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The Journey of Creativity

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Slides from a keynote talk at UX India 2014.

People have been creating together for thousands of years. Some of those people have written about their experience, and so we have the possibility of building on their wisdom. In this talk, Marc Rettig describes the age-old story of people who seek to have a creative voice through their work, and to connect their personal excitement and possibilities to the needs of the world. As this story repeats itself for many in the world of “user experience,” another familiar dynamic comes to light: the challenge of working in settings that express desire for creativity, but reward compliance. And therein lies a defining question of our time and our careers: where does profound creativity come from?

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The Journey of Creativity

  1. 1. The journey of creativity Marc Rettig UX India 11 October 2014
  2. 2. These slides were first presented at UX India 2014, in Bangalore India. For more informa?on, see h@p://www.2014.ux-­‐india.org/ I have placed my speaker’s notes on many of the slides, to give some sense of what I had to say with each image. Cover art by Hannah du Plessis of Fit Associates To contact the author, email marc@fitassociates.com This work is licensed under the Crea?ve Commons A@ribu?on-­‐NonCommercial 4.0 Interna?onal License. To view a copy of this license, visit h@p://crea?vecommons.org/licenses/by-­‐nc/4.0/.
  3. 3. products services decisions communications methods research budgets plans strategies Over the course of 35 years, I have worked on scores of projects. Most of this work focused on outcomes. Measurable outcomes, either directly made by the team, or affected by the team’s work. But for the past fiYeen or twenty years, I’ve had a sense of dissa?sfac?on…
  4. 4. It seemed to me that I was being asked to work with the things we can see and measure, but the invisible and intangible SOURCE of those things was leY outside the scope of the project. The way people get along together, the way they relate, communicate, collaborate, who they are and how they see their place in it all – this seemed to me to be the “real work,” if we were going to have las?ng posi?ve impact on the world. So now my ques?on is this… purpose connection alignment values relationships boundaries communication care creativity
  5. 5. How can we advance the practice of work that truly, no joking, improves life?
  6. 6. This is a mythic question. For 10,000 years, people have been trying to create together. Some of them were poets.
  7. 7. Common themes: not “Who are you?” but “Who are you becoming?”
  8. 8. Common themes: The experience of life as a journey, including the journey toward your creative work.
  9. 9. Two chapters, two journeys 1. The journey of deep creativity 2. The journey of becoming: taking your creative place in life
  10. 10. 1. The journey of deep creativity
  11. 11. The way we pay attention to the world shapes what we create.
  12. 12. Current Situation | the gap | Better Situation (The shape of this sec?on and many of the ideas it contains are taken from the work of O@o Scharmer of MIT, as described in his book, Theory U.) Here’s a situa?on in which we are going to work. Our goal is to somehow shiY it to a be@er situa?on. But how do we cross the gap between “what is” and “what could be?”
  13. 13. Current Situation | the gap Just do | Better Situation something à Maybe, for example, we are concerned about traffic in Bangalore. The Just Do Something approach says, “I know how!” “I have an idea, and I’m sure it will work.” Maybe you believe it’s necessary to construct more roads, for example. Or maybe you want to raise taxes on cars. Shallow a@en?on leads to shallow ac?on. There is no crea?ve journey here. It’s easiest to be the expert. To see and do what you already know. Or think you know. It’s easy to project your vision onto the situa?on, then try to persuade it to conform to your vision. And if you are working for one of these people, it is easy to play it safe, to be polite, to do what’s expected of you.
  14. 14. Current Situation | the gap | Better Situation Observe Prototype: new things & services Here is a li@le deeper approach: Go out and look at the situa?on before you decide what to make. Allow for the possibility that you don’t already know what to do. Or that what you did last ?me might not work in this situa?on. Then prototype the thing, iterate it against the possibility that your first try might not be the best try. This is common in industry, yes? Many of us receive requests to look for “unmet needs.” To find “ac?onable insights” through observa?on. If we find a problem, we know we can make a bandage for it.
  15. 15. Observation’s enemy: Judgment The necessary step: an open mind There is an enemy to working in this way, an enemy that prevents people from observing in a way that lets them see clearly what could be helpful in any situa?on. That enemy is “The Voice of Judgment.” In this diagram, the eye is your center of a@en?on. The circle is your collec?on of beliefs, assump?ons, and stories about people and the world. With our a@en?on centered inside this bubble, everything we see and here is filtered by those judgments, presupposi?ons, and stories. Or another way of interpre?ng this diagram is to imagine that the bubble is a screen onto which we are always projec?ng our beliefs and stories. So we are constantly looking at the world through our own projec?ons. But we can learn to move our a@en?on to the edge of this bubble. To put our beliefs, assump?ons, and stories about the world behind us for a ?me, and simply open to whatever our senses bring. Each move into deeper crea0vity requires a courageous step. To move into crea?vity that draws from clear observa?on of other people’s experience, we must make the step of opening our mind. Open your mind to see what’s really there, including the things that don’t align with your expecta?ons. This is something you can prac?ce every day. Give it a try! Tip o’ the hat to O0o Scharmer.
  16. 16. Current Situation | the gap | Better Situation Observe Prototype: new things & services Immerse New processes & structures Here is a s?ll deeper way of working. Beyond simply observing as an outsider, then returning to your world to conceive “solu?ons,” go inside the situa:on. Immerse in it, so you can see what’s under the problems. Maybe in our traffic example, we observe that some amount of the traffic has to do with moving goods and supplies to stores. Trucks restocking stores. So beyond observing that, you go to the stores, spend ?me in their world, see through the eyes of shopkeepers. And you ride with the delivery drivers, or become one yourself. You spend ?me in the warehouse and shipping facility. You see the organiza?onal processes and structures, and the rou?nes of human life that are the ROOT SOURCE of the things you’d like to improve. Tip o’ the hat to O0o Scharmer.
  17. 17. Immersion’s enemy: Cynicism The necessary step: an open heart – disconnect your identity from your point of view Tip o’ the hat to O0o Scharmer. Again, this move into a deeper process of crea?vity requires us to move our center of a@en?on, and again there is an enemy standing in the way of that move. When we begin to see the world through other people’s eyes, begin to see without judgment, we will see complexity and difficulty we previously avoided or filtered out. Our crea?ve work may be blocked by cynicism: “This is too complicated and established. These people will never change.” “We’ve tried to help this kind of thing before, and it didn’t work.” “It’s going to be way too expensive.” The an?dote to cynicism is to move your a@en?on outside yourself, so you no longer are the only person (or team or company) involved. You are part of something much bigger. When you realize that you are just one part of a much larger set of possibili?es, and open your heart to working with everyone else who is part of what’s going on, more becomes possible. Those new organiza?onal structures and processes are going to be made of the same people you are cynical about. Open your heart, work with them, give them your passion, help them create something that lets out the possibili?es.
  18. 18. Current Situation | the gap | Better Situation Observe Prototype: new things & services Immerse New processes & structures Let go: question assumptions Reframe: new purpose and principles
  19. 19. Here is what O@o Scharmer calls a “U-­‐Journey,” and what I am calling a “deep crea?ve journey.” Observe the situa?on. Go inside, immerse, see from many points of view. Then, if you have opened to truly see, let go of your presupposi?ons, and let go of the idea that YOU are the one to “solve” it, you make room for something new to be born. This is important because the processes and structures men?oned in the previous slide aren’t the root source aYer all. There is an exis?ng system with a life of its own, and that system is full of people who hold certain values and beliefs about what’s good. You can’t get new processes un?l you work with THEIR ROOT SOURCE: the priori?es and possibili?es of the people who live the situa?on. I tried to think of an example in our transporta?on story. Maybe we see that in the case of some foods, the situa?on already contains the possibility of some items not going first to stores for people to buy them, but directly from the warehouse to work places. By two-­‐wheeler. Reducing traffic, crea?ng jobs, relieving store owners of some burden while s?ll allowing them to par?cipate, and so on. Whatever the right example is, the point is that you won’t get to this profound possibility on your own, but only by tapping into the diverse collec?on of viewpoints and possibili?es represented by the people who live out the system every day. This is the place where something profound can happen, because you are working at a profound level. You can reframe the purpose, together you can redraw the principles. and THOSE will lead to new processes and structures, which you can prototype, and which teach you what products and services are needed to bring the principles to life. Tip o’ the hat to O0o Scharmer.
  20. 20. The enemy of letting go: Fear The necessary step: an open will – work from a sense of belonging to the larger whole The enemy of this kind of work is fear. Fear of change, fear of inadequacy and failure. Fear of collabora?on with people who are very unlike yourself. Fear of LETTING GO of what you KNOW, of what you are comfortable with. Of the things that have made up your iden?ty. “I’m a web designer, not a transporta?on innovator, not a facilitator, not a social worker!” The step required -­‐-­‐ the courageous step in this crea?ve journey -­‐-­‐ is to open yourself in such a way that you see yourself as part of the larger thing that’s happening. You already par?cipate in all of its possibili?es. There is something “trying to be born,” a future that’s trying to show up, and that is your customer. Tip o’ the hat to O0o Scharmer.
  21. 21. Creating from a true connection between your authentic self and the people who live the situation you aim to serve requires a deep attention and courageous inner steps. And that has been people’s experience for centuries. I’m not saying this is The One and Only Process. You can find other people who would agree about the necessity of going deeper than the surface, agree on the necessity of involving people other than yourself and your team as “experts,” but who would draw the process or journey in quite a different way. (I can recommend the wonderful work of Dave Snowden and his team at Cogni?ve Edge as an example.) But I am saying this: work that touches the roots and soil of a situa?on, work that has a chance of bringing something be@er, meaningful for people, and las?ng, requires deep crea?vity. Deeply crea?ve work means connec?ng your insides – your sense of care, and connec?on, and Who You Are – to the situa?on you’re working with. Ar?sts do this. Writers do this. Inventors, engineers, teachers, mothers, religious leaders, and yes, designers do this. Whatever your personal story, whatever the story of your team or organiza?on, we are all invited to par?cipate in work that is bigger than ourselves. The truth is, our work is ALREADY bigger than ourselves. It already has impact on the world. We can’t help but change the world, and each of us already is doing so through our choices and ac?ons. When we embark on a deep crea?ve journey, the heart of the work and the quality of the work is not related to intelligence or craY. Those are useful in their place, and each of us has our giYs to give. The heart of the work is in our openness to the world and its possibili?es, our openness to taking our place in the crea?on of something that brings more life to the world. And that, it turns out, has been a challenge for people throughout the ages.
  22. 22. 2. The mythic journey of becoming: taking your creative place in life. The reason that great poetry and literature is popular through centuries is because it reports on the experiences all humans share. As I have made a shiY to work that starts with social ques?ons rather than business or technology ques?ons, I have also been learning from people who have studied the more soulful, mythical and poe?c aspects of the experience of people who have sought to create something meaningful in the world. Over ?me, as I married my own experience to these stories, poems, and myths, I synthesized it all into the following few steps. This is a synthesis, not a retelling of a par?cular myth or even a single scholarly point of view.
  23. 23. David Whyte: poet and scholar of poetry Heart aroused: poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate America Joseph Campbell: scholar of world mythology Hero with a thousand faces Here are two key sources I have drawn from, among many others, as I have lived out and wri@en about this journey. I don’t know if what I am about to say will sound very “Western” to an Indian audience. I see it as being about the human experience (but I have never told it to a non-­‐Western audience). This is my version of the old story, based partly on my own experience through the past decade, and streamlined for ?me.
  24. 24. The story begins with you being asleep. Crea?vely snoozing. This is a kind of staleness or comfort with the way things are. Working to please others, following the script handed to you by your culture, your parents, your boss. I don’t know about you, but for me this meant: -­‐ Living up to others expecta?ons. Living to please, to conform. -­‐ Choosing mostly by criteria I was given by upbringing and culture. -­‐ Feeling like life was something that was happening to me, not something I was par?cipa?ng in. -­‐ Following my intellectual passions and growing in craY, but otherwise numb. Emo?onally dull. My own opinions, feelings, and Self blanketed by deference to (mostly self-­‐constructed) boundaries and “shoulds”. -­‐ Living “un?l…” wai?ng for the right invita?on, circumstances, money, job, permission from someone else -­‐ Puong pain, insecurity, fear, and flaws in a bag – a growing bag where an angry me sat in the hidden dark. BUT THERE COMES A POINT WHEN YOU’VE HAD ENOUGH “With all of our goals, missions statements, posi?ve thinking, bonus mileage plans, and future career moves safely to the rear, we can look around and find ourselves, slightly chilled, in a small unfamiliar clearing in a dark wood, facing that stubborn, not-­‐to-­‐be-­‐accepted life we have made and must call our own. One day, we wake and see our life as we have made it.” David Whyte
  25. 25. In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost. Dante Whyte writes, “In three lines Dante says that the journey begins right here. In the middle of the road. Right beneath your feet. This is the place. There is no other place and no other ?me. …When you do wake, you are rousing a different part of you, a barely experienced life that lies at your core. Having forgo@en this central soul experience, you do not recognize where you are. To the part of you that loved your sleep, it feels as though you are lost.” The poe?c tradi?on is that this is a scary place, but it is the necessary place of beginning. There are many portrayals of this. Read Joseph Campbell’s work on the Hero’s Journey, for example. The journey begins with an awakening, a sense of inadequacy, and a seong out from home. When you are awake, you pay a@en?on to the world and to your life in a different way. A deeper way. This makes way for the possibility of crea?ve engagement with the world. But that doesn’t start with your hands. It doesn’t start with your intelligence. It happens first in the intui?ve mind. Closer to our iden?ty, our sense of self. Down in the place where there are no words. AYer Dante woke in the woods he hadn’t walked far before he emerged from the dense trees and could see the sun shining off the distant peaks of paradise. He walked forward, only to encounter three beasts that blocked his way. A leopard, a lion, and a wolf. In other stories, it’s a different monster. In the tale of Beowulf, it was a monster named Grendel.
  26. 26. In the story of Beowulf, a king, Hrothgar, had a problem with a monster named Grendel, who had been coming into his great hall, killing warriors, and carrying them off into the night. He hired Beowulf to kill Grendel, offering half his kingdom in reward. They waited, Grendel came, and aYer a great fight, Beowulf and his men succeeded. A great celebra?on was held. Then something else came into the hall. Killed warriors, carried them off. It was Grendel’s mother. Whyte says, “It’s not the thing you fear, it’s the MOTHER of the thing you fear.” Beowulf’s mother lived at the bo@om of a black cold lake. A stag, pursued by wolves, would rather die on its shores than go into the lake. Beowulf entered the lake. In a great ba@le, he found there at the bo@om the sword that would kill the monster, and he did so. There is something, for each of us, that holds us back. That kills our courage and drags it off into the night. Something that keeps us from living out our true desire. There are things about yourself that you are not proud of, the things you have come to feel are inadequate or ugly, but s?ll they are part of you. Perhaps you have dreams of becoming something that would be unpopular with your parents or your colleagues. There’s something you fear, that prevents you from diving down into the place where you could find the death of your fear. Whyte: “Ironically, our place of refuge is the lake where the greater devouring animal of our disowned desire lies in the shape of Beowulf’s mother. The refusal to go down into the lake is the refusal to be eaten by life. The delusion is that there might be a possibility of immunity from the natural failures that accompany the soul’s explora?ons in the world. But the story says you are going to be swallowed by something greater one way or another. The only real ques?on is not one of winning or losing, but of experiencing life with an ever-­‐increasing depth. The storyteller says, ‘Why not go down, at home or at work, into the lake, consciously, like Beowulf?’ Don’t die on the shore. The stakes are high. The stakes are your life.”
  27. 27. In story aYer story, over centuries, the hero leaves home on a quest. AYer a long journey, he eventually comes to a place that he discovers is the very home he leY. And he finds that he is now ready to take his place in the world. He’s able to integrate all the parts of himself, and along the way and in the act of returning a spark was lit that is the source of crea?ve fire. Coming home and taking your place means this: Accep?ng yourself, just as you are, as enough. Those things that made you afraid to go into the lake? You’ve accepted them as part of you. It’s not that you’ve banished them. It’s not that you’ve become perfect. You have come home to yourself. You understand that you are enough, just as you are, warts and flaws, strengths and victories, defeats and shames, prides and loves and hates and pimples and all.
  28. 28. Love a9er Love Derek Walco@ The ?me will come when, with ela?on you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love le@ers from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.
  29. 29. For a ?me I thought “oh, I’ve taken my place, and that’s how life will be from now on.” Now I understand that life involves a series of fron?ers. I experience new beginnings all the ?me, in work, in family, in my own insides. I’ve come to see them as coming to a river, then spending ?me geong myself to cross. Time making the crossing, having a sense of arrival and maybe also disorienta?on. And feeling afraid or excited or both at each step. OYen we don’t recognize that we are have come to the end of a chapter of life un?l we’ve been there for some ?me. I’ve had the experience of suddenly realizing, “Oh! No wonder I haven’t liked those projects, that work that I would have been thrilled by five years ago. I’ve moved on to something else, I just didn’t realize it!” Here’s David Whyte again: “We can experience a kind of fron?er iden?ty, in which we can live a life, no ma@er what threshold we find ourselves in, in each stage of life, there’s a way of understanding what par?cular threshold you are on, and living a life that’s up to the conversa?on you’re asked to join.” “There is a kind of harvest available to us at every point in life. Some?mes the harvest is in darkness and despair and difficulty, and the ?de seems to have gone out from us, and it seems there is very li@le help in the world except the strange hand extended to us in our darkness and in our loneliness. Other ?mes we seem to have a great buoyancy beneath us, a great ?de flowing with us. Strangely enough those ?mes of great success and flow can also be ?mes of forgeong our origins, of why we set out on the journey in the first place. And mostly life will be a li@le of both — you will have darkness and light woven into your days.” “I’d like to remind us of the mul?layered complexity of everyday existence. And that one of the disciplines is the ability to hold as many contexts at the same ?me as possible. These contexts are held together through a central imagina?on. In poe?c tradi?on, [“imagina?on” is not the ability to think up new things.] Keats and Coleridge would call this the secondary imagina?on, or “fancy.” The primary imagina?on is your ability to form a central image inside yourself, or to discover that image inside yourself, an image that makes sense of all the thousands of images that you are involved with in your life. That there is a faculty inside human beings, this faculty of the imagina?on, which is able to make sense of any level of complexity, and to give you a place to stand at the center of it, and a ground from which to step from into your new life.”
  30. 30. San0ago David Whyte The road seen, then not seen, the hillside hiding then revealing the way you should take, the road dropping away from you as if to leave you walking on thin air, then catching you, holding you up, when you thought you would fall, and the way forward always in the end the way that you followed, the way that carried you into your future, that brought you to this place, … so that one day you realized that what you wanted had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place you had lived in before you began, and that every step along the way, you carried the heart and the mind and the promise that first set you off and drew you on and that you were more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way than the gilded roofs of any des?na?on you could reach: as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city with golden towers, and cheering crowds, and turning the corner at what you thought was the end of the road, you found just a simple reflec?on, and a clear revela?on beneath the face looking back and beneath it another invita?on, all in one glimpse: like a person and a place you had sought forever, like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond; like another life, and the road s?ll stretching on.
  31. 31. Welcome to the frontier.

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