Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Volume 85! How Using Creativity Can Be Anti-Creative...
Good morning creative problematizers,
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This week we was a busy one with a number of really interesting client conversations and planning sessions for workshops, and other engagements in the coming months. What was wonderful about this is that it gave us time to get in front of our trusty whiteboard and really deconstruct the implicit logic and fundamental issues with our standard approach to problems in the space of creativity.
Exploring the question with the whiteboard over the week gave us a chance to get much more synthetic with our framing and approach to the topic of Problems that we have been exploring over the past coouple of weeks. This week we will lay out this fuller picture of how we understand the “generic” approach to Problems and what we understand to be the fundamental issues with this approach from the perspective of creativity – i.e. from the perspective of practices that allow the genuinely new to emerge.
Problem solving is, like creativity, something everyone talks about, believes is very important, and then, almost without thinking about it just gets down to doing it.
But what is it exactly that we are doing?
We need to get at this approach at an archetypal level – at its generic logic. Aiming for such an understanding is an aiming for the general – it won’t cover every expression or variation – but for what it will lack in specicivity, it will make up in broad insights to its larger mainly invisible character:
What we would call the “generic” approach to Problems – or the “Problem Solving Creativity” approach proceeds in seven steps. Below we lay out these seven steps, and with each step we offer a critique of the most troubling aspects. At the end we will summarize these, offer a more general critique and point to a more effective approach to creativity in regards to “problems.”
When a problem is introduced it is most often already framed in relation to a solution:
“What is the solution to this problem?”
“Here is a problem we need to solve”
At the moment we encounter a “problem” it is concieved to always already be in connection with the question of “how do we come to a solution?”
This basic structure:
This three part logic is what we explicitly confront when we engage with a “problem” – and it gives us the basic equation that governs this logic:
PROBLEM + CREATIVITY = SOLUTION
We can diagram this:
But, while this is what is visible and taken for granted – this is not all that is involved in the process. Much is simply assumed. And it is what is assumed that fundamentally stunts and ultimately derails the project of creativity. We will get into these assumptions next, but what is important to recognize right at the beginning is this logic of problem + creativity = solution is quite fundamental to how we react to the introduction of most any problem.
The first and most basic assumption at work is the belief in a linear model of causality. There is no consideration for the non-linear nature of reality. To do something, even something seemingly quite simple, will not lead to one expected outcome alone. Reality does not work in this manner…
Responding to a “problem” leads to a vast chain of outcomes – some intended and some not – and none of the full effects of either can be fully predicted.
A second key assumption that is at work is the assumption that creativity is anthropomorphic/anthropocentric – it is something that only we do or something that follows a very human logic. Creativity is never reducible to us.
The important thing to realize is that the generic approach to creative problem solving does not begin with the simple three-part logic of problem + creativity = solution. It begins long before that with a set of assumptions about reality:
Now, no one exactly ever thinks this specifically, but it is very much something that is implicitly assumed. And it is something assumed in a number of differing manners:
Whatever the exact assumptions are, the generic approach to problems always implicitly assumes some pre-existing non-problematic state.
This is something that becomes very clear when we look at the cluster of similar and opposite words to the word “problem”:
The opposite of a problem is obviously a solution. But – that is just one of the many words that are antonyms for “problem”, and if we look at the overall tenor and type of the words – they cluster around”
And this reflects the implicit state of things prior to the introduction of a problem. It is important to dwell on this state for it drives this whole model as one which is radically conservative: even in its most creative moments it is driven by a desire to return to an imagined state of peace, agreement, and certainty.
This assumption of an original state and more importantly, its relative invariability pushes the consideration of creative outcomes towards variations in degree only. It implicitly predisposes creative practices to not consider the equal possibility of a change-in-kind.
The blindness of problem-solving creative practices to the possibility of qualitatively different outcomes is one of the absolute fundamental failures of this model – it does not recognize qualitative change as a real possibility. This will be a constant issue with this approach in all of its variations.
To put this in simple terms: the model most often implicitly assumes that only one world exists and only one world is possible. It does not allow for, or believe in, that many worlds exist and that other worlds are possible.
A deeper issue here is a fundamental sense that stasis preceeds change – that there is an original state that is outside of change. But all reality involves both ongoing change and ongoing creativity. Creativity is not something that is introduced into stasis – it is always already there. Reality is spontaneously creative.
Prior to a problem emerging there is not just the tranquility of a prior state of affairs. Something has to come along to disrupt the smooth working of the state of things. Prior to the emergence of a problem is the appearance and activity of a disruption:
This disruption, which is usually coming from the outside, but can also be lingering in the state of things, stops things from proceeding as normal/ideal. Things are stopped or thrown off course. There is an issue, snag, mess, difficulty, hitch, mix-up, stumbling block, obstacle… (Again, we see this by looking at the most common synonyms for “problem”).
And this change-in-affairs – this disruption – must be confronted. In doing so it is framed negatively – any change is the beginning of a problem…
Change is constant. We live in a dynamic world of processes – why then frame change as a negative? Why assume that there is an opposite to change? And why assume that this opposite – stasis – preceeds change?
Does change only come from the outside? The exaptive potential exists in all things at all times. It is not something that only exists in one aspect of reality or requires some outside introduction.
Reality as a dynamic process is inherently productively creative in its positive self-disruption. This reveals an ontological problem with the model: it assumes some from of stable origin. And to step away from this, to a more dynamic and inherently creative model of reality is to move away from the problem + creativity = solution approach whatsoever.
Between the emergence of a disruption and the understanding of what is the problem – the activity of critical engagement is necessary.
This activity of critical engagement with the disruption is the figuring out of “what is the problem?” – it takes work. This is a form of critical activity:
Real problems, when established by the correct critical procedures, are assumed to be objective – they are real for everyone at all times who find themselves in a similar state. And ultimately real problems connect back to some fundamental aspect of how the “original state” is understood. The deeper one goes in this model to uncover real problems the deeper one will get into something like an idea of a universal human nature.
How we understand this aspect of the process is critical. To take a problem as a given – just something to be uncovered/discovered, is to fundamentally misrecognize what it is. Problems are not discovered but created.
What is being created and activated by the construction of a problem is not simply a statement but also a set of implicit conditions – some of these are conceptual assumptions, others are conceptual habits/practices, others are connected to formal structures, environmental structures and embodied logics.
These conditions are themselves generative – the discursive and non-discursive – the explicit and environmental aspects of a problem produce a world in which certain actions and outcomes are more possible than others (think of how games shape a unique space of agency).
To put this simply: problems generate the space of their potential solutions.
When this logic is taken to the full space of the problem – then a more radical possibility opens up to us: a process of “problematization” and worldmaking: the creation of a question opens up the possibility of problematizing key aspects of the existing conditions in such a ways as to allow for a new way of acting/thinking/living to emerge:
This generative worldmaking aspect of problem creation can give rise to a novel field of a qualitatively new logic of truth/value.
In the conflation of real problems with solvable problems i.e. only statements compatible with what the natural sciences or common sense or some other established source tell us will be considered, fails to recognize that problems generate the conditions of true and false. And in doing so radically curtail in advance what is allowable as an outcome to the conditions/assumptions of the existing world (the original state). This is again a failure to recognize the difference between change-in-degree and change-in-kind and to ultimately refuse the very possibility of a qualitatively different logic/world emerging.
To approach creativity from a problematizing perspective is to fundamentally believe that other worlds exist and that new worlds are possible.
Once critical skills have been brought to bear on a disruption in the aid of the uncovering of a real problem then and only then does creativity enter the picture. The role of creativity is very specific: it is only to come up with a solution to the problem.
Creativity is framed narrowly as the method/tool/process to solve a problem.
Creativity in the generic approach is reduced to a human activity that is focused on only one aspect of the process: solving an existing pre-given problem. The main issue with this is that creative processes – both human and non-human are at work at every aspect of this model (note the change in terms in this diagram):
For the sake of simplicity, we can identify four key areas that creativity is at work (the following numbers correspond to the blue numbers in the above diagram):
There is more to say about how creativity is framed in the generic model, but that is best left to the critical discussion in the next step of the process:
A solution, if it is really good/successful is considered to be The Solution. The goal of the problem solving logic is to be done with the problem once and for all. A true solution – which is always the ultimate goal of this approach is for the problem to vanish:
Problems as generative conditions do not lead to a single solution – nor do they simply vanish when The Solution emerges.
The total conditions – both explicit and implicit of a problem generate a field of potential virtual solutions. Ironically then the “solving” of a problem – the actualization of one solution is the least creative part of the process. The creative production of the total logic of the problem involved implicitly the generation of a virtual solution space.
Problems remain generative as each solution feedsback into the larger implicit logic of the problem.
Problems lose their relevance as new worlds emerge.
The final stage in the generic approach to problems is one of a return to the initial state or world in general:
What this means is that ultimately in the generic approach to problems we are using creativity to be anti-creative. Our goal is not adventure – a possibly open exploration of what is possible, rather it is a return to how things were to keep things as they are – with the only difference being that the disturbance is gone.
We have laid out the generic approach to problems as a seven step process. It is useful to see this as a whole process:
Here is a summary of the most critical aspects of the Generic Approach to Problems:
What is an alternative? Well – while we have laid out a number of key aspects of an alternative in our critique – the more explicit development of an alternative is something for next week.
There is much to consider, and your critical and creative input is very helpful – please reach out to us with any questions, thoughts and feedback.
Till next week keep creatively problematizing!
Till Volume 86,
Jason and Iain
Emergent Futures Lab
We’re How You Innovate
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