Creativity & Emergence

How is emergence related to creativity? What does it look like when it happens?

Michelle James: I’m not sure how to do that question justice in a few sentences without it either being vague or too reductive, and there can be many different answers. After years of working with it, It’s still hard for me to define because I see it as a universal process linked in to how life itself works – and myself as a life-long student of that process. Creativity, for me, is both means to cultivate the emergence – using creativity practices to engage emergence – and the outcome of an emergence. That’s why “creative emergence” resonates with me – the terms are so intimately linked. Creativity generates emergence, and emergence produces creativity – the whole process is an ongoing creative, emergent feedback loop.

A creative, emergent process requires navigating the dynamic balance of listening and choosing; knowledge and discovery; stepping up to create, and letting go to receive – in other words, doing what is yours to do, and letting the self-organization of emergent creativity do its part. Like midwifing any new birth, there is a natural trajectory already happening…and…there are things you can do to help facilitate a healthy birth, and then clean it up and make it accessible to the world.

In groups, you can see this emergence in action in highly functioning improv theater groups, jazz ensembles, sports teams, etc…and in co-creative work teams that have trust at their core. Often the emergence happens after the “efforting” is released. Something takes over that is greater than any individual’s agenda that has an intelligence of its own. The group “field” produces something unexpected that emerges from the interaction of its members – whether it’s comedy line, a piece of music, a new strategy or business, a world changing idea or the next iteration of solution. In a group, emergence has the after-effect of “Look what WE did!” Something new was created that no one could expect, and each person sees how they needed the others in order to become something beyond any single person’s vision or agenda.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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