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Embodied Creativity

June 23, 2010

A recently released IBM report titled ‘Capitalizing on Complexity,’ which presents findings from interviews of more that 1,500 CEOs around the world, reveals that the top business concern of CEOs today is the ‘complexity gap’—the difference between the emerging business complexity and an organization’s ability to deal with it successfully.  To address this challenge, CEOs believe that “creativity is the most important leadership quality” and that practices that encourage experimentation and innovation throughout an organization are of absolute necessity to transform business models, develop innovative strategies, and remain competitive.

In a June 2006 TED Talk, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson tells the story of a six year old girl fully absorbed in a drawing she is making during a art class.  Her teacher, thinking she is not paying attention, comes to her and asks: “What are you drawing?” The little girl replied: “I am drawing a picture of God.”  The teacher exclaims: “But nobody knows what God looks like!” To which the smart little girl responds: “They will in a minute!”  What a remarkable example of imagination and creativity!  Unfortunately, as statistics show, by the age of eight, most children have lost much of their creative capability while most adults are unable to reconnect with the true creative power of their childhood.  I won’t go into the analysis of why this is the case; we all know some of the reasons: our western model of education that emphasizes memorization versus experimentation; linear thinking; our business environment that, as Robinson says, stigmatizes mistakes and the possibility of being wrong; and much more.  [Note: I am talking about people’s willingness of experiment, fail quickly and learn from their mistakes thereby avoiding the possibility of larger problems down the road.  In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill disaster one might be inclined to reinforce the idea that ‘mistakes’ are not permissible.  But recent findings and reports suggest that one must look into BP’s and regulators’ inability to address well-known risks for the causes of the dramatic event rather than people’s ‘mistakes’; one may also argue that the rigidity of the system prevented it to promptly and creatively respond to “obvious signals” that something was not right with the oil rig.]

As CEOs and other professionals have come to realize, creativity has never been so critical in solving today’s complex problems.  In particular, creativity is essential to transformative work.  The simple creative process is a learning process based on experimentation, testing, and adjustment—a kind of double-loop learning.  This is the process that most creativity experts focus on and is, in and of itself, very valuable.  However, transformative work requires ‘deep creativity’—a process used by complex adaptive systems and living systems to change their internal structure in order to adapt to environmental change.  This process takes place at ‘the edge of chaos’ (the creative space) in a paradoxical environment of simultaneous stability and instability created by balancing and reinforcing feedback loops.  For humans and social systems, deep creativity requires a transformation of mental models, beliefs and values.  In the domain of art, deep creativity occurs when the artist is able to connect with ‘source,’ the origin of his/her personal creativity; when the artist uses a personal dialogue to create what philosopher Martin Buber called a “I/Thou” relationship (a subject-to-subject relation) versus a “I/It” relationship (a subject-to-object relation) with his/her artistic creation.  Deep creativity is based on what anne Starr and Bill Torbert calls “triple-loop learning,”[1] a process that recreates new meaning, identity and vision in the midst of action.  The result of deep creativity, in all the different realms, is increased wholeness.

Connecting with ‘source’ is a skill and capacity that can be learned and developed.  To that end, I am thrilled to have joined forces with UK artist and facilitator Andrew James Campbell to create an experiential ‘Leadership for Emergence’ course that’s designed to enhance both personal and group-wide transformation.  Andrew’s thorough understanding of the process of creativity from an aesthetic perspective and how this process applies to individual and organizational transformative change is unique and invaluable to people who want to embody deep creativity in their leadership style.

Andrew and I plan to co-facilitate leadership for Emergence courses both in Europe and in the U.S.  Our first session will take place this summer, first week of September, in South of France.  I have posted more information about the course on this site so, please check it out and feel free to contact me if you and/or your organization are interested in registering for a U.S. course next year.

I plan to continue exploring the creativity themes discussed above in future blog posts—how the process of deep creativity operates in living systems, within individuals and in social systems, how it can be facilitated, and how individuals can re-connect with ‘source.’  This is a challenging yet fascinating field of research—one, which I want to become more deeply involved with, as I have come to realize that deep creativity may very well be the ‘Holy Grail’ that will help us ‘save’ our society from the worst that has yet to come.

[1] Starr, A. & Torbert, W. (2005). Timely and Transforming Leadership Inquiry and Action: Toward Triple-loop Awareness. Integral Review 1, 85-97.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2010 2:27 am

    Hi Beatrice,

    I got an email from you via Linkedin about your course on Emergent Leadership. And I become curious because of my interest in the Theory U and the thinking body. What really caught my eye is embodied creativity leadership.

    So then I read one of your articles something about the body is the brain, of course I was delighted to read this in the world of organizational development since very few are familiar with this topic in our field. I learned from Dr. Eugene Gendlin, professor emeritus of Chicago University, that the body is the subconscious. Gendlin is an award winning psychologist. (though he was not the 1st to make such a statement)

    First, I want to say that I wish I could attend your course in the South of France in September but, it is not possible for me during the month of September as I run as school and September is very busy month. I like to explore this topic with others who have a similar interest. As on OD specialist I have done several of such experiments by using a Gendlin’ teachings. He teaches a method called Focusing. You learn how to listen to your body and let it speak. One learns how to let the rational mind be the slave and not the master. By listening to your body and by putting just the right words to them, you can never go wrong. Isn’t what Strozzi-Heckler meant when he said something like: he is at his best when his thinking and feeling are in harmony. This is exactly what I teach. In fact, you are most likely feeling something in your body right now, like at tightness in your throat, chest or belly, perhaps elsewhere? If you paid attention to that right now, without, analyzing it, what is it saying to you? You may ehmmm and ha…waiting for just the right word(s), image or phrase to rise that fits your bodily felt-sense. It feels like an aha moment when you utter just the right word(s). Is this is familiar to you? Imagine repeating this always when in conflict. Being in touch with the ‘Source’ is being in touch with your body. Your body is always connected to the environment. Your body and the environment are one.

    By the way I am a certified practioner of Focusing. When I came across the Theory of U I was thrilled because, now I felt like I had a structure for the business world to teach this mind – body connection. Perhaps I may be out of line here, but, I feel compelled to let you know about Focusing. I am not interested in teaching you anything. There are many Focusing practioners around the world and in your neighbourhood. You may want to check out There are lots of free papers by Gendlin on this website. He is 1st and foremost a bona fide philosopher. I would be happy to share experiments and resources with you. Or you can just ignore this comment altogether. I was just very thrilled to see that someone out there in the world has similar interests.

    A little about me, I have worked as an OD specialist for over 15 years. As of late, I decided to put to practice what I have been teaching and experimenting by taking on a challenge of taking over a failing school of holistic medicine. I am the executive director of this school. I live in Montreal, Quebec Canada. Two years later, though we are not completely out of the dark economically, the human spirit is looking and feeling really good.

    Wishing you great attendance for your workshop.


  2. bridgetholding permalink
    April 30, 2015 12:11 pm

    Thank you for this article Beatrice. I’m a psychotherapist, writer, and creative writing tutor based in the south of France, working with self-development through writing and connection to nature

    In your article I particularly appreciated your discussion of the definition of ‘creativity’. Your approach here has further helped me to make the links between creativity and health.

    Thanks again,

    Bridget Holding

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