for his employees to approach their task – but none of his team is willing to adopt it. He then went into more detail about the issue: The workforce is millennials, who, as a distinct cohort, have a mindset that is risk averse, given to fixed views, and an unwillingness to do something that they do not know in advance will lead to success. Thus, he just needs a tool that will allow them to be willing to try new approaches.
Now, from a dynamic, emergent approach to change, we are skeptical of every aspect of how he conceptualized his reality. And we were most skeptical of what he was looking for: that silver bullet – an educational pill that everyone on his vast team could quickly take, change their mindsets, and then get on with their jobs in a proper fashion.
Now, while we were very sympathetic to the situation, this was not the solution – nor even the issue. Not that we would claim to know anything in advance about what the concrete approach to shift the ecosystemic dynamics might be. But what we can and did say is that the situation required a much more holistic approach – one that actively considers the dynamics of the ecosystem both to get a sense of what is going on and how to respond.
But, here is not the place to go into all of those specific details – what we want to highlight in this story is first how the habits, practices, and environments of a linear, intrinsic core problem seeking, and essentialist approaches – what Evan Thompson was explicitly critiquing, are so easily articulated, understood and activated in daily practice. Base particular, bottom levels, intrinsic properties, essentialist entities, ontological primacy – it is all here.
Now, it is also important to note – this is not anyone's fault – certainly not the potential client. The context plays a significant role in making this approach that the potential client articulated the system’s propensity. His solution space and agency pathways are also emergent properties of context, and it would be equally mistaken to see an individual and his purported psychology/mindset as the “source.”
And this brings us back to the pragmatic question:
“How can we work in more effective ways with and of dynamic emergent systems for novel outcomes?”
For a presentation this week, we put together a short list of some general guiding rules of thumb – heuristics that we find helpful as we approach innovation projects. These are pragmatic rules of thumb – open to contextual modification and transformation. They help give a general heading and remind us of how we might proceed – but they are not hard and fast, all-encompassing universal rules. For us, as heuristics, they help us stay with the ethos.
For this week, we are just giving you an unfinished version of this list. Next week, we will go into how we utilize and more fully flesh out these rules of thumb. Our thought in doing things in this manner is that this is perhaps a useful exercise for you as well:
Please share your rules/heuristics or other lists that are helpful in your practice. Next week, we’ll combine them all into one large list.
1. Actively embrace that all reality is creative.
[a] Develop a process orientation that is as dynamic as reality.
2. Move away from approaching creativity as a human, individual, brain-centered, and idea-focused practice.
[a] Consciously & actively refuse the "ideation first" approach to creativity.
[b] Avoid the practices of ascribing causality/agency to brains, mindsets, individualization, psychology, etc.
3. Practice thinking as an extended worldly activity.
[a] Thinking is about ecosystems & not brains.
[b] Embrace “doing-thinking” – treat thinking as a worldly engaged activity: no thinking but in doing
[c] Probing is a form of thinking – knowing is emergent.
[d] Knowing is a co-creative act
[e] Develop a way to work that is conscious of its inherently collaborative and ecosystemic nature.
[f] Recognize that agency is intrinsically relational
[g] It needs to be widely distributed: recognize and actively give agency to non-human actors (objects, systems, habits, etc., embrace abstraction).
4. Be active, responsive & open to what emerges
[a] Attune your interests to surf the self-organizing
[b] Let yourself & organizations be changed by the emergent process
[c] Collectively Develop & trust feed-forward processes
[d] Actively participate in the emergence of new worlds
5. Work with Enabling Constraints
[a] Actively disclose & block dominant patterns
[b] Sense & perturbate the propensities of relevant systems & change probabilities
[c] Experiment with ways to disclose unintended affordances/possibilities (exaptations)
6. Change requires an active process of keeping qualitative difference alive.
[a] co-develop “differences that make a difference”
[b] let the new be new
[c] keep difference alive
7. Focus on developing creative ecosystems, and the outcomes will happen
[a] People need intersubjective agency
[b] Organizational logics need the ability to change with novel emergence
[c] Rooms, workflows, rituals, unintended affordances, time allocations, etc., all participate in the ecosystem
8. Change is embodied in ways that stay in the body and environment.
[a] Use experiential “games” – exercises and contexts to allow all members of our team/organization to engage with the above processes in a deeply experiential manner.
That’s it – it’s a reasonably short, deliberately general, and provisional list. As an experiment – try printing it out. Put it somewhere visible – say, the fridge or in your workspace.
What are your rules of thumb?
What would you add or change?
How would you explore each of these?
Remember, the goal is to develop a creative practice that is “true” to our dynamic, emergent, creative processual reality.
If you are curious about going into the ethos of our heuristics further, Volume 86 is a good place to go back to:
“Adaptive agency is not fully controlled by the human side of the co-action paradigm. But in the same way, we cannot understand an action as springing from an individual and independent agent alone (inner), neither should we favor the other side of the co-action paradigm, namely the non-subjective and non-intentional world (outer). Adapting does not imply determination or incapacity to do otherwise… An efficacious use of the world’s affordances consists in creatively shaping and re-appropriating them. Accordingly, adapting is a contextually creative way to act and a timely confluence between actors that raises a new and suitable event.” Mercedes Valmisa, “Adapting, A Chinese Philosophy of Action”:
Please join us in this experiment – send us your thoughts, and we can experiment together.
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