Monday, November 28, 2005

More on Conflict and Creativity

I've been considering the wider value of conflict for creativity after the last post. Through what processes can value be derived from something so uncomfortable in contexts other than the arts?

Fight, Flight, or Something Else?

Here's a start: conflict is as much heartfelt as it is intellectually-based, and debate itself implies a winner and a loser. This in itself often affects one's willingness to entertain an alternative viewpoint. Giving ground only happens in battle when there is no other choice.

On the other hand, emotional engagement can be turned to the advantage of innovation, if competitors in business or a classroom can entertain a common goal at the same time as their conflicting positions. Emotional impulse is essential for inspiration, and if, regardless of discomfort, one is looking for new connections and ideas, what better place is there than conflict to find some?

The trick is to entertain an awareness of immediate emotional impulses and the larger picture at the same time. Knowing that feelings pass, change, transform over time, one can train oneself to step back from defending them with eyes closed to being curious about them, their causes, and their alternatives.

Harnessing the Value of Opposition

Clearly, conflict without discipline and an understanding of how to apply its principles will generate stagnant or (worse) growing acrimony. However, what is not done with love can be done with discipline. The same components that go into effective thinking are necessary to generate useful solutions, even if the result solves a problem separate from the conflict at hand.

Conflict is useful when it can be part of a conversation, either internal, external, or both. This exchange must balance the relationship among critical thinking skills, observations, analyses, and emotional engagement. Above all, it requires awareness of process.

Improv: More Than Just for Mimes

There's no trick, there's no formula, and it’s improvisation. Each case is different and participants need the drive to be curious about what's new across contexts. Traditionally, improv is famous for the willingness to entertain an attitude of "Yes AND" rather than "Yes BUT" for long periods of time -- and to just see what happens. It requires endurance, discipline, empathy, and the creativity to see value in situations over which you only have a small amount of control.

This empathy requires courage -- to stretch from a comfortable and long-held stance and exchange it for an unknown -- and perhaps uncomfortable or long-opposed -- point of view. This allows new patterns to emerge, regardless of the last stand you decide to take.

Without opposition, nothing new will emerge. Change is hard because it is unfamiliar, but comfortable, familiar situations rarely breed new ideas.

Chaos Out of Order: The First Step

Improvisation becomes more comfortable with practice. It's harder than it sounds, and requires a great deal of discipline to be curious, to wonder about new patterns, even when the context is unfamiliar.

Those who recognize that a certain amount of chaos is a necessary part of the creative process tend to enjoy it and engage in it more than those who don't understand that learning is disorganizing. You're inevitably walking into unfamiliar territory if you let go of the existing order to find something new.

Take responsibility for creating this kind of chaos, see it as living in disorder as part of a process, and it becomes increasingly easier to remain curious -- even in a hurricane of opposition -- as you gain confidence in your own ability to make new order when the storm has passed.

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