An Age of Creation

The other side of destruction is creation and with so much of one the opportunity for the other has appeared.

It’s not hard to see destruction around us in these times. Whether its’ the economy, community health, or the social unrest that is permeating through our communities there’s much that is coming apart these days.

The flip side to this state of destruction is creation.

Both exist simultaneously in large, complex, interconnected systems like we are seeing with COVID-19 and expressed in the protests tied to issues like racism, poverty, and work that occupy our consciousness these days. How we think and understand these patterns in systems can help us see beyond what is lost and focus on what we can create.

Cycles of Opportunity

Conservation scholars Lance Gunderson and C.S. Holling popularized a model that explained the way in which many natural systems cycle through states of growth, decline, and rejuvenation and re-organization. This adaptive cycle is more than a metaphor, it has been shown to match real patterns of activity in natural systems. Whether we like it or not, we humans are a part of natural systems and considerable research has explored how and ways this adaptive cycle fits with our social and organizational world.

The cycle, displayed below, suggests that natural systems undergo phases of resource exploitation to develop and grow, then conserve, before eventually decaying and then reorganizing to either die out or re-grow in a new cycle. Drawing on evolutionary biology, it is thought that these next cycles represent growth, scaling, or strengthening (i.e., enhanced resilience). Highly resilient systems cycle through this multiple times — sometimes over generations and centuries — or even just through four seasons in a calendar year. By looking at the systems we are engaged with as cycles of adaptation we can be reminded that in times of destruction (release using the jargon of Panarchy below) we can see opportunity to reorganize and exploit (create).

From Panarchy, Gunderson & Holling (Eds): Figure 2-1 (page 34). Copyright © 2002 Island Press.

The Creative Age

Designer and trend forecaster Li Eldelkoort believes our current situation offers “a blank page for a new beginning” . What she is speaking to is the fact that we are seeing a massive release right now because of the disruption in supply chains, markets, patterns of movement, attitudes, and resources.

This is an opportunity to create (to innovate). This creation — an innovation — is about doing new things or doing old things in new ways. Consider some of these recent examples:

  • Germany is shifting its disco culture to the car and mashing up club culture with drive-in movies to create The Drive-in Disco.
  • Cities are abandoning their reliance on the car by creating new and different ways for people to bike, walk, and sit outside in times when we are moving through neighbourhoods less and staying within them more.
  • Local restaurants are shifting their business model from dine-in to take-out or even transforming from restaurants to small specialty grocery stores, pivoting their business model as a food provider.
  • Hockey equipment makers in Canada are shifting their production to creating healthcare protective equipment (PPE).
  • Luxury performance automobile maker Ferrari shifted its factories to making ventilators for healthcare.

These are all examples of quick adaptations that have taken place. Will they stick? Does that matter?

In times of great upheaval when there are numerous cycles in play across our social, professional, community, and other systems, it’s in focusing on what we can create that will yield the greatest benefits for us. Creation helps us cope, provides us with an outlet for something that is an inherently human quality, and it can allow us to create some means of exercising influence over things when we are in a time when so many areas of our world feel out of our sphere of influence.

Outlets of Creation: Lessons from Seth

Seth Godin is a master of creation. He understands that creating things is hard and also that it is natural and human. He has a number of tools — books, blogs, courses, and podcasts that outline ways to be creative. I can’t recommend them enough. He understands the blocks that come with creation, the discipline that is needed to do it, the technical aspects of what it takes to put your ideas into the world, and why it matters to create community.

This is the time to start (or revive) that blog. Tell stories.

Develop a podcast.

Write a book. (Seth Godin is literally launching a course and program that will get you published — if you work — on Amazon’s Kindle platform).

Create a work of art.

Re-invent your business model.

Host a webinar and teach people what you know.

Times of disruption are times of loss and times of gain. Training our gaze on the cycle of adaptation is what will ensure that we build something to take us forward rather than keep us in the past.

Stay safe. Create.

Photo by ThatPhotoGuyNL on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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