Random associations and the systematic exploration of novelty
There are many ways to go about creative exploration. For centuries, the Western world evolved under the cult of the One — one God, one leader, one truth— and became obsessed with the figure of the lone genius. The Creator.
It does seem logical, then, that the current interest in the virtues of collective creation would come as a sort of intellectual liberation in the West. It brings us back to notions of community, universality, and joint accomplishment, ideas that have been somewhat artificially removed from our cultural dynamics by two-hundred years of individualistic christianism. Whether or not the collectivist heritage of Northeastern Asian countries can benefit from this sudden epiphany is unsure.
Regardless of the starting point, we can infer from a collectivist approach a set of systematic approaches to creativity. Indeed, to make a system, one needs one than more component.
Boxing and unboxing creativity
On Creative Bangkok's second day, speakers covered a variety of ideas relative to the infamous box of creativity and innovation. A central notion in the economics of creativity, Arthur Koestler's notion of bissociation was introduced by HEC Montreal's Patrick Cohendet as a central tenet of the deboxing of standard procedures.
A key creative process, bissociation is the systematic parent of ideation and serendipity: it is an act of conscious combination where two (or more) solutions, ideas or universes collide and form an entirely new third space. Famous examples include several examples in poetry (Lautréamont among others), the conjunction of dancing and materials science, but also some inconclusive innovations like "coffee-wine".
In the words of TBWA Thailand's chairman, Chaipranin Visudhipol, the box is actually situated very clearly at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A marketing and communications executive, Mr. Chaipranin defines the box as a playground where actors compete on the basis of physiological and safety needs: most often physical products, whose main differentiation is price, and the focus is on tangible results.
Outside the box, companies have an opportunity to explore love & belonging, self-esteem and the realization of self. In this space, creatives and their communications partners are exploring feeling and identity, enlarging significance to the community, the tribe, or the world in its entirety.
Further along, expanding our horizons can also be a matter of finding new cognitive spaces where ideas, words and concepts can collide. Out of Australia, Arthur Shelley uses a set of animal cards to facilitate what he calls the "Organizational Zoo". In a very intuitive manner, participants are brought to classify typical behaviours into categories, so that they can interpret whether their current structure permits out-of-box thinking.
Metaphor is used in a variety of contexts, as is suggestion. Both Ubisoft's Justin Farren and Cirque du Soleil's Brigitte Carbonneau hinted to the power of considering an object, a subject or a concept as asserting it is the same as another's attributes. From the Canadian multimedia multinational's perspective, this is especially true in the processing of "transforming" olympic athletes into artists. The movements may be the same, Cirque's artists must adopt an approach and a way of being that is entirely different: more expressive, more communicative, and in many ways, more creative. The same can be said of its managers, especially those who, in the last 30 years, have seen the company rise from 1 to nearly 5000 employees.
Perhaps the best way to think about boxes and their constraining power is to wish for new beginnings. A tabula rasa, indeed, may be the best context from which to build the greatest dreams; such was Joseph Schumpeter's idea when he wrote of creative destruction.
Only in this context can we rebuild the collective dynamics that open up new fields of creativity, by promoting simultaneously the virtues of random association as well as the systematic exploration of novelty.
Image: Musings with Monique