Radical Creativity – The Way Nature Intended
Traditionally, creative thinking has been seen as the province of artists and other ‘creatives’. Yet, we are all born with minds-bodies-souls capable of enormous creativity. As the Sri Lankan art historian Ananda Coomaraswami noted, ‘An artist is not a special kind of person but every person is a special kind of artist.’ Each of us has immense creative potential, though there seems to be little room for creativity within today’s hectic schedule.
John Cleese, the famous ‘creative’, regards creativity as the ability to play, be childlike, explore ideas and be curious. We have two states of mind, he says, one that is ‘open’ and one that is ‘closed’:
Closed State: Active, impatient, pensive, very purposeful, not much humour, can get stressed – not creative but action-orientated.
Open State: Less purposeful, more inclined to humour, more playful, curiosity for its own sake, not under time pressure to get a specific thing done – more creative.
To be effective, we need to switch between a state of mind that is ‘open’ and creative and ‘closed’ and focused. All too often, Cleese finds, in today’s busyness we rush to the closed state of ‘doing’ and so trample over the creativity in our midst, ending up with poorer solutions than if we had stayed in the open state for longer.
Tapping into our creative potential becomes an unveiling process we allow to happen by opening up to all that is within and around us, unfettered by our ‘closed’ state – which the neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist would say is that of our left-brain hemisphere, and anthropologist Steve Taylor would say is that of the ego-self. The narrow-mindedness of this ‘closed’, ‘left-brained’ or ‘egoic’ state is an important aspect of how we humans attend to life; it enables us to categorise and package up aspects of reality while defining our sense of ‘self’ from ‘other’. Yet, when this way of attending dominates, we overly extract our conscious awareness from the innate and primal creativity of life; a vicious cycle of anxiety, defensiveness, competition and alienation ensues. It leads to what Albert Einstein referred to as an optical illusion of consciousness, where we get caught up in our own abstraction, like a hall of mirrors, entrapped and deluded by our own illusion of separation. Enter the contagion of consumerism in our midst.
What is required for healthy creative contributions in life is a dance of both open and closed, yin and yang, receptive and responsive, intuitive and analytical ways of attending. In opening up to the wisdom found within Nature – by ‘Nature’ I mean the psychical and physical worlds we find ourselves immersed in – we begin to release ourselves from our own tyranny. This authentic attention of the moment allows us to co-create in a world saturated with psyche; we flow with the eddies, vortices and psychic depths of Nature’s profound wisdom. As philosopher Alfred North Whitehead explored, creativity is Nature’s advance, the key property of all life. By ‘presencing’ or being ‘in the zone’ we rarefy the ego-self so that the rich soil of our soul can more readily nourish our conscious mind; this is radical creativity from which everything of value is born, the foundation for right thought, word and deed.
If we are honest with ourselves, we may see that we are often our own worst enemy, getting in the way of the wisdom Nature offers. As Bob Marley knew, none but ourselves can free our minds. We have it within us to love the ‘enemy’ within, whereupon our responsive action-orientated mind-set dances with the receptive openness of our imagination – a communion of yin and yang – where ego-hubris metamorphoses into humility. Perceived this way, creativity can be seen as the art of love-making, fertilising our responsive self within the deeper receptivity of Nature, allowing for a coherence of inner and outer worlds even if for the briefest of moments.
A three dimensional frame might help our left-brains get a handle on what may otherwise seem vague and metaphoric – personal, organisational and systemic:
To ensure our work is an authentic conduit for our creative potential, we find ourselves asking the most radical questions, ‘what is my purpose?’, ‘why am I here?’, ‘what makes my heart sing?’ What comes out of this exploration is an unfolding journey rather than a neat, definitive answer. Carl Jung called this journey a process of individuation where we learn to ‘know thy Self’ by attuning our ego-self within our deeper Self. In learning through playing with ‘failure’ and ‘success’ we discover what makes our heart sing within the undertaking of purposeful work; the sweet spot where the head, hands and heart cohere as a fusion of being and doing. Charles Eisenstein in his Sacred Economics talks of ‘the one who bows into service’, recognising the sacred nature of work delivered with loving attention.
Many organisations are still dogged by a top-down, hierarchic, command-and-control, competition-oriented, profit-maximisation logic best suited to yesterday. Yet many others are opening up to a fresh yet ancient logic. It is a logic that understands the interrelated, fluid, connective, participatory nature of reality and the co-creative dynamic this requires. Business leaders and local activists alike are beginning to embrace this co-creativity to varying degrees within their organisations, with all the challenges such a shift in paradigm incurs. As business strategist Peter Senge notes, this shift is the biggest challenge facing organisational management and leadership today. It is a shift that draws inspiration from Nature.
For systemic transformation to become a reality, diverse organisations and individuals need to come together and co-create new horizons as yet undreamt of. Nature teaches us that adaptable, resilient communities are ones that allow the tensions of difference to generate co-creative participation. It is through sharing our diverse limitations and challenges that we transform collectively; diversity yields resilience, monoculture undermines it.
There are many techniques for encouraging co-creativity within diverse stakeholder communities, for instance, World Café, Theory U, deep listening and the ancient Way of Council. Leadership specialist Otto Scharmer speaks of cross-sector hubs that bring together stakeholders from local communities, higher education and business to form spheres of hands-on innovation where conversations and relationships combine the intelligence of head, hands and heart.
By example, councillors in the Somerset market town of Frome promote methods that actively engage diverse stakeholder communities for discussion, design and delivery of community services. By holding a space for diverse people to come together and co-create, all sorts of unforeseen solutions spawn and are then nurtured and facilitated through local buy-in and empowerment rather than enforcement through top-down hierarchy and bureaucracy. Another quite different example that illustrates the power of co-creativity is Interface’s Net Effect carpets manufactured from discarded fishing nets polluting the Philippine seas. In bringing together local communities, charity organisations, fisheries, academic researchers and business, unforeseen solutions spawn. While regenerative economics was strategically aimed for, building resilience in local communities to the extent that occurred was quite unexpected. Local communities involved in the Net Effect project recovered far faster from the devastating impacts of climate-induced cyclones and tsunamis than other neighbouring communities due to the inter-community engagement and network pathways that grew out of this co-creative project. While it globalism played its part in eroding the resilience of these local communities in the first place, it is the co-creative tension of localism within globalism that allows for the resilience of these communities to re-emerge in today’s world.
To summarise, creativity is both an attribute of the self and of the interrelation with other. In this way our freedom and power is found not through isolating ourselves into self-seeking consumers but in enriching ourselves in the matrix of interrelations – our common ground. Through humility, openness and playfulness, creative orientation brings a radically different mind-set beyond the hyper-competitive egotism of yesterday. Here, future outcomes are beyond pre-definition: it is the co-learning journey rather than the pre-defined destination that brings transformative value to the organisation and wider web of relations.
Ultimately, life’s evolution is a co-creative dance. It is a dance that allows us to play with its inherent relational dynamics of inner receptivity, outer responsiveness and reciprocating co-creative transformation. It is through the small – yet not necessarily easy – step of attending to ourselves and others in an authentic and co-creative way that we embrace life through love. As Mother Teresa insightfully said, ‘We cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.’ From a paradigm of selfish ascendency and mutual extinction towards one of co-creativity through small steps of love we re-discover our destiny. Whether it be the gnosis and kenosis Jesus Christ taught, the Noble Eightfold Path Buddha taught or the Shakti and Shiva communion of ancient tantric traditions, authentic co-creativity for the individual, organisation and ecosystem flourishes within the soil of our open awareness. It is through this co-creative attention that we manifest the Sophia of life, inspired by and in harmony with Nature.
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Author, speaker, adviser Giles Hutchins has been exploring how organisations can be inspired by and in harmony with Nature for some years now. His latest book is Future Fit :
The world of business is changing and fast. Complex, inter-related challenges now face all our enterprises. Future Fit is a response to this: a workbook full with practical tips and case studies, suitable for anyone who is involved in for-purpose enterprise, whether an entrepreneur or seasoned business executive.
‘Essential and timely’ Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Author and Founder of the Oxford Research Group
‘A must-read’ Bob Willard, Author and Speaker, Sustainability Advantage
‘Inspiring, uplifting, superb’ Euan Smith, former COO, Sky Deutschland
‘Unique and insightful’ Oliver Greenfield, Convenor, Green Economy Coalition
‘A treasure-trove’ Professor Peter Hawkins, Henley Business School
‘I cannot recommend this powerful work highly enough’ Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, CEO of Centre for Excellence in Leadership
‘Brilliant’ Norman Wolfe, CEO Quantum Leaders
‘A masterpeice’ Mark Drewell, CEO Globally Responsible Leadership
For a 3min video see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzAtglvBNmM