Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Volume 87: The Paradoxes of Re-Orienting Towards Co-Action...
Good Morning innovators-in-ongoing-co-creation,
May day and the full moon have come and gone, and now we are well into the month. We have been busy with our team doing research and testing for upcoming workshops, and research papers – and redesigning our website to be more user-friendly and helpful to innovators and creators everywhere. Stay tuned for more on this in the summer.
Over the last three weeks, we have been critically deconstructing the problem-solving approach to creativity – or what we also simply call “the generic approach to problems” because of ubiquity. It is an approach that utilizes creativity in small doses towards highly conservative ends – in other words, it is an approach to creativity that is, on the whole, anti-creative. And to careful readers of the European history of creativity – or readers of this newsletter, this realization of an anti-creative logic should have a familiar resonance. In the European tradition of understanding “how things come into being,” over most of the last two thousand-plus years, there has been no role for a worldly creativity.
As we investigated this approach to problems over the last few newsletters, we could see that it revolved around and was oriented toward stasis and the refusal of change-in-kind. It involved the logic of a return to some previous ideal stable state.
This logic is one that has animated Western thought for well over two thousand years. In this approach, everything that exists emerges from an unchanging, stable state and exists in reference to this ideal.
It is an approach to reality that assumes things must begin in an ideal manner, and then emerge into a material reality as copies of a perfect, ideal, and unchanging form. It puts the perfect and unchanging as the highest value – truth itself is defined as necessarily unchanging and ideal. And change is defined as what happens to the perfect when it leaves the immaterial realm and becomes material. Change is always understood as a secondary and far lesser state than the perfect in stasis that precede it.
We can recognize in this approach:
And from this basis, negative value judgments of change emerge:
This basic approach has given rise to various connected models of creativity and action. The two most ubiquitous, even today, are the “god model” and “the problem-solution” model of creativity. We have carefully analyzed the god-model, and hopefully, our last few newsletters* have done a decent job of critically deconstructing the problem-solution model.
* If unfamiliar or desire to refresh, here are the last three newsletters:
Here are these two models:
A critical question is then: how do we effectively embrace far more dynamic, non-linear, emergent, distributed, and more-than-human approaches to creativity?
And to move more in this direction, we can suggest that we should:
...becoming over being
...novelty over permanence
...difference over identity
...joining, following, co-emerging, and co-transforming-with over founding, visioning, authoring
...vague feeling, and sensing of what is odd and different of knowing what is clear and distinct
...creativity as a worldly process and not a human mental capacity
...experimental doing over removed ideation
...blocking the known and moving sideways
...that innovation does not set out to “solve” anything
...the work of avoiding reducing things to essences, magic bullets, or origins
...multiplicity and variation, and integrate this into everything
...processes — this means developing and following procedures
...collaboration and collaborations over the illusion of individuality — all great acts of innovation and creativity happened collectively — with others (and not just human others)
...joy, surprise, curiosity
...shock, disgust, horror
...humility and wonder
...alien and playful
...sensitive to the liberating force of life, chaos, difference and creativity over the forces of law, order, repetition, and sameness
...an experiment: live life as an open experimental project
...a transdisciplinary networker, amateur, and generalist
...willing to trust the process
...comfortable with being confused, and that we will fail, and that there will be no guarantee in what we do
...OK with the fact that creativity will involve radical forms of rupture and betrayal of the given
...a great collaborator
This list of suggestions comes directly from our book Innovating Emergent Futures. And we certainly feel that it is a helpful list in making this massive shift.
These suggestions and what they embody are not all that different from an approach that many innovation and management consultants have moved towards. There has been an embrace of more dynamic alternatives to the stasis + change-in-degree of our historical models in the last decades. Complexity science and the Dynamic Adaptive Systems approach are being embraced by a growing segment of the field. And to this, piece by piece, other related approaches are being added on: Enaction and the Embodied approach to cognition, Assemblage theory, Ecological Psychology and Affordances, Material Engagement theory and the agency of things, Evolutionary theory, and exaptations, etc.
Now – this is a wonderful shift, but as we have found in our own practice: moving out of an anti-creative two-thousand-plus-year history is not as easy as switching hats. It is one thing to suggest some values we could alter and quite another to make this happen…
The power of systems is that they pull us back – even when we least expect it.
We know that how we think and act is not something that emerges solely from inside our heads. Our thinking and acting emerges from our bodies, strong cultural habits, institutionalized practices, and carefully constructed environments in emergent and non-linear ways.
This means that changing how we think is never as simple as mentally adopting new ideas. We are part of such a well-developed resilient ecosystem that the concept of “change your mind, and everything will follow” is what we far too often return to in regards to change. This approach is perhaps most clearly exemplified in the mindset movement (here are two good newsletters carefully critiquing the mindset approach: Volume 40, Volume 41). And, it is simply a new version of the god model.
But it is not just in these most obvious habits (“change your thinking and everything will follow”) or models (the mindset movement) that we find this resilient anti-creative ecosystem hanging on. There is a zombie quality to the god model and our long history of stasis plus refusal of change-in-kind – it will certainly not disappear quietly into the night.
Uncovering these anti-creative systems can be challenging – and it is here that looking at our everyday language can help us find how systems are implicitly continuing to work – even after we have shifted our general approach. If you look at many of the word choices we all make in regard to creativity, they involve some implicit form of returning to stasis:
All of these terms involve a turning to something pregiven, or are in relation to something fixed.
Many other terms, even ones that explicitly reference change, can, in an everyday context, suggest/imply linearity or difference-in-degree:
For each of these, we can understand how they could be seen as being linear or simply a change-in-degree.
To get a better sense of how hard it is to move into a dynamic alternative ontology, let’s focus on just one word: knowing.
Creativity is often framed as involving the production of new knowledge and what could be called an adventure into the “unknown.”
But these terms: “known” and “unknown” can and do all too easily give one a false or misleading sense of what is potential in a creative process.
The issue is that the journey from “unknown” to “known” can suggest that the process of creativity is one of “uncovering” what is already out there – it is just unknown – i.e. not known to some of us or even perhaps to all of us – but it is nonetheless really already out there. Creativity is thus framed and approached explicitly or implicitly more as a process of “discovery” – discovering what is already out there. And if it is already there, then it is not actually fully ontologically new – and certainly not creative in the sense of producing the genuinely new.
Let’s take this step by step: Now, this is certainly the case with some forms of creativity that are very limited in their scope – and even some scientific practices that they are involved in a process of simply uncovering or discovering. But, as careful histories of the development of new approaches and new knowledge in the sciences and similar careful histories of innovations have shown – these are not processes that are best described as “discovery.” The new was not simply “discovered” – it was not passively waiting out there to be found, rather it was something that was carefully and skillfully co-constituted.
The more we understand the dynamics of how what emerges is co-constituting we can sense that these are less processes of “discovery” of a pre-existing something and more processes of co-emergence. We are going from a situation of non-being (of novelty) to the co-becoming something new that is holistically transformative. It is a situation where it is both inaccurate and misleading to say that something was “unknown”.
What would be better? Perhaps: it is “not-knowable” – but the reason why is what is important – it is not-knowable because before the experimental practices of engagement (co-constituting) began – there was genuinely nothing (new) there – the new was non-existent.
The discussion of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” can become a distraction in regard to radical creativity (potentially what Deleuze and Bergson call “false problems”). Why? They lead us further astray from the logics of complex dynamic co-emergence of the new and bring us back into the practices of stasis bit by bit.
To push this further: In joining creative processes, we are experimenting with new enactive ways of refusing certain assemblages and practices while co-developing other assemblages with distributed forms of agency that give rise to novel affordances and agency via exaptive practices that allow for new ecologies of potential to co-emerge. In such a dynamic and co-emergent context, it would be more accurate to say that it involves the co-emergence of what does not exist. And if it does not exist, it cannot be known in any way whatsoever – it is not merely “unknown.”
But it is not enough to identify how the terms “unknown” and “known” point to a pre-existent given and thus turn us away from the dynamics of genuine creative emergence. There is almost always a second component to the generic model (god-model) operating in these circumstances, and this is the refusal to recognize change-in-kind or difference-in-kind:
These terms “known” and “unknown” – however you wish to mix them, do not easily and clearly allow for one to recognize the distinction between ontologically different forms of knowledge. Knowing is part of and emerging from a way of being. And given that there are genuinely different ways of being there are clearly distinct and largely non-interchangeable forms of knowing. When we engage in a process where we see the ‘unknown” and then move towards the “known,” are we implicitly assuming that it fits into what we would already recognize as knowledge and the knowable?
But if something is radically qualitatively new, the old criteria of knowing cannot be assumed to be relevant. Ontologically new truths and new forms of knowing – sense-making – emerge with radically new ways of being. To frame knowledge implicitly as a single ever-expanding pool of interchangeable information is to fail to recognize that the ontologically new is possible – that there is more than change-in-degree.
In regards to radical creative processes, we do not move from the unknown to the known – we move from (1) the known to (2) refusing the known, to (3) following, being transformed by, and co-emerging with something that began outside of criteria neither known nor unknown) to (4) developing a novel way of being with new values, new modes of knowing and new knowledge that is ontologically distinct from the old knowledge and modes of knowing.
Now, this is just one word and one set of practices using this word. We are not arguing that we should stop using certain words altogether. Knowing, and the unknown are perfectly good words, as are discovery, uncovering, adapting, etc. – they are just of concern in regard to our context of having a long history of anti-creative practices to overcome.
Our interest is not in being word police, but in pragmatically pointing out how difficult it is to move into a new approach to creativity. There is a specific creative vigilance that is necessary to be creative in our specific historical context. And paying attention to language helps us see how our history (in all its dimensions) continues to co-constitute us. It reveals something about our practices, habits, concepts, techniques and helps keep us alive to how we can creatively shift things further.
While it is critical for a fuller engagement with creative processes that we embrace a more dynamic approach to reality. But, this alone is not enough. We need to understand our long history of anti-creative practices. We need to recognize how this history has shaped our bodies, habits, institutional practices, languages, given rise to a determinate set of affordances and ultimately developed our built environment. As we do something different it is operating across all of these scales and logics to inflect the new back towards the old. It is even operating at the level of productive constraints in language to keep things in the general orbit of stasis and change-in-degree.
To move in new directions we need to actively recognize these logics, and actively block them by putting strategically in place alternative productive constraints that will bend our enactive embodied extended practices towards co-constituting the qualitatively new and different.
To allow a new difference that makes a difference to emerge involves directly and deliberately taking on our history and not only developing ways of engaging dynamic systems. To keep a new difference as it emerges qualitatively different requires that we are ever vigilant in regards to what will bend it back into the given and reduce it to a mere difference-in-degree. And it is here that our context is not just the immediate context of what we are trying to do, but also our larger historical context.
All our creative journeys will always be creative confrontations with our histories at multiple scales. They will always involve developing creative ways of refusing words, concepts, forms of embodiment, habits, practices, tools, affordances, taskspaces, and environments – in addition to creatively co-constituting new ways of being alive. Just focusing on new practices will never be enough.
Well, once again the sun is up, and that is it for us this week. Have a wonderful weekend actively engaging with creative practices – both allowing qualitative differences to emerge and refusing certain historical practices so as to keep those new qualitative differences alive!
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