Sensemaking sparks creativity

By | July 8, 2022

The recognition and understanding of the need was the primary condition of the creative act. When people feel they had to express themselves for originality for its own sake, that tends not to be creativity. Only when you get into the problem and the problem becomes clear, can
creativity take over. ~ Charles Eames

This moment when the problem becomes clear, is often called the ‘Aha!’ moment, and yes, creativity does then take over. In many design processes, this is not a moment but the process itself – getting into the problem, making it clear, and then letting creativity run its course. The struggle, at the start, is curbing the creative spark at the moment of entering the problem space, before there is clarity. This, imo, is the difference between unbounded ideation and more thoughtful structured approaches to understanding the full nature of the problem at hand prior to unleashing the creative side of things.

The ‘eureka’ moment of ‘aha!’ has long been an interest of mine – I first began diving deep into it back in the Autumn of 2005, as I took the first step on a whole new journey of the mind. While I have never quite managed to encapsulate in any kind of formal publication, perhaps the time has come for the groundwork to be laid against that future outcome. Last March, an old old reader – a lurker who never came forth to comment in all these 18 years that I’ve been publishing on design – asked me to speak on the impact of digitalization – accelerated by the pandemic – on our creative spark. I paraphrased his words on his sense of digital isolation so:

And, more painful to ponder, what are we losing in our innate and developed capacities for creativity, if we have always believed that the magic of design and innovation – of creation – lies amidst the conversations held between the members of the team? Source

It takes too long to extract the old words to capture the new thoughts, but I have long believed that the magic of design, the eureka moment, that creative spark, like firmly and completely within the chemistry of the team or group of people who together collaborate on the sensemaking necessary to understand the problem, per Eames. And, this in-person chemistry does not translate across the digital intermediaries, not even with video. Its an embodied experience, and senses and stimuli work hand in hand together for the flint to strike the spark against the match.

This magic is the shared energy in the room and any experienced facilitator or practitioner will tell you that its emergence is discernible at the moment when the people sharing thoughts back and forth sync with each other in the shared experience of their collective creative expression of their thoughts. Facilitating this, then, is something that can only be done in person, IF one wants to recreate the experience of the creative spark for a group of novices who have never wholly experienced their own sense of their capacity and agency for creativity and its expression.

Thus, we can ask ourselves the question as we contemplate the details of the social process of design – what is the goal of this collective exercise? To emerge with a problem identified and solved or to spark long dormant or barely recognized yet innate creativity? If the latter, then digitalization has no part to play at its inception. This disjointed and rambling post is an effort to clarify thoughts for a manuscript I’m working on.

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