Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 35! Articulating Novel Worlds...
Good Morning fellow swimmers in the seas of creative becoming.
These last few weeks have been flying by — spring is in full emergence and transforming into summer. We have been really busy talking with many of you which has been wonderfully rewarding (if you haven’t – please reach out — we would love to begin a conversation); and we have been planning many workshops with various clients and a bunch of other summer activities.
Next week Iain will be in Scotland — writing from the hills — we are curious how the place will participate in the writing.
Over the last three weeks we have been working through some concepts about a better way to look at problems.
We are interested in developing a problem producing approach to creativity.
This is an approach that focuses on worldmaking:
We like to say “innovation is about developing problems worth having for worlds worth making”.
In the last newsletter we went into detail about how to invent a problem. We looked at five tasks in this process:
And we focused on number four: Abstraction and discussed a process of developing a “Matter of Concern” as a key technique to step outside of the existing assemblage. On Monday we published a revised version of this as a short essay.
Previously we have written extensively on the first three tasks. In this weeks newsletter we want to dig into number five: Articulating Nascent Worlds.
But, before jumping into this — we want to go back to the big picture (we are still experimenting with how to articulate this— ps we would love feedback on this!):
1. Problems are the synthetic articulation of the logic of a coherent assemblage. When one says problem one should hear assemblage and vice versa: problem/assemblage or problem-assemblage. You can’t have one without the other.
Problems are not abstract things — they are actual worldly things.
An example: The Problem of Hunger. It is not something generic, universal, or ahistorical. It is specific: the problem of hunger in northern New Jersey (and this might not turn out to be the right scale/scope). It is composed of specific things (community gardens, stores are opening and closing), practices (the production of food waste, development of scarcity), concepts (need, dietary requirements, health, legislate models), and environments (legal system, roads, farms, city planning), that are networked in such a way that a relation dominant assemblage is formed.
Assemblages are the relational system of things, practices, habits, bodies, concepts, and environments that give rise to a coherent logic.
2. Problems are also always connected via emergent processes to a virtual terrain of potential outcomes (solutions).
The problem already has all of its possible general outcomes (solutions). As Bergson said: “a speculative problem is ‘solved’ as soon as it is properly stated.”
Thus: assemblage-problems + emergent processes + a terrain of potential outcomes + actual outcomes.
Problems are not solved — if by solved we imagine that when a problem is solved it disappears. Solving a problem is simply the production of an actual outcome.
(The problem of addition is not solved by answering the question “what is one plus one” — that is just one of many potential ways to resolve this question. But the problem remains.)
This should help us see that problems are not inherently negative. Problems are specific assemblages giving rise to a semi-stable set of potential outcomes. They are a feature of reality.
A problem will always generate its own terrain (field) of potential outcomes which include both the outcomes we like (the solutions) and the ones we do not ( the accidents/mistakes). Both solutions and mistakes are outcomes of the same assemblage.
With our example of hunger in northern New Jersey the specific problem (assemblage) constrains the outcomes (potential solutions). Because of the emergent properties of the assemblage certain outcomes are far more likely than others. The general logic of what can be conceived and actualized has a specific regularity to it. This is the field of potential outcomes. At any moment many of these potential outcomes are being actualized. Food deserts are developing, stores are opening or closing, food stamps are being used, community gardens are being realized, food pantries are expanding or contracting, policies and laws are being written, specific groups of people are lacking adequate food, etc.
3. The actual outcomes then feedback into the process modifying the assemblage. The whole is a resilient dynamic process with multiple stable states and general propensities.
While problems are not solved by a solution, problems can radically transform to the extent that they “disappear” — if we change the assemblage in the right manner and degree we will produce a new and qualitatively different problem.
Hunger in northern New Jersey will not be solved. But we can work at the level of the assemblage to qualitatively change the field of potential solutions. Some specific novel addition/subtraction/transformation of some things will potentially catalyze the assemblage to give rise to a very different emergent field of potentials.
Therefore, in general there are two ways to approach problems:
Both of these approaches employ the same strategy: changing the assemblage (and what feeds into the assemblage), exploring the emergent field of potential outcomes, developing actual outcomes, and feeding these back into the assemblage in ways that change or stabilize the assemblage.
It is only the goal of the approach that differs: quantitative change or qualitative change: is the problem being maintained/improved? — or is the problem being transformed into a new qualitatively different problem?
And, given the nature of complex systems the actual outcomes of either approach can reverse quite easily: disruption can flip into maintenance, or vice versa. It is an ongoing process and not an exercise with a fixed conclusion: Problem production not problem resolution.
The fifth is critical and is often overlooked or goes unrecognized as something needing to be done whatsoever. This leads to a frequent condition in inventors of being “worldblind”.
The process of disruptive problematization — working on inventing a new problem/assemblage is to work across scales: you need to focus on: what gives rise to the assemblage, the assemblage, emergent processes, the virtual field of potentials and any actual resolution that is developed — what John Protevi so aptly calls working “above, below and beside''.
This is true no matter what scale of outcome you are working on. With our example of disrupting the problem of hunger in Northern New Jersey — you might be developing a new urban composter or writing legislation — you need to sense the ramifications and interactions across the totality.
The totality — the whole that is emerging via your specific engagements is a potential novel “world”. In making something specific and novel it is easy to lose sight of how a novel world is also emerging (or never even recognize that this is happening).
The composter you are developing could connect with a series of other shifts in the assemblage to allow for the emergence of a very different world.
If we turn to a couple of other examples to make the importance of how novel things are always connected to the possibility of novel worlds:
Writing: The development of writing — the inventing of the practice and specific tools of symbolic mark making did not simply add another handy skill to peoples repertoire of skills — it transformed everything.
The Phonograph: The same could be said for the development of the first sound recording device by Thomas Edison. The invention of the phonograph in 1877 was critical in the development of the problem or assemblage we would now call simply “media.” Edison was blind to the fact that he did something more than make an interesting recording and playback device and it was the interest of others that led him and his team to develop whatsoever and turn it into a viable product. As the world of media emerged he never grasped its logic — always thinking he was in the business of making the best device to play back a recording and by the early twentieth century he had to sell his entire phonographic business to the emerging media empire of RCA Victor.
Here we can see the issue with thinking in terms of narrow problems that can be solved. Edison believed that what he was doing was “solving” the problem of recording something and playing it back. For him this was a technical challenge to invent “The Solution”. But novel inventions are always doing far more than this. A novel world is always a possible outcome of any change in the assemblage.
As this novel world gains a tentative self-organizing stability it is critical to begin to recognize it for what it is. It will be at first something nearly impossible to sense — after all we are so of our worlds that there is no space for another and no sense that there can be more than one way of being alive. This is to be “worldblind”. Innovation is always working on the assumption that many worlds exist and than new ones are possible. As the Zapatista’s like to say “make a world where many worlds can exist”.
It takes great and deliberate collective effort to sense the weak, tentative and nascent propensities of the new that might — just might stabilize as a novel world.
In actively working to sense and articulate this emerging qualitatively distinct world helps it resist falling back into old logics.
This process requires an act of speculative articulation of a difference that makes a difference.
This is a delicate process — the danger is that you can easily lose your difference in the process of articulating that difference. The relational logic of the existing assemblage will most often subsume the new. This will be an iterative process of modification where step by step the new becomes remade in the image of the old.
The world that is emerging is new and old concepts will not apply. We need to invent concepts worthy of what is emerging.
Articulating a novel world gives it a level of agency. It needs a new language — terms and concepts that allow it to have an identity distinct from the old.
Many terms need to be tested.
It is better to begin the process of speculative articulation with terms that are perplexing, hard to define and even harder to communicate than to default to a standard language.
Concepts need to be tested/activated in speculative experiments that further change the assemblage (and everything that follows).
In reality this process has been developing all throughout the larger and longer process of creative disruptive problematization (innovation). Novel concepts have been emerging in the midst of activities and are recognized. Now, we are speculatively synthesizing the holistic propensities and tendencies of the system (world).
This is a process of developing a conceptual feedback loop between the whole and the parts. It is also a process of giving the whole agency via the process of putting it into words. This is the work of keeping your difference alive.
This is critical to taking on the challenges that really matter from rapid climate change to equity. We need a new and effective approach that allows us to co-evolve with the collective development of new problems worth having for worlds worth making.
Till Volume 36,
Jason and Iain
Emergent Futures Lab
We’re How You Innovate
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🏞 P.P.P.P.S.: This week's drawings in Hi-Resolution