evolve: create opportunities to grow
part two: creativity functions, chapter 10
“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Allow me to describe how I have got to the point that I can share with you the book you are currently reading.
At the beginning, which obviously was not really the beginning, there was a thought. I woke up one day with the realization that I want to help people see things differently. In retrospect, this insight was deeply rooted in other things I do, but at the time, I perceived it as a wake-up call. As often happens, some external triggers pushed me toward this realization. In my case, it was the passing of a good friend combined with the political and social situation in my country at the time. I realized intuitively that any hope for a change and a better future starts with more people being able (and willing) to see reality differently and, at the same time, reshape a better one. It sounds now, as it was then, ambitious and even pretentious. Maybe that is why I translated this vision to a very basic (even naïve) concept. The result was the first version of seempli.
Here is what you need about that very initial concept to better understand the journey I’ve done since:
- The word “Creativity” didn’t even cross my mind at the time. It didn’t appear anywhere in my vision or in the first version of the platform.
- In fact, seempli wasn’t yet a platform. It was just a simple game designed to inspire you to observe the world around you and discover surprising things.
- As such, only one keyword (or core function, as I refer to it today) kept showing up: Observe.
Being impulsive as I am, despite my ambitious vision, I implemented this initial, simple, and very narrow concept and launched seempli.com. I didn’t even try to articulate what the next step should be.
In parallel to working on this initial version and soon after its launch, the word “Creativity” started showing up in discussions I had with friends, colleagues, and random online encounters. I pushed it back at first. My goal wasn’t to help people develop and apply their creative potential but to inspire them to make a change in the world. It took me quite some time to realize that personal, organizational, and, dare I say, global Creativity is essential for making, or even envisioning, such a change.
As the game evolved and gradually became a platform, I started to uncover and articulate the underlying model. Everything I developed initially was very intuitive. It wasn’t derived from a well-defined model. I had to see my intuition realized and work in practice for the underlying model to emerge. When I first sketched that model, it was made of three elements: Observe, Imagine, and Act. I’ve arranged them intuitively as a circle — an intuition that, in retrospect, could be traced back to my background in Quality Management and Systems Thinking.
During the next five years, based on many resources, conversations, and working on and using seempli, the conceptual model became more mature. I was able to explain, first to myself and then to others, why it works. More importantly, I was able to expand seempli and identify more essential pieces of the puzzle. And with this process came an urge to write this book. Which is a journey by itself. It started with a sketch of the model but with no lineup. Early on, I decided not to design the lineup for the entire book but to take it one chapter at a time. I also decided to share each chapter and avoid waiting until this project was finalized. These two decisions were invaluable. Each chapter I wrote triggered additional conversations and revelations. With each chapter, I got exposed to new resources. My mind pantry became richer. Things that happened to me while writing the book affected it. And often, I found myself refining the model itself while writing. This chapter I am writing now was nothing more than a title a couple of months ago. Even its subtitle has changed, let alone the ideas it conveys. Similarly, I have a rough idea for the next chapter, but nothing more than that.
I could have stopped at any point in this journey and say “this is the final product I aimed for.” I could have tried to carefully design the entire model and platform and plan their implementation. Instead, at no point in time did I know for sure what would be around the next corner. I just knew the general direction toward a fuzzy destination.
Is that a good method to develop an idea, build a product, or write a book? Some would argue it is not the most effective one. It indeed has its shortcomings. I believe, however, this evolutionary operating mode embodies Creativity. It is perfectly aligned with its messy, unpredictable nature. When we embrace it — when we learn not just to live with it, but to live it and utilize it — we can realize our creative potential. We can make a real change.
Evolve is the second powerup in The Creativity Operating System. Like Play, when we master it, we increase the impact of Experience, Observe, Wonder, Imagine, and Fuse by orders of magnitude.
We already know that nothing is created in a void. The five first Creativity Functions are designed to collect ingredients and process them to generate creative ideas — ingredients that could certainly be the outcome of someone else’s Creativity. Every human-made creation, conceptual or physical, is based on a fusion of previous creations or an enhancement of one. At this point in our journey, we fully understand that Creativity is evolutionary, even if to a bystander it often seems revolutionary as if some creations are magically produced out of thin air1.
But if every act of Creativity is evolutionary by definition, why do we need the Evolve function? To fully understand the role of Evolve and how it can boost our Creativity, we need to revisit a theme we encountered throughout this journey. This theme is also visible in how The Creativity Operating System is represented visually: Feedback Loops. The essence of the Evolve powerup is to proactively ignite and utilize Feedback Loops. When we evolve, we do not settle for a singular act of Creativity. We aim to develop an ever-growing creative momentum.
In Systems Thinking, a Feedback Loop is a cycle of actions or events in which each step affects the next. In our context, all Feedback Loops we have mentioned until now and the ones we shall discuss in this chapter are Reinforcing Feedback Loops. Each action and event is not merely affecting the next one — it feeds the next one and the cycle as a whole. That is one of the reasons I avoid describing Creativity as a process. A process is designed to produce a desired outcome. By definition, it implies the process eventually ends. Creativity is a system — one that can feed itself and gain momentum. We can achieve many things, but none of them is “the end result,” but rather an opportunity for the subsequent creative discovery and for us, the creators, to grow.
As the case is with the rest of The Creativity Operating System, we are naturally programmed to Evolve. But as we grow up, different forces in different contexts seem to push back this natural tendency. When we are driven to provide predefined answers, meet concrete goals, and follow a straight path, we have less room and motivation to Evolve. When we manage to apply the Evolve powerup proactively, we can overcome these forces and regain the natural momentum of Creativity. It is nothing less than magical because this creative momentum affects both us as creative humans and the things we create.
The Functions Multi-Loop
The first type of Feedback Loops is embedded within The Creativity Operating System between its Core Functions. As we described Experience, Observe, Wonder, Fuse, Imagine, and Play, we kept iterating between them. There are so many connections, interdependencies, and Feedback Loops between the six functions that, at times, the distinction between them seems blurred and even artificial.
Take, for example, Experience, Observe, and Wonder. Experience sets a mindset that opens up our senses and promotes Observation. The more we Observe, the more input we have to marvel at and ask questions about. But Creativity is not a linear process, so before rushing onto the following function, Fuse, we have an opportunity to experience even more. As we are more curious and the more we marvel at what we Observe, our sense of Experience becomes stronger. With it, we become even more observant, and naturally, we collect even more ingredients to explore and marvel at. It is a classic Reinforcing Feedback Loop. Its impact could be invaluable. When this loop is active, you often feel like you are in another world. You are immersed in the experience, and you take in consciously and unconsciously so many pieces of information, some of which could connect with other ingredients to form creative insights.
The connection between these functions is so strong that you might not distinguish between the three in real-time. Nor should you. When you are immersed in this loop, you should not analyze it but enjoy it. But as natural as this Feedback Loop seems, getting into this “zone” could be pretty challenging, especially when external forces like schedule, goals, and expectations constantly drive us to deliver results. We are expected to move forward instead of enjoying being in the loop. As in many other cases, the key is balance. We cannot (and should not) dismiss goals, even if they are extrinsic, and we often cannot ignore schedules and deadlines. The role of the Evolve function is to proactively create the space for such Feedback Loops to exist and to utilize it. When we are aware of the potential of this loop, and we plan to make the most of it, it does not come at the expense of moving forward. We just need to balance it with our tendency to reach some bottom line. There will be time for moving forward. Utilizing this Feedback Loop will just help us doing so with better ingredients to work with.
Now, consider the interactions within another triplet: Wonder, Fuse, and Imagine. When you wonder, ask questions and break existing boundaries, you open a gateway to new playgrounds full of opportunities. Any possible answer to the questions you ask is such an opportunity, and exploring it is often an invitation for surprising fusions. When a fusion creates a spark — when you acknowledge its potential even before thinking whether it is feasible or has real value — your imagination kicks in. If you create a space to Imagine, the fusion is like the Seed around which you create a world — your reshaped reality. This sounds like a pretty linear flow, but it isn’t because the moment you have a vivid vision of a new reality in your mind, you have numerous new opportunities to marvel at, question, and challenge. In other words, the reshaped reality you have formed becomes a potential input for Wonder.
Here is the magical part. Since Wonder has a role in both Feedback Loops, the two are connected. As you Wonder in the context of your reshaped reality, your sense of experience becomes more vital. With it, you observe even more — this time, not only the reality around you but also the reality within you. These two loops now create an infinity-like shape, and if you just let them, they will really be infinite.
Again, there comes a time when you will need to go out of the loop temporarily and move forward toward realizing or using your creative insight. Finding the right time for that is far from being science. There is no formula to guide you. For most of us, though, the mere awareness of the importance of these Feedback Loops is a huge step toward utilizing them. Our default operation mode is moving straight ahead, and so any chance to enjoy this circular detour is effective.
Before we move to another sphere of Feedback Loops, consider the reinforcing role of the Play function. When you value the journey, and you are not stressed, you have more freedom to make the most of these inherent Feedback Loops. The less playful you are, the greater your tendency to move in straight lines toward the next immediate goal. But Play has a significant role even after you go out of the loop. One of the key traits of Play is to keep moving between reality and imagination. When you practice this aspect of Play, you find yourself in yet another Feedback Loop, where reality feeds your imagination, and your imagination feeds back reality.
When we started this journey, we said that Creativity is not a process, in the sense that it is not a linear set of actions or events that generates predictable results. A significant part of the magic of Creativity (and let’s face it, the reason it is messy and unpredictable) is the result of these multiple Feedback Loops that keep throwing us back and forth between different functions. It is an inherent part of The Creativity Operating System’s design. The Evolve function helps us bring this characteristic to the front and make the most of it.
Evolve turns Creativity into a living system. It is always ‘On,’ affected by the external world, and if we let it, influencing it back.
The Creator-Creation Loop
Think about the body of things you create as Your Creations. It can include solutions to concrete challenges, works of art, innovation in business, new products, or a story you imagine and tell your child. We are not designed for one-time creativity. Our brain is not programmed to achieve a concrete goal and then retire. Our species is unique in that we constantly seek to move forward. This is our default operation mode from the day we are born. At the same time, no act of Creativity is done in a void. The things we Experience, Observe, Wonder, Imagine, and Fuse are not affected merely by the external world. Our own creations make an essential part of the ingredients we can play with.
When we realize the things we create can be used as raw material, we maximize their value. They don’t only serve a definite purpose. They become part of an infinite potential we still haven’t realized. When I refer to these creations as ingredients, I don’t necessarily refer to their evolution. Of course, if you imagined a new product or a solution to a problem, you could use them as an interim step toward the next evolutionary step of the same creation. Sometimes, this is indeed the next natural step. At other times, this would not be desired at all. We have to know how to balance the option for a better creation (which is almost always possible) with real-world needs and constraints. So, when I say that the things we create can be used as ingredients for new creations, I refer to something completely new and unpredictable: a completely different product, artwork, or a solution to an entirely different problem. The things we create can become part of the raw material we will use in the future just like everything else we experience and observe.
But the Creator-Creation Feedback Loop goes even deeper than that. When we mindfully reflect on the things we create, whether they were a huge success or a complete failure, we grow as creative humans. The more we Experience our own Creativity and the more we Observe it and Wonder, we can collect more insights about what works for us — about our optimal creative setup. The more we use these insights to Imagine and Fuse new and improved creative setups, the more creative we become. If we let the things we create teach us to generate new things better and more naturally, we shall never stop evolving as humans.
The more we grow as creative humans, the more we create. And the more we create, we have more occurrences of Creativity in our lives to learn from. It is a fantastic reinforcing Feedback Loop, but we have to make room to utilize it. We have to proactively reflect on our creative journey. The Creativity Operating System is a practical framework for such a reflection. It creates a language you can use to break-down and analyze any occurrence of Creativity, how you got there, what worked for you, and what you can improve.
Outbound Loops: Co-Creating
The two cycles we have discussed up to this point place each of us at the center. The Feedback Loop between the Creativity Functions is an effective powerup. However, by default, it is limited to what is going on in the mind of a single person. Both types of Feedback Loops are internal — their scope is our own creation. Each of us can create and be creative as an individual. The core of The Creativity Operating System does not mandate joining forces or working with others. The ingredients we collect and later use obviously originate from the work of others and the environment we operate in. But even if this activity goes beyond just consumption of inputs (because we interact with these ingredients), Creativity can still happen when you work alone. Many creative people in history have worked alone, at least in some significant parts of their lives, and the outcome of their work is, of course, no less creative because of that.
The third aspect of Evolve is where we break this boundary. We can be creative alone. But co-creating on different levels is where The Creativity Operating System scales-out. Connecting several minds into one collective system can take us to places we could never reach alone, if only because each of us can walk only one path at a time.
When you think about Cubism, the first name (and to many, the only name) that comes to mind is Pablo Picasso. Maybe because of his extensive body of work and perhaps because of his colorful personality, Picasso is considered by many the origin of Cubism. We already know that anything ever created results from fusing existing elements and reshaping the reality around them. So, it should come as no surprise that Cubism, although considered a radical turn in the history of art, was inspired by the work of other artists and different styles. From Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse to African art, Cubism is the result of surprising fusions and their evolution. But that is only part of the story. Cubism is more than just a fusion of different influences. Cubism was created, shaped, and evolved not in the mind of a single person but as a joint work of two artists: Picasso and Georges Braque.
Mutual influences are common in art as much they are in science, technology, philosophy, and any other domain. But the formation of Cubism is much more than some virtual dialogue between artists. Between the years 1907 and 1914, Picasso and Braque worked closely together. In fact, during these years, they were almost inseparable, or as Braque said: “We were like mountain-climbers roped together.” In retrospect, the artworks they have created during this period are very hard to distinguish between due to the mutual effect they had on each other. This mutual evolution is not what we would typically call collaboration or teamwork, mainly because Picasso and Braque didn’t pursue a predefined joint goal and were not working on one outcome. They were two distinct artists, each with his own aspirations and goals, working separately on his own artworks. And yet, in many senses, Picasso and Braque operated as a collective. They went on a journey together, even if each of them walked a different path toward a different destination. This notion of co-creating is how Evolve helps us break free from our own boundaries.
Here’s how it worked. By day, Picasso and Braque worked separately, each in his own studio. Every evening, they met and explored each other’s work. And they didn’t just keep what they thought to themselves. They challenged, questioned, and criticized each other. Nothing was left unspoken. And then, the next day, they continued their work separately. Only this time, something was different. The discussions from the previous evening had left some residue. What each of them had seen in the other’s work clearly left some impression. They inspired each other and helped each other (maybe unconsciously) reach new heights. In that sense, they Experienced, Observed, and Wondered together, forming a more profound and richer collective mind-pantry. The experiences each of them had alone affected the collective. The things each of them observed during the day and later in each other’s work affected them. Whatever each of them questioned or challenged continued to echo in both their minds. When they resumed their individual work the next day, they were no longer the same. Each of them had new ingredients and insights he could Fuse into his work, affecting the next step or even the overall direction. Picasso and Braque were two people working toward their own goals, creating their own artworks, connected via a joint Creativity Operating System, playing and evolving together. And the result and its impact on the history of art was beyond what they could have achieved alone.
It is a marvelous example of how scalable The Creativity Operating System can be. Forming a collective of minds that share a joint system always has a grander impact than each of its ingredients. Today, we seem to have so many ways to interact, connect, collaborate, and develop communities that will enable co-creation. But don’t confuse the volume of potential connections with their quality. The modern, default mode of “post and comment” will not do. You need to create more than just a shared space to post ideas. A collective is based on frequent interactions where each member contributes and is contributed almost at the same time. To form an effective Feedback Loop, you need a deep connection with your peers. You need to establish genuine communication — honest bi-directional sharing. Thanks to technology, you can co-create with someone you have never physically met, living thousands of miles from where you are based. That is actually a great way to leverage diversity. It is the nature of your connection and its authenticity that make the difference, not your proximity or the volume of things you share.
A collective is as powerful as you enable it to be. When you manage to create a real collective, everything blends into a joint creative setup — a creative ecosystem.
The Enabling Power of Vagueness
Evolution, by definition, is growth, and to grow, you need space. Without room to grow, there can be no Evolution. The first challenge of Evolution is the need to push back the forces that narrow our space to grow and evolve. We already discussed some of these forces and how to defuse them in previous chapters. By slowing down, seeing the value in the journey, and allowing ourselves to take some detours, we create room for Feedback Loops to kick in and for Evolution to act.
One opportunity for creating more space for growth deserves to be explicitly highlighted in the context of Evolution. Adopting it as a habit in any aspect of our lives will enable us to utilize the different Feedback Loops and enhance Creativity. It deals with how we define our goals.
Generally speaking, we are goal-oriented creatures. Goals are driving us (or pushing us) forward. Whether it is the vision of a multi-billion enterprise or a personal target affecting only you, a goal is a lighthouse directing us as much as it is motivating us. A goal, almost by definition, is a destination — an essential part of any journey. And this is where it is also a potential pitfall.
The common perception is that goals ought to be specific and measurable. The more concrete the goal, the more predictable it is. It is easier to plan how to achieve it and set a clear benchmark for success. Tangible and measurable targets are likely to increase productivity and efficiency, as they align everyone on what we aim for and, as a result, what needs to be done next. Anything that might happen along the way is either a step toward the concrete destination or a step back. In the unpredictable world we live in, concrete goals are reassuring that whatever happens, at least we’d know where we stand. Just like driving with Google Maps, you don’t have to look right or left — just follow the instructions. And if the road gets blocked unexpectedly, the app will recalculate the path and find the next optimal step under the new circumstances.
Concrete goals are naturally easier to manage and control. But as we already know, Creativity isn’t. Creativity favors fuzzy goals.
Writing the chapter you are now reading is obviously a step in the grander project of writing a book about The Creativity Operating System. That is a fairly concrete goal. If that was the end I am focused on, I would probably try to define a plan with interim targets. I might settle with content-oriented goals, but most such projects are subjected to some predefined schedule too. This is all very common, and to some extent, well needed. Many projects would never have succeeded without this level of goal-setting and planning. However, without some balance, this approach leaves little room for natural yet unexpected evolution.
Here is what I did instead. My initial goal for this month was to finalize the draft for this chapter. It is a concrete, measurable, and time-bounded target. To allow space for evolution and some unexpected things to happen, I redefined the goal: Help People Practice the Evolve Function. What I had in mind when defining this goal was the exact same concrete task I started with. But I deliberately used a fuzzier, more abstract phrasing. You might notice the revised wording sounds a lot like the reason — the answer to why I am doing this. But there is much more to it than that. I didn’t articulate “the why” as a motivation. I actually placed the definite targets out of focus. When I started working this month, I had nothing in mind beyond writing this chapter. The goal I had in front of me, however, made room for surprising things to happen. And they did.
As you read above (and we will soon discuss it further), one of the evolution-enabling practices is continuous reflection. As I wrote about it, I thought that reflection does not always come naturally. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Even when you acknowledge the importance of reflection and the positive impact it could have on your journey, how to do it effectively is not trivial. Then, I had an idea. What if we had a collection of reflective questions oriented to drive our creative journey forward. I knew I would happily use such cue cards for reflection, and they could be a perfect companion to The Creativity Operating System model, helping people utilizing it and… evolve. Here comes the part that could seem whimsy to many. The moment I had this idea, I took a break from writing the chapter and started to work on the c.os Reflection Cues.
As you can expect, I didn’t finish the draft of this chapter “on time.” But this is perfectly fine because my refined goal was fuzzier. What I achieved will indeed help people practice the Evolve function. I took an unexpected turn and didn’t predict the outcome, but it still serves my predefined goal. It even fits it better than what I initially had in mind. Apart from producing something which I believe to be helpful and practical, working on the Reflection Cues helped me gain more insights into the topic I am writing about. This unplanned detour resulted in an unexpected outcome and a better version of the initially planned creation. That is the essence of Evolution. And it was possible because I had space to navigate in.
When you examine the mission statements of successful companies, you realize they follow the same idea. They are concrete enough to give everyone a clear direction, just like a compass does, but at the same time, they are vague enough to allow flexibility and space for unexpected turns. Tesla’s mission statement, for example, is: “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” This could mean a lot of things. How it is translated to concrete actions is intentionally open. It creates room for exploring new territories and coming up with decisions no one can predict today. And yet, it provides a clear sense of direction and a guideline for choosing the right turn in every junction along the way.
Fuzzy goals are relatively common at the enterprise level (at least as they are expressed in mission statements). They are far from being common at lower levels of organizations and at a personal level. We are used to concrete, even binary, goals. We love control, and we feel the least we can do is work with a clear benchmark that will tell us how close we are to the destination. It is indeed more challenging to run a project or manage a team with vague targets. As in many other areas, the key is to balance and consciously revisit and refine our goals. We should continually ask ourselves when a target should be concrete and in which cases we can benefit from a more open definition — a definition that doesn’t just enable Evolution but also promotes it.
The Next Step: Plan to Evolve
To master the Evolve function, please refer to the Core Practices defined in the c.os model. The following activities are an excellent place to start, though. They are designed so you could experiment with Evolve in lab conditions. To lead a creative life, your next challenge would be to implement all the Core Practices, turn them into habits, and seamlessly apply them in everything you do.
Like the other Creativity Functions, the Evolve powerup is already part of how we are programmed. The human mind is designed to utilize Feedback Loops, and they are inherent in many mental processes. We are also (in general) designed for interaction and collaboration. However, this aspect is more subjected to personality traits, and some people might actually favor working with fewer interactions in their creative path.
Like the other Core Functions, Evolve could quickly become less present in our lives if other forces (external or internal) prevail. To make the most of the Evolve function and powerup The Creativity Operating System as a whole, we need to proactively highlight and practice the different aspects of Evolve. Just like gaining physical momentum, the best way to do that is by starting small, with the inner Feedback Loops, and then expanding the circles to cover a larger area.
Reflect on Your Journey
Evolution, by definition, is progressing from one status, form, or way of doing things to another. In nature, evolution is random. Arbitrary permutations or mutations thrive more than others because they are better suited for the current external conditions. But that is not the Evolution we are aiming for. Evolution as a powerup means to intentionally and proactively improve what we managed to do until now and take it one step further. The only way to do that effectively starts with mindfully reflecting on where we are.
There are plenty of resources on how powerful ongoing reflection can be. To avoid repeating better advocates of this practice, I will say only this. We already know that nothing is created in a void and that we need a variety of ingredients to come up with a creative dish. If you think about your Evolution — the next version of you — as a creation, reflection is an essential part of the process of collecting raw material: observing the current version of yourself and wondering what it could become.
One of the powerful implications of having a well-defined model of Creativity is that it creates a language you can use for reflecting on your creative journey. The Core Functions and the Core Practices are a great place to start when asking yourself where you are and what could be the next step in your Evolution. If you feel you need more concrete guidance in your reflection, you can use the c.os Reflection Cues. Each Cue introduces a short list of reflective questions derived from one aspect of The Creativity Operating System. By thinking about these questions, even before rushing into answering them, you observe your current status and plan the next potential improvement.
- Dedicate at least 30 minutes to reflection at least once a week.
- Find a place without distractions and reflect on your journey.
- You can either use the Reflection Cues as a guide, or any other reflection method, as long as you use your experience from the past week to generate future-looking insights.
- Use your Insight Journal to record your thoughts and insights.
Reflection is not a one-time activity. The more you reflect, the more momentum your Evolution gains. Remember, though, that the road is not always straight-forward. You might take some wrong turns. You might need to track back and try something else. Like Creativity itself, in your creative Evolution, the journey is more important than the destination.
Enhance and Create Feedback Loops
Our journey to explore The Creativity Operating System started with an ambitious goal: to break-down the magical, chaotic thing we refer to as Creativity into elements we can understand, analyze, and practice. As we progressed in our exploration, we gradually revealed its complexity and beauty. There is great value in discussing and practicing each of the Creativity Functions as a standalone skill. However, we cannot and should not ignore the inherent connections and inter-dependencies between the Functions. The seven Creativity Functions, as intuitive as they are, form a highly complex system. It is this nature of this system that makes it chaotic and unpredictable. We marvel at acts of Creativity because they almost always catch us by surprise.
In a world that is focused on simplicity and results (let alone immediate results) at the expense of depth, utilizing the Creativity Operating System’s complexity is not trivial. When we have a creative insight, there will almost always be internal and external voices calling us to cash out and celebrate what we managed to come up with. As tempting as it is, adopting the first creative insight or rushing onto the first path we have discovered means we are practically waiving the potential for a more profound, different, maybe better solution.
In our ultra-practical world, it is easy to fall in love with the concept that “perfect is the enemy of good”2. When you start to hear that “better is the enemy of good,” you are already on a slippery slope, which ends with “take what you’ve got and don’t look back.” That is not how Creativity works. To utilize “the creative process,” you often have to iterate. You have to revisit your insights and apply the Creativity Functions to them. This is the nature of Feedback Loops, and that what could potentially turn a good idea into the stuff breakthroughs are made of.
We should not underestimate the need to move forward, of course. Getting caught inside a Feedback Loop is not what we aim for. Utilizing the inherent Feedback Loops in the system means not rushing to implement the first option you come across but being open to other options before deciding which path to take. It also means constantly looking at the rear-view mirror and to the sides of the road to see if there are better opportunities to pursue. These opportunities are often subtle, almost hidden. When you already have one good idea, and everything around you just screams to move forward, looking out for these elusive insights is far from being trivial. And that is precisely why we need to be proactive and intentional in doing so.
The same applies to actively creating opportunities for co-creating. If it wasn’t for their proactive, intentional co-creating, Picasso and Braque would never have developed Cubism as we know it. Maybe it wasn’t a predefined goal, and they surely weren’t a team in the common sense of the word. But their collaborative Creativity Operating System enabled them to create something the world has never seen until then, and that left a long-lasting impression on the art world. In our modern, default operating mode, such a collaboration, which is not driven by organizational structure or a joint goal, is once again not trivial. When you manage to be part of such a collective or create one yourself, you significantly increase your chances of having creative breakthroughs.
- Identify the Feedback Loops between different Functions and Practices in your implementation of the c.os model.
- Make space to utilize the momentum created by Feedback Loops. Don’t rush to celebrate and apply creative insights — continue the exploration derived from these insights, even if it includes some unexpected turns.
- Be part of different circles of people with whom you can Experience, Observe, Wonder, Fuse, Imagine, and Play together.
- Find opportunities to form Feedback Loops where you continually contribute and being contributed — where the creative insights you come up with couldn’t have happened in any other way.
Feedback Loops have an amazing impact on the systems in which they operate. They create a snowball effect (a positive one in this case) which soon has a life of its own. It is a state which you might know from other domains as being in the flow. Magical as it seems to someone from the outside, we can create a better setup for such flow to occur, and a significant part of this setup becomes possible when Feedback Loops are utilized and enhanced.
Set Fuzzy Goals
Defining fuzzy yet effective goals is an art — a creative act by itself. At a minimum, it takes practice and some trial and error. Maybe the best way to experiment with fuzzy goals is by starting with a concrete target and working your way through different levels of abstractions — trying to identify the essence of what you aim for.
Consider the following example, which unfortunately is far from being made up. During 2020, since COVID-19 emerged, many companies worldwide found themselves in an unplanned situation with most, if not all, workers not being able to physically work in the office. Remote Work, or specifically this year Work From Home, became a de-facto standard, even if a temporary one. Most companies discovered (to their surprise) that they can indeed operate in a remote mode and that productivity was not decreased (in some cases, it was even increased). At the same time, the nature of work has obviously changed dramatically. Teams working closely together, even sharing the same physical space, were forced to work without means for constant, unstructured communication. Many people found themselves working alone, with the exception of some preplanned online meetings.
Managers throughout the world realized that while productivity per se might not have been reduced, other aspects of collective teamwork might be impacted by this transition. One of the areas many companies were (and still are) concerned with was the impact on collective Creativity. They wisely realized that team Creativity is affected by the team’s ability to interact and do so in less structured and planned ways. Now, the question is, what can we do about it, given the global situation we are in.
Many Managements have set some formal or informal goals relating to this new working model. A straight-forward target in this context might be to create some real-time, always-on communication channel for the team members to use. The idea would be to simulate as much as possible the unstructured, maybe even arbitrary, communication the team used to have when sharing the same space.
This goal is so concrete that it practically defines the solution. Sure, there is some research to do on various options, and then the team might need some time to adapt to the new platform and maybe customize it a bit for their needs. But with this phrasing, you already set a very concrete destination and most of the path needed to reach it. There is practically no room for experimenting and coming up with other, maybe more creative and practical solutions because the goal is not fuzzy enough. I would even argue that this specific goal might have the opposite effect on what you are really trying to achieve. An always-on communication channel could quickly become a source of ongoing distraction, leaving no time for deep, creative work. It could interfere with the time you need to be offline to promote your work or take some time off. With an always-on channel comes the expectation for immediate replies and unlimited attention — an expectation that is unrealistic and ruinous.
Now, imagine you are the manager of a team forced to work remotely. Is trying to simulate the previous on-site operation mode the best approach? The only way to keep the door open for better, different, unexpected solutions — solutions that will evolve naturally — is to set a fuzzier goal by considering what you really aim to achieve. The answer in this case might be to maintain the team’s Creativity. Let’s aim even higher: to improve the team’s Creativity. Now, this is indeed a fuzzy goal. It does not assume anything about the solution. It does not set the path. This goal is as open as it could be, and yet, the vision is vivid: you wish your team to be even more creative than they were when they shared the same space.
Fuzzy goals as this one are not necessarily harder to achieve, but they are often harder to manage. When the goal is “to set an always-on communication channel,” the next steps are obvious. With the new and fuzzier target, the next step is at least as vague. That is why many people might naturally tend to set clear and concrete goals. But there are quite a few things you could do to move toward the vision we have defined. You could start, for example, by analyzing what helped your team be creative in the previous working mode. You might realize that instead of “always-on channel,” there are two specific types of interactions that were effective in that respect: discussing solutions to challenges before they are implemented and being exposed to random insights by other team members in the context of the project and beyond3. Both these aspects of communication could be promoted in various ways and not necessarily using a real-time communication channel. The remote working-mode could become an opportunity for adopting new practices, tools, and processes that promote these two essential types of communication without the downside of arbitrary distractions. One such solution, which I personally love, is using a collaborative digital whiteboard for the team members to share random insights. Apart from potentially addressing the need, it provides an opportunity that you might not have considered before the challenge of remote work was introduced. An infinite whiteboard might be more than just the remote equivalent to unstructured communication — it can introduce new benefits that were impossible to have in the previous working mode4.
- Make your vision and goals concrete enough to see the destination in your mind and fuzzy enough to allow room for surprising opportunities and interpretations.
- Make sure your goals do not dictate the road to be taken. If the road is rigid, you will have little room for Creativity.
- Refine and reshape your goals throughout the journey. Adding concrete details is desired at some point, but as the primary motivator is the fuzzier vision, the details can change as needed.
Fuzziness is not a binary trait. It is a spectrum. You will have to experiment with different levels of positive vagueness to see what works best for you. Keep in mind that the answer to that question might vary in different contexts and types of challenges. It might also change during your journey. As long as you have this lighthouse guiding you and you keep moving in its general direction, refining, changing, and playing with your goals is likely to enable you to achieve better, more creative results.
We concluded our journey through the seven Creativity Functions of The Creativity Operating System with the Evolve function. And nothing could be more appropriate than that because the journey of mastering your Creativity is only just starting. Like any other skillset, and maybe even more so, mastering Creativity is a never-ending journey. Evolution means to always keep on moving. You are likely to achieve many things throughout your journey, but none of them is your destination, but rather a milestone in a never-ending path.
With The Creativity Operating System, we have defined the language to help us in this continuous evolution. The Core Functions and the practices we have discussed are not an instruction book. They will not tell you which turn to take and how long to stay on each road. Instead, they are your guide to finding your own path. Think of this path as a scenery road. Feel free to detour, find hidden sideways, collect experiences, and discover things you’ve never imagined you would find.
To lead a creative life is first and foremost to enjoy the journey. As long as you know you have not arrived, you are on the right track.
1 In many cases, most people are simply not aware of the ingredients fused together to create an innovative outcome. ⤴
2 Perfect is the enemy of good, on Wikipedia ⤴
3 Don’t take these examples as-is and try to adopt them. They are valuable examples, but they obviously don’t cover the entire solution space to the challenge we have defined, and they can vary from team to team. ⤴
4 One such benefit lies in the fact that the random insights the team share are now recorded — they are no longer volatile. This means they are more accessible for future use and evolution. ⤴