#WorkingOutLoud on Curiosity and Creativity

Curiosity is about the view over the horizon: not the landscape that we already know, but the things that lie beyond.

Curiosity creates the disturbance in ourselves to move forward.

Curiosity fractures comfort, and sanctions the subversion of existing knowledge or dogma.

Curiosity is a foundation for learning, and learning can be most effective when it creates spaces for us to be curious within.

Learning itself is about change: a change in those things that we know, or those things that we do.

Sometimes that change occurs within a frame that we understand (i learn to bake better bread), and sometimes it fractures the frames of our current understanding (i learn a new perspective on a familiar situation, like poverty or gender violence, by talking to others). Sometimes we set out to do one of those things, and accidentally do the other.

Learning can be described as a process of breaking ourselves, and only sometimes intentionally. Breaking our knowledge, our beliefs, our certainty, our confidence, our capability, our effectiveness, or our reputation.

But learning does not leave us broken: we forge new understanding, new knowledge, we come to believe new things, find islands of certainty again, we develop new capability, are effective in creative ways, and build a whole new reputation.

We return to stability, but on a new platform.

So at a holistic level, learning is a process of breaking ourselves, but then reconciling some of the pieces into new mosaics, mosaics that come to be beautiful new wholes. Until we break them apart again.

With this view of learning, our role in Instructional Design evolves into something new. No longer the artist with the final vision, but rather the enabler of creative art.

We are not the people to create new meaning, but rather we choreograph the resources, spaces, and communities where that meaning is created.

And we may not be the arbiters of that new knowledge, but rather we build resilience and capability within those sense making communities, to enable them to do the job. To sift the wheat from the chaff. To understand validity and application. To build local, and generalised, knowledge at scale.

The curious Organisation is not one with all the answers: it’s one with the individual and collective capabilities around learning to find them. And then to find a new answer as the problem changes.

This ties into language around agility and resilience, but in unusual ways: it views neither of them as a capability that is permanently held, but rather as something that can be rapidly synthesised according to need. Or to put it another way: as we make our way across the Landscape of Curiosity, the resilient organisation does not carry a giant backpack with everything that it could possibly need, but rather carries a pocket knife and select tool with which it can make the essentials. And it rehearses this capability and curiosity.

Traditional Organisational approaches to knowledge and learning were based around codification, centralisation, doctrine and dogma (filling the backpack). Modern approaches, by contrast, are based around collaboration (in complex ways and contexts), co-creation, social validation, globally local, technically enabled, and community based (choosing the perfect knife).

Social Leadership 100 - Skills for the Social Age

Hence the skills of Instructional Design evolve to suit: less about writing a learning story, more about creating a landscape of learning.

Creating a space that we may be curious within, and creative coming out of.

In the analogy of a ‘landscape of curiosity’, curiosity may carry us into distant spaces, but it is our fellow travellers who may keep us safe as we go. And they do that through supporting our ‘sense making’ activity.

Sense making is the process by which we take the new knowledge we find, and synthesise it into our view of the world, and we do that as both an individual, and collective, activity.

From this ‘sense making’ we may move into action, and the more creative we are in that action, the more diverse our ultimate capability will be. Monocultural approaches to capacity building may be tidy, but they are brittle. Diversified capability may be framed within an area of curiosity, but take diverse pathways to an answer, or into action, and this very diversity and creativity is what hold us safe.

In many ways we can describe a successfully Socially Dynamic Organisation as resilient not through system, process, oversight, and control, but rather through community, trust, humility, and experimentation. It is curious and creative not as peripheral behaviours, but central ones.

Creativity can be viewed in two forms: internally moderated, and externally moderated, with the respective views relating to who imposes judgement at the end.

Internally moderated creativity is ultimately self starting and unlimited, except by our imagination itself, whilst externally moderated creativity has judgement imposed by others. For example, i have been dreaming about building my fantasy library: it has curved glass walls and is built around a central courtyard garden. And there is no limit on how large, elaborate, or detailed i make it. Whilst i am also currently designing a (real) new kitchen: in this activity i am thoroughly constrained and moderated by my kitchen design partner, my budget, the units that other people manufacture, and the space we have to fill. Clearly there is a relationship between internally moderated (dream spaces) and externally moderated (mundanely judged) ones, but it’s flexible.

And we typically inhabit both: in learning terms, dreams help us fracture the present, and pragmatism constrains us to create an achievable future.

A few years ago i carried out research on this with a group of 40 musicians, exploring their creative processes. Around a quarter said that they could only ever be creative in isolation, writing alone. Half described that as purgatory, and said that creativity for them is a collective activity as a band. The final quarter described how, to be fully creative, they had to perform: to gain an audience reaction, which looped back into their evolving creative process.

In all of these cases, creativity was viewed not as a system, but in relationship with systems: creativity is not simply an individual brilliant activity (although it can be that!), but rather can be seen as a systemic capability, held within diverse and enabled communities, sometimes within moments of performance.

This mitigates for the design of learning experiences that are applied, not abstract, based within our everyday reality, not looking down, or commenting upon it.

This is why Scaffolded Social Learning is such a powerful design approach: creating both formal, and community, provocations, copious supported ‘sense making’ spaces, and opportunities for rehearsal and application within the learning itself.

Social Learning does not impose structure upon learning, but rather respects the structures of curiosity and creativity through which we actually learn.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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8 Responses to #WorkingOutLoud on Curiosity and Creativity

  1. Pingback: Breaking Yourself | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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