The Need for a Language

Let’s do a little exercise together. Think about the things you’ve experienced today, the people you’ve met, and the things you’ve done. Now, try to capture in writing how you felt throughout the day as you went through these experiences. How did your feelings evolve or change? Write a few sentences describing your feelings without going into the “objective” details of what happened.

Oh, one more thing. When you do this exercise, avoid using any of the words listed in The Atlas of Emotions (explore each of the emotional Continents to see the complete list of words). Don’t look for their synonyms either. In fact, try not using any word you would categorize as associated with an emotion (for example, the word blue associated with sadness).

If you really tried doing this exercise, you probably realized it is not a trivial task. We understand emotions at an intuitive level — they are part of us and what makes us human. But when we are deprived of the ability to use simple words to describe them or refer to them, we feel lost. There is a considerable gap between our ability to identify emotions either in ourselves or in others and our inability to reflect on them, analyze them, and try to change them when the words we invented to address them are omitted from our language.

Language is a powerful tool for reflection and driving change, especially when it comes to abstract, non-tangible concepts. Concepts like Creativity.

Like the emotional landscape, Creativity is easy to identify when we see it or experience it. We are born creative, and as children, Creativity is so natural and integral in our lives that it is hard to describe in words. As adults, we understand the benefit of being creative. We are expected to master our Creativity and apply it in many domains in our lives. But without a language to reflect on what we are doing, what we might be lacking, what we can improve, and where we aim for, it is almost impossible to start this journey, let evolve and achieve tangible results.

When I started to work on The Creativity Operating System, I imagined a roadmap for mastering creative skills — a set of creative habits we should adopt to become more and more creative. Without really intending to, the c.os model evolved into a language that can be used to reflect on creative activities, as well as plan the next steps of improving them. The c.os model became a language to discuss and analyze Creativity, which was extremely difficult until now.

Imagine, for example, you and your team need to find a solution to some challenging problem, and you decide to try some ideation method. You might end up with a great idea, or you might end up with nothing. That’s the nature of Creativity. Either way, you can learn from analyzing the activity and reflecting on the experience you and your team shared. Without a well-defined vocabulary, the discussion would be highly challenging or just ineffective. Borrowing terms from other domains (like planning, management, effectiveness, and productivity) is likely to do more harm than good because Creativity is a different creature. It is chaotic and unpredictable by definition. You cannot evaluate it based on the outcome, and you cannot analyze it as you would think about a predefined process. You need a dedicated language to capture the essence of Creativity.

With the c.os model, we took the abstract concept of Creativity and broke it down into more tangible elements (although they are still defined in a way that is open for interpretation). These elements — the Core Functions and Practices — are the verbal building blocks that enable you to analyze any activity through the Prism of Creativity. The Core Practices in the c.os model are designed to be actionable and allow you to evolve in your creative journey. But even before that, they create a language you can use to think about what you are doing and what you can do next.

When you consider your ideation activity, for example, you can ask yourself, “how much randomness did I add into the mix?“. Or “did we phrase ideas as statements or did we think in questions?“. Or “did we dismiss some observations without giving them proper consideration?” These questions and many others are directly derived from the language the c.os model defines. Even before you make use of the Core Practices, they become part of your verbal toolbox. Instead of using vague definitions of Creativity, you can now use statements that are easy to understand and relate to. You will soon realize they are also easy to apply and put into use.

No language is perfect. When you try to capture abstract, non-tangible concepts in plain words, something always gets lost in translation. That is why any language needs to evolve. Similarly, the c.os model is obviously not the ultimate, complete, and final vocabulary of Creativity. It is a good start, though. Without it, any discussion on Creativity and how to improve it becomes a challenge by itself.

Like the case is with any other language, using it effectively can take time. The best way to start is to get familiar with the vocabulary and then just dive into the water. Start with the c.os model explorer or our miro-based reflection tool. Learn the definition of each of the practices, pick an activity or a project you wish to reflect on, and describe it using this new language. The more you do that, the more articulate you become. And as your usage of the language evolves, you will be able to think of and express new, more advanced ways to practice and apply your Creativity.


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