Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Volume 70: Begin Again, Forget Again
Good Morning fellow experimental beings,
It is a lovely dark and softly raining morning here. The doors and windows are open and the cat is wandering in and out as is his fancy.
Slowly but surely we are moving into the new year. It is just a few days old but it already feels like we are in and of something different. Perhaps it is that January always feels like a very different month, a moment between times. A final pause before things get really going again (we know, things don’t stop). These pauses are a different form of time that are both in and not in our linear calendar time. They are events of possible rupture, of beginning again that rest within every moment – what other ways are possible?
This experimental openness of the flow of life is both mundane and more prosaic. Let's start with some mundane but interesting explorations.
This week we gave a talk “Innovation Led Leadership with Complex Adaptive Systems” as part of the Agile to Agility Leadership Conference covering how the event of creativity can lead. As presenters, the most interesting part is the discussion that follows the talk. Obviously the talk is a key part of what makes a good discussion in these contexts. Our wish is these events allow for more time for discussion. Given how the online one weaves through our daily lives perhaps conferences could be more like the flipped classroom? The talk is pre-recorded and enjoyably watched in advance, and then the time is set aside for a discussion? We are curious about other experiments in how online events are being organized.
On the newsletter front we are developing plans for what we would like to explore in the next few months. One of the things that we are really excited about and developing right now is a useful glossary of key terms for innovation. Our goal is to develop a significant resource with more than just definitions – but supplying links to examples, techniques, use cases, other researchers, resources, etc. Stay tuned for this rolling out in stages over the spring of 2023. It is part of our bigger goal of making our web site a really rich ecosystem of resources in regards to creativity and innovation.
We have a few other newsletter topics we are actively exploring – but, we would love to begin the year by hearing from you – our fellow experimental beings: what are some areas of creativity and innovation that you would like us to explore? Do you have thoughts on the newsletter? – both in terms of form and content. Please drop us an email with your thoughts. We are excited thinking about how this weekly writing could evolve over the next year.
The new year is beginning again. A repetition.
Creativity is a repetition. A repetition of difference. Deleuze wrote of it as Difference and Repetition. And the great twentieth century artist John Cage would always say:
“I try over and over again to begin again”
And he really did. It is astonishing to listen, watch, and perform his works – the range of experimentation of what it could be to be involved in sound is exemplary.
In the spirit of beginning again – we put together a short set - both as videos (below), and as a Spotify playlist of various works ranging widely from across his experiments:
Creativity is always a very particular type of beginning again – we must always return to zero in order to pass from one moment to the next.
“Zero”, “beginning again”, these are not returns to a blank slate – that illusionary absolute nothing. Or becoming a child again – another quite similar nostalgia. Rather, between one thing and the next is the radical possibility of a novel direction. What else could it do? Where else would that lead? What else will this afford?
It is an experimental question that asks us to begin anywhere – where it does not matter where we begin but how we go. How do we go? We pass through zero…
There is a beautiful story that John Cage tells in a set of one minute stories called Indeterminacy:
“During a counterpoint class at UCLA, Schoneberg sent everybody to the blackboard. We were to solve a particular problem he had given and to turn around when finished so that he could check the correctness of the solution. I did as directed. He said, “That’s good. Now find another solution.” I did. He said, “Another.” Again I found one. Again he said, “Another.” An so on. Finally I said, “There are no more solutions.” He said, “What is the principle underlying all of the solutions?”
I always imagined that he went on to say “and now do something else” – pass through zero. Block what has been done at this deeper level. Perhaps he said it in another retelling, but, at the very least this was his method.
Repetition in degree until it is exhausted and only a repetition that is a change in kind is possible.
Ultimately, beginning again and going through “zero” are not intellectual questions that can be answered in advance from a disengaged position. These are experimental questions that require us to be highly active.
They also ask of us in “returning to zero” to block, put aside, and negate the known, the probable, and really dwell in the experimental activity of not knowing. (Yes, it is an activity – not a state).
In the intentional and unintentional aspects of any situation something else is possible when we put aside where it should go next. We can experimentally break these linkages of practices and allow novelty to move us into a new aberrant line.
It is critical to understand that in passing through zero we are not going into some pure emptiness of the void. Passing through zero – is in fact something much closer to the opposite: fullness. The fullness of possibility. Then why call it zero? Because there is nothing there awaiting discovery – it is the emptyfullness of what could be made and done otherwise. The radically new is only there as a possibility in general. If it was already there as an idea, then it would not be radically new. The new does not exist until it is made. But the possibility is always there haunting each moment.
What does this emptyfullness require of us?
The creative practice of forgetting is an active practice of putting aside, putting down, refusing, stepping over to co-make a qualitatively different way. It is a trust that knowledge and reality are not fixed and singular – it is a faith that other worlds are possible. It is an experimental stance of “we do not know what this can do.”
Active forgetting is not a “reinventing the wheel” in an “it's new to me” logic. To reinvent what exists is a risk that comes along with practicing creativity in the world of the qualitatively similar.
Nor is it a burying one's head in the sand forgetting. That is a freezing of agency and a surrender.
Without a practice of active forgetting it is exceedingly hard to creatively emerge with novel worlds that are qualitatively different (ontologically different). For a big part of the difficulty with novel radical difference is that it cannot be recognized from within the known – it proposes a new regime of sense-making and being that is incommensural.
Active forgetting allows one to move creatively away from the arts of critique and into the practices of invention. This is what we see in the John Cage story about studying with Schoenberg – figure out all the ways to do something to be able to put it aside.
It affords us the space of becoming otherwise.
Active forgetting involves the developing a practice of deliberate perplexity. In the face of the known one deliberately returns to zero while leaving behind the existing identity/purpose to experimentally ask: “what else can it do?” and then to put it into practice.
For us, the new year begins this way, as should each moment, when we are engaged in creative experimentations.
Curious about exploring more Cage?
With this we leave you for the week – enjoy beginning again! Enjoy the difference of repetition. A final Cage story:
“In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting”
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