Creativity and Emergence

In an earlier monograph, I wrote about why Jonathan Ive bothered me a bit. With his random reference to creativity as something that happens in a vacuum, out of nowhere. I wrote then that I do not believe there is scalability in organic creativity. Scalable creativity is deliberate, critical and iterative. Regular sometimes forced practice can become a good habit, a bit like how I learnt to brush my teeth before bedtime.

But as a keen user of the products Jonathan Ive has created, I have been thinking about creative genius and the creative process a lot.

I was asked recently how I create space for creativity. I articulated it for the first time perhaps.

I automate the essential but routine, make lists, create specific goals, recognise and internalise the essence of the creative task at hand, make and respect deadlines, and get to work. It probably sounds brutal but I expect more of myself than I might deliver in the absence of goal and deadline specificity. I am not naturally diligent but naturally inclined to conserving cognitive resource (what a lovely euphemism for lazy!). Self awareness says this is what works for me. This is how I create mental space for ideas and solutions.

My weekends have little deliberate activity. On weekends, I read. A lot. I read for seven hours uninterrupted in the quiet hours of the morning on Saturday and on Sunday. With carafes of coffee and water by my side, I read. It is helpful in writing later on Sunday evening. This is how I create temporal space for ideas.

But all that is procedure.What really happens when we create something, make something?

V&A's Power of Making Exhibit 2011

Creating, making is about adding, subtracting or transforming materials and ideas.

Adding and subtracting are easy enough because they neatly fit my argument made earlier. Adding and subtracting is where breakthrough thinking can often comes from people who hover at the edges or cusps of disciplines, who have access to philosophies, tool-kits, frameworks as well as networks of varying hues.

But transforming?

That is where the creative magic happens that Jonathan Ive was talking about.

Transformation is emergent.

Transformation is not about the dorsal or ventral brain but the limbic brain.

Can we make emergence happen?

If that is too counter-intuitive, can we at least create circumstances where emergence may rear its head?

Or how about removing roadblocks to it?

These simple questions have huge impact on organisational design and incentive design.

But more importantly, they have material impact upon how we perceive, judge, think about, process and and make sense of ourselves, our world and ideas.

Emergence requires individual ideas, freedom to inquire and where present, a light touch approach to “process”.

So can we just let it be?