Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 12! Introducing Creative Processes...
It’s volume twelve -- which is really crazy to think about -- that means we have been together for a quarter of a year! That is something to celebrate. We’re a growing community and a growing space of discussion. This is really what we hoped to cultivate. Many of you -- no, most of you we have never met in person -- but here we are collaboratively evolving new ways to engage with creativity. We have written 24 short essays, produced over 75 drawings, and written nearly a hundred posts…
But none of that matters unless we’re providing you with value. Helping you to become more creative and inspiring new ways to innovate disruptively.
Because of our desire to serve others, we are curious -- what would you like to see more or less of? What is resonating? What are we missing that we should be addressing? Are the practices helpful? Should we bother posting links to the hi-res images?
We want to focus and deliver meaningful content - so if you have a moment to share feedback, and help us evolve this newsletter together we’d be grateful. And while superlatives are great, growth comes from identifying shortcomings. We have thick skin and thin egos, fire away!
For us, creativity is always far more than a human event, and so it is wonderful to welcome snow and the cold back into our lives and spaces of creativity.
Here in New Jersey it snowed for the first time this year. Beautiful delicate wisps of what is to come.
This week in our Newsletter we have four great things for you:
This week we have focused on the process of creativity:
On Monday we published an article Creativity: Constraints, Fields, and Systems
Over the last month we have been laying out the foundations of an alternative view of creativity.
We have been developing a two part argument:
“When the constituents of a system are highly coherent, integrated, and correlated such that their properties are nonlinear functions of one another, the system cannot be treated as just a collection of uncoupled parts. Thus, the activity of strongly non-linearly coupled brain, body, and environment cannot be ultimately explained by decomposing them into subsystems, or system and background. They are one extended system.” (Chemero & Silberstein, Extending Neutral Monism to the Hard Problem 2016).
Everything that matters is necessarily relational, dynamic and emergent -- a form of ongoing worldmaking that has its own logic (beyond what any living thing might understand as their intentionality or agency).
Thus our definition of creativity expands: “Creativity is the development of new forms of constraining system dynamics across multiple registrars to stabilize novel worlds”
It is great to have a general definition, but how does one go about actually engaging with creativity? The understanding and definitions serve to empower us to become better creative designers creating novel paradigms, but we need a sense of the process.
Where to start?
The good news is that we are always already immersed in ongoing creativity. This can sound like an empty triviality, but it is fundamental to everything: we are in and of an ongoing creativity. Our ‘creativity’ is not one that can impose novel ideas upon a passive and inert reality, it is not about being heroic ‘disruptors’, solitary geniuses or any other illusion -- it is the process of skillful participation in what is ongoing.
But, all that said, we have to start with ourselves -- it's just that we will not find this self inside “ourselves.” We have to start with our actual selves -- that ongoing self-environment co-shaping unit: the taskscape.
This is a lovely concept we have borrowed and modified from the anthropologist Tim Ingold. The term gets at how we are not bodies that wander across a landscape that is separate from us, but that we are active beings in and of that activity. From a discreet figure-ground relationship (self + landscape) to a joined and co-determining figure-ground: taskscape.
A Taskscape is an activity that is an open assemblage: a set of tools, a specific environment, practices, habits, social forces, embodiments and concepts that constrain and affords certain emergent outcomes. We are always deeply intra-twined with task-scapes. We flow seamlessly -- beds, bathrooms, clothing, kitchens, cars, offices, etc. In our co-creative flow through the day we enter a series of ‘becomings’ where we become-with/of our beds then our kitchens, etc. Our lives consist of a creative flow of entangled becomings. Let's look at one of these:
Our becoming-kitchen is a wonderful place to begin to explore the question of taskscapes and creativity: Take boiling an egg - you need a number of things to make this possible - the egg of course, a pot, water, a working stove, a spoon, and somewhere to drain the water. You additionally need a body that can both use these tools and eats eggs. There needs to be skills, habits, and concepts as well. There are cultural forces and particular histories. Once you have these in place you can set about boiling your egg with great ease. Most of the time we are so fluent in our task-scapes that they recede far into the background and we only notice what they afford us: egg making, writing, thinking, etc. But to understand creativity we need to keep them at the forefront of our awareness.
Our simplified egg boiling kitchen taskscape affords many possibilities beyond this single boiled egg that we are focused upon creating for breakfast.
“Surrounding” this particular actual boiled egg-in-the-making is a nascent emergent field of possibilities: If we had just cooked it less other possibilities would be realized: soft boiled or medium boiled. If we had cooked it more yet, other possibilities. If we had cooked it slower and at a lower temperature -- on and on -- further possibilities.
Once an assemblage -- a taskscape comes into being to create a specific outcome all of the possibilities of that system also come into being.
We could at any moment stop the process of realizing one outcome and begin to explore and map these possibilities. We could map our boiled egg example as a field constrained by time and temperature. And on this field we could see where the dynamic system constrains and affords different forms of boiled eggness to coalesce (change-in-degree and change-in-kind).
This is what we mean when we say a taskscape thinks -- while we are most often focused on solitary creative outcomes: this boiled egg -- the taskscape ‘imagines’ the total field of possibilities.
Taskscapes pose questions (coalesce virtual fields) that do not have an answer or solution -- but multiple ways of resolving the virtual field into a particular outcome. In this sense all questions already have their answer.
The creativity of the taskscape/assemblage precedes us: once a taskscape has come into being, even before anything is done, a field of constrained possibilities is emerging. This field is as real as the physical components of the task-space but it is not yet actualized: this is a type of virtual field of potential forms. Everything that exists is “haunted” by a virtual field of potentials that is far greater than what it is.
In Evolutionary Biology there is a whole field of Theoretical Morphology that studies fitness landscapes and adaptive spaces and how the physical form of very different creatures being constrained by a set of similar forces will converge on specific fields of possibility.
How are ‘we’ creative? It is not by being “problem solvers” -- remember the “problem” is already virtually “solved” the moment an assemblage is stabilized. Creativity is coaxing novel assemblages into semi-stable novel taskscapes and then exploring the emergent virtual field. Think of the assemblages as themselves types of “problems” or questions that can be resolved (but not solved) in multiple manners. The egg-kitchen taskscape poses the question: what all can this become? By developing an emergent field of potentials
Creativity always involves first inventing the problem.
In a delicate dance of co-stabilizing an assemblage into a taskscape we move into exploring a constrained but open field that can be expanded via experiments that probe and stabilize its possibilities. We wander into the virtual field with the questions: What else can it do? And then what else can it do? What happens when we do more or less? What thresholds of difference emerge and can be stabilized? In this exploration we are involved in the task of novel worldmaking (Tom Morello’s approach to the guitar is an ideal example of this -- which we will come back to later).
Having created any one thing -- this boiled egg for example, is to do far more than making a solitary product. That one thing is only one point in a far larger virtual field of all the emergent possibilities -- a world-in-the-making. Becoming aware of this act of potential worldmaking that haunts all things is the beginning of creativity. In making an over-cooked egg a portal to a world has been instantiated. A virtual world with its own logic, constraints, tendencies and affordances.
It is time to stop conceptualizing creativity as being about properly posed problems and their solutions. The ongoing creative process invents problems to make worlds. Problems are ‘invented’ by co-shaping novel assemblages into stable taskscapes that give rise to emergent virtual fields.
To fully engage with an emergent taskscape we need to go below the level of the assemblage and sense the self organizing potentials that it is harnessing.
Taking our egg cooking example: water has a series of states (frozen, liquid, gas, etc.) that can be accessed by constraining and stabilizing these via heat. The egg similarly has a set (of unintended) thresholds and states that come about via heat (liquid, gel, solid, etc.) transforming long protein strings to shrink and entangle in tight bundles.
The task of cooking is to work via a taskscape to stabilize self-organizing capacities into an actual outcome.
We can start to lay this out as a process:
0. Self Organizing Systems coalescing into specific states of matter
1. These are co-shaped into assemblages
2. Which give rise to emergent processes (a taskscape)
3. Which in turn give rise to a field of potential outcomes (products)
This emergent world has a logic of its own:
4. Things are being made, and these begin to participate in new assemblages
5 & 6. While the system is emerging as a system -- where it develops as self-reinforcing logic.
Creativity involves sensing that there are dynamics that can be engaged beside, below and above the taskscape that precedes the outcome. Creativity actively transforming the affordances of self-organizing matters potential into a field of possibilities that can be explored.
What does this look like? We can see in our egg cooking example that by sensing and experimenting with how changing the constraints of the task-space transforms the virtual fields below and above: What happens if we crack the egg? What happens if we substitute oil for water? With each of these actions, as the task-space changes so too do the virtual fields of potential. New worlds begin to emerge.
Creativity happens when we see that we are working on multiple registers to constrain, entrain, and stabilize fields and processes that give rise to emergent “products” -- and that this total system -- this emergent world is the locus of creativity.
But this is only the beginning of the process. How is this self-reinforcing logic disrupted -- how do more radical forms of change-in-kind happen?
Something at a fundamental level needs to be stopped -- blocked. A ‘world’ needs to be recognized as an operation -- an assemblage of both material and immaterial things that can be blocked by not repeating its logics. This requires research, critical disclosure, and experimentation.
We saw this in Tom Morello’s story of blocking the guitar as an instrument that makes notes (one world/paradigm of music)and treating it as a tool to make samples in the manner of a DJ (a speculative probe towards a novel world):
“My playing transformed when I began to identify as the DJ, pundits were saying that the guitar was obsolete, because DJ’s could make any sound a guitar could make with samples. I took it upon myself to try to make DJ’s obsolete by making any sound they could make with my bare hands.”
Which required radically disrupting the classical taskspace of guitar based rock:
“By deconstructing the possibilities of that wood and wire, I took the first tentative steps to be an artist. The toggle switch, the tuning pegs, the power jack, every inch of the guitar became fair game for creating sound and texture.“
Notice how he is speaking from/as a taskscape as this challenge became an experimental test. Now a new assemblage is being made in the doing:
“Now my eight hours a day were spent practicing the eccentricities in my playing. Make a mistake? Repeat it 16 times and make it the cornerstone of the song.”
This novel emerging subjectivity (taskscape) brought with it new ways of seeing, sensing and connecting to the world beyond the old taskscape:
“And more and more I became inspired by sounds, and ideas, outside of rock ’n roll: police helicopters, animal noises, sci-fi films. I began to find my own voice on the instrument and began forging a sonic vocabulary that was uniquely my own. The guitar was squealing, beeping, mooing!”
This is then the process of creativity in a sketch form. Over the next few weeks we work on developing this further.
We’re often asked for the sources and inspiration of our work. Going forward we’ll do a better job of citing sources so you can explore further. (Some links may be affiliate links which means - If clicked we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you. For us this is a great thing as we reinvest any earned commissions back into the development of the most valuable innovation and creativity resources for our community. You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.)
Here are some of the books that were critical to this aspect of the topic.
Try blocking something fundamental to a taskscape. Remove something from the assemblage. Example: do not use heat or water in preparing rice. Or remove knives from your kitchen. Change the purpose of a taskscape: kitchens are not for cooking food but producing music. Sense how it forces you to experimentally reconfigure the assemblage: make new tools and techniques, etc. You can apply this method to any area that interests you. Follow new possibilities into defining new virtual fields. Explore till you can sense a world emerging. Try and articulate this world.
Most important: focus on playing with blockages -- get a sense of how they can work.
Let us know what you come up with!
Tired of wandering the book isles looking for a special book that defines innovation and provides approaches to being innovative? We have just the thing: Innovating Emergent Futures: The Innovation Design Approach to Change and Worldmaking. This week we’re offering a 30% discount exclusively to newsletter subscribers… Use promo code: CELEBRATE100DAYS
Can’t find your reading glasses to see the finer details in our drawings? Here we have Volume 12 drawings in Hi-Resolution for you.
Wishing everyone a restful and creative late fall weekend of blocking and experimenting. Till Volume 13...
Jason and Iain
Emergent Futures Lab
We’re How You Innovate
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