14 November 2001
Enabling Creative Response to Extraordinary Crises
- / -
The challenges to strategic thinking of the 'first 21st century war'
have come to a stage at which further developments are frustrated by an 'intelligence
vacuum' and there are new calls for 'creativity'. At the same
time criticism of bombing, such as in Afghanistan, is met with arguments of
the type: 'what would you do instead'? This kind of pattern is evident
in other situations, whether the Middle East, global warming, overfishing, etc.
Metaphorically such challenges are the unclimbed mountains of contemporary western
civilization -- perhaps to be understood otherwise in cultures with a different
respect for mountains.
The purpose of this note is to reflect on how a more creative response might
be enabled in such situations -- and to what matters attention can usefully
be given in ensuring its emergence.
In scoping out a creative response, it is useful to identify various traps
which are liable to ensure that the response is neither creative nor effective.
These need to be factored into the design. They might include taking care to
- overdefining the nature of the response; overdefinition would necessarily
inhibit creativity and tend to result in merely confirming the unproductive
understanding of those defining the process
- defining the response as a product or process that can be implemented through
appropriate directives; this precludes the possibility of non-directive and
- producing a resolution as an end-product may ensure that the response shares
the fate of many international resolutions and initiatives -- as would be
the case with the formulation of a new international treaty or law
- being drawn into standard well-explored patterns in response to crises,
such as though associated with research institutes, diplomatic activity, eminent
mediators and intermediaries, and secret deals through secretive networks
-- especially when these have all had considerable past opportunity to demonstrate
the relevance of their approach
- being drawn into the particular argumentation of particular schools of thought,
whether academic disciplines, political ideologies, or spiritual belief systems,
notably when they are represented through mainstream hierarchies or 'old
- patterns of denial, whether on the part of those involved in the response
or with respect to matters under consideration
- patterns of delay or displacement that inhibit convergence or the emergence
of new perspectives
- exercises in cooptation by parties with vested interests or hidden agendas
The new 'out-of-the-box' thinking so frequently called for may well
be primarily characterized by reframing the thinking process itself -- especially
as it functions collectively. As such great care needs to be taken not to use
styles of thinking which ensure that the reframing is itself compromised.
The lighter self-reflexive touch might well have such qualities as a:
- koan, puzzle, riddle or conundrum
- new kind of multidimensional game
- new aesthetic
- new drama
- existential battle as articulated by the best of martial art philosophy
Part of the challenge is to fomulate new metaphors to describe the process
of discovering a more appropriate response -- and to channel the energies in
a manner appropriate to it. In this sense it is liable to be significantly denatured
by efforts to package it in the 'in-the-box' 'project logic'
favoured by foundations, aid programs, think tanks and research institutes.
Edward de Bono's contrast between Rock Logic and Water Logic (1990)
can be usefully borne in mind.
The purpose is not necessarily to respond to the crisis directly -- although
this may be a byproduct. In the case of 'terrorism' for example, the
purpose is not necessarily to seek to eliminate it, but may have much more to
do with creating a more powerful alternative attractor. This might be understood
as reframing the game between radically different competing perspectives as
a more powerful attractor for the imagination. It may be less about 'win-win'
and more about the dynamics of 'win-lose' over time -- as is well-known
in nursery games where each has turns at 'winning' or 'losing'
in a pattern of games.
The purpose is not to develop a new theory -- although this might also be a
byproduct. Fundamentally the reframing should in some way be designed to discover
and enable 'new moves' in response to new kinds of crises. As always
some of the characteristics of such new moves need to be learnt from that which
they are designed to encounter and counteract. Essentially it is expected that
these new moves would emerge from thinking of higher dimensionality than is
conventionally applied to such a crisis. Indeed a crisis becomes evident because
the dimensionality of the crisis is higher than that of the inadequate strategic
or other thinking used to respond to it.
The reframing may well seek to include, or position, more conventional approaches
to the crisis -- whilst recognizing that the secret of future responses may
lie more in how they are patterned or configured together than in their intrinisic
advantages or disadvantages individually. This might be understood as an ecology
of strategic responses.
Designing a catalyst
In the light of the above, the focus is therefore on the design of a group
process from which a creative response is most likely to emerge. The focus is
not on what should 'happen' in this process, or what the group should
'do' or 'produce' -- but rather on what kinds of thinking
are to be empowered to engage in that process and ensure its coherence. The
emphasis is therefore very much on the diversity of qualities and perspectives
that need to be designed into a self-organizing process -- acknowledging the
paradoxes that this implies. It is assumed that the qualities assembled will
ensure that the process responds to the challenge in a fruitful manner.
Each of the distinct qualities should necessarily be characterized by rich
challenges of dimensionality, paradox and styles of creativity. The tentative
set of such qualities below should each be understood at their most mature rather
than in terms of inadequacies associated with their less mature manifestations.
In this sense the labels are indicative rather than definitive.
Much of the emphasis of what is proposed is on how such quite distinct qualities
can be employed in a self-organizing process -- how they play off against each
other, provoking and constraining each other. In this sense the 'crisis'
is a seed or catalyst for the self-organization of those qualities -- but that
self-organization will in all probability engender a pattern that is an appropriate
catalytical response to the crisis.
In principle, for this process to have the best chances of engendering creative
responses, the distinct variety represented should be as high as possible --
ensuring an adequate meme pool from which creative patterns can be drawn. In
a real sense the qualities should be as maximally alien to each other as can
be contained by the process -- recognizing that some will always be more in
sympathy with each other than with others -- having their own pattern of affinities.
Requisite variety of qualities
The following is a tentative preliminary set of clusters of archetypal qualities
that might usefully be brought together into a self-organizing process. They
are in no particular order. Each cluster may be considered as a 'basket'
of qualities whose contents might be changed and relabelled. The contents of
each 'basket' have been selected to reflect a degree of containment
of an inherent polarity or opposition -- namely an ability to respond in a non
binary mode to the unresolved dynamics 'within' the basket. How the
contents get changed, and whether baskets get added or merged, is part of the
'Warrior / Vigilance / Aikido': As exemplified by a master
of Eastern martial arts, the focus here is on vigiliance and attention to the
energies of the moment. The skills emphasize immediate use of the energies of
any opponent to neutralize their effects. The philosophy stresses acquisition
of a mindset that obviates use of those skills.
These qualities need to be constrained when they overbalance into any 'gung
'Wisdom / Women-Men / Gender challenge': Engendering a fruitful
response necessarily requires complementary energies and their transcendence.
In many societies, this calls for balancing the tendency to male over-representation,
and use of male mindsets, in developing any response to a crisis. Especially
important is the manner in which conventional male responses are challenged
by what are stereotyped as 'illogical' female responses -- a theme
well-articulated by feminist scholars. The perspective of trans-sexuals also
raises important conceptual challenges readily embedded in gender streotyping.
Potentially it is through working with, and transcending the associated dynamics,
that insights of wider relevance emerge -- deriving new meaning from whatever
is understood by their 'union'.
Part of the inherent challenge to any creative response is fine tuning the
dynamics of mutual constraint between overblown masculine thinking and overblown
'Conceptual synthesis / Transdisciplinarity / Integrative thinking':
This distinctive concern has as its objective the conceptual interrelationship
between different, if not incommensurable, systems of thought or preoccupation.
It seeks to build conceptual bridges and meta-frameworks.
This approach tends to get trapped into the modality of particular integrative
models with limited capacity to respond to alternative or competing models
-- or integrate them.
'Spirituality / Interfaith': Belief in transcendental or non-mundane
reality provides a framework designed to encounter crises more fruitfully. It
focuses on essential and existential meaning in a world of material and social
constraints. Through spiritual practice and prayer it offers a process that
is valued by many. Interfaith dialogue seeks to reconcile the dramatically opposed
perspectives to which beliefs give rise, notably through global ethical frameworks.
This approach, as it manifests in practice through religion, is of course
the prime generator of many territorial conflicts and needs to be compensated
by other qualities. It may be perceived as trapped in tendencies to escapism
and superficial forms of harmonious encounter.
'Cultural diversity / Indigenous': This reflects sensitivity
to the wide variety of cultures with their unique worldviews and sense of identity.
Conceptually it is especially important with respect to identifying and ordering
categories and their boundaries. For some this extends to a fundamentally different
relationship between knower and known, especially in the case of indigenous
peoples whose identities are carried or embedded in the environment that they
inhabit. It may also extend to a quite different relationship to time that is
exemplified in hunting and the relationship to any prey -- perhaps understood
best by westerners through the attitudes appropriate to trout tickling and the
definition of its success.
This approach may be perceived as providing a questionable cover, through
mystification, for inability to respond creatively to new situations other
than through traditional mindsets.
'Dialogue / Process / Encounter': This reflects the primacy
given to dialogue and encounter processes, as exemplified by the many varieties
of group and community building processes. The focus is on articulation of differences
and their fruiful reconciliation -- perhaps in the form of structured outcomes
(vision statements, etc).
This approach tends to get trapped into the modality of particular dialogue
or process models with limited capacity to respond to alternative or competing
models -- or integrate them. It may well have only limited capacity to deal
with radically different perspectives or to avoid non-convergent interactions.
It may be excessively focused on reconciliation at all costs -- when holding
differences is vital to the identity and functionality of the different qualities.
'Electronically enhanced communication': This reflects high-tech
possibilities of providing enhanced possibilities for communication, access
to content, involvement of many, and representation of insights at varying degrees
This approach tends to be insensitive to insights that cannot be successfully
articulated programmatically or carried by these means. It readily confuses
the medium with the message.
'Mathematics / Relationships / Perspectives': This reflects
insights into richer and more complex patterns of relationship -- especially
those associated with higher dimensionality. It offers means of handling such
complexity, notably in its dynamic forms, in the light of different positions
and boundary conditions.
This approach tends to be totally indifferent to the mundane relevance of
such insights in enabling new patterns of relationship between normally incommensurable
perspectives -- especially in relationship to conflicts over bounded territorial
spaces (unfortunately made more violent by development of new weapons with
the vital assistance of maths).
'Aesthetics / Design / Elegance / Representation / Music': This
reflects the preoccupation with representing meaning in other modes to facilitate
understanding of complex relationships that have some resonance with self-identity
and harmonious relationship to the mundane world -- and within it. In many respects,
unless insight can be reframed with a degree of elegance, however defined, it
is essentially unmemorable and irrelevant in practice.
This approach is readily entrapped in forms of self-absorption in which representation
becomes the only relevant response to the crisis (classifically exemplified
by 'Nero fiddling while Rome burns').
'Metaphor / Pattern': This reflects the preoccupation with
the implications of a pattern in one domain as a source of insight into potentially
useful patterns of knowledge in other domains. It notably draws on features
of the natural or built environment with which many are familiar -- strangely
echoing an insight common to indigenous peoples.
This approach may engender sterile analogies or those which cannot effectively
provide a framework for new patterns of insight. It may also degrade into
'Symbolism / Psychodrama / Psychotherapy': This reflects the
preoccupation with the deep-felt significance of crisis events to those involved.
Features of the crisis acquire symbolic significance, possibly active in powerful
and disturbing dreams or in (in)auspicious signs. The dynamics of the crisis
are then both a reflection of collective and of individual psychic challenges.
Resolution of the crisis is framed as healing, for which conventional therapies
may be discovered to be totally inadequate.
This approach is vulnerable to a vast range of recommended therapeutic practices
and cures -- whether including use of symbolic fetishes, potions, processes,
'Humour / Playfulness / Youth': This reflects the leavening
quality of humour and unformed proto-perspectives that challenge conventional
patterns of thinking, establishing unexpected relationships and questioning
those that are accepted uncritically. This process is often intimately associated
This approach may easily inhibit the emergence of new insights at sensitive
moments when other qualities are essential.
'Justice / Honour / Respect': This reflects the fundamental
sense of balance, fairness and appropriateness which when infringed arouses
deep emotions associated with a personal sense of honour, respect or identity.
At best it acknowledges the merits of others whatever their weaknesses may be.
This approach may easily get locked into injustices of decades or centuries
past, leaving it unable to move forward unless these are honourably addressed
'Ecology / Biosystemics / Gardening': This reflects concern
with the dynamic pattern of linkages between mutually intedependent entities
that call for insights into their cultivation. Aspects of these conerns are
also to be found in the integrative perspectives of homeopathic approaches to
sustaining well-being -- including those associated with non-western styles
This approach is susceptible to fascination with the tangible manifestations
of systems -- thus inhibiting focus on the systemic insights that they exemplify
for other domains.
'Game players': This reflects the strategic sense of more
complex kinds of games, perhaps exemplified by 'go' more than by 'chess'
-- especially in the call upon more intuitive, contextual ways of thinking.
Games which involve ordinary people across a country in thinking out new approaches
reinforce patterns of thinking which are highly desirable in any dialogue process.
This approach easily gets locked into gamesmanship totally irrelevant to
the areans in which the thinking used may be valuable.
In anticipating and envisaging the self-organizing dynamics, various metaphors
can be considered:
- a roundtable of archetypal qualities, as exemplified by that of the knights
- a dance, notably of the 'round' variety -- but with the complex
interweavings associated with some traditional folk and formal dances that
ensure that each quality is appropriately brought to the fore
- a musical jam session characterized by improvisation
- regular media talk-show panel sessions
- an encounter between representative alien species from across the galaxy
(as explored in fiction and film)
- the set of qualities organized as a fractal
- the baskets of qualities as 'sub-personalities' of humanity from
a psychosynthesis perspective
Clearly each basket of qualities might be represented in various ways
- a single individual, throughout the process
- one of a set of individuals from a group preoccupied by that process --
possibly meeting independently to refine their contribution; the individual
representing the perspective might be present by rotation, or according to
the evolving needs of the self-organizing process and its challenges
- an individual coopted, or in some other way involved, possibly experimentally
or in response to a perceived need
As noted above, the qualities associated with a given basket might be refined
by the self-organizing process:
- associating new qualities with the basket
- transferring particular qualities from one basket to another
- relabelling the basket or reframing its essential concern
Special attention will no doubt be given to the range of qualities represented
by the set of baskets, leading to questions such as:
- valuable unrecognized qualities that may have been inadvertently excluded
- excluded qualities that represent a dramatic challenge to the capacity of
the self-organizing process
- the degree of variety that can be held by the self-organizing process
- ability of particular qualities to counter-balance others, or be adequately
protected from their excesses
- qualities exemplified within the process in a manner that do not honour
their fundamental significance
- emergent understanding of the coherence of the self-organizing process and
the patterns and configurations necessary to its sustaining dialogue
- conditions implying the need for the group to replicate itself through breakaway
or other processes
- recognition of how each basket potentially provides a unique perspective
on how all the baskets are integratded into a whole
These processes might usefully be understood and contrasted with:
- the popular media 'survival' games emphasizing the survival of
a single individual by progressive elimination of the others ('there
can be only one') -- when the challenge here is to build teams with attractive
- team building processes, such as: sports teams, military units, marketing
teams, research teams, dramatic or musical teams -- when the challenge here
is to respond to cross-sectoral crises that challenge normal patterns of thinking
- community building processes -- when the challenge here is to provide fruitful
ways of encountering communities with radically different agendas
- community building games (notably the Transformation Game developed
at the Findhorn Foundation) -- when the challenge here is to engage constituencies
beyond a particular community
- web-based role playing games stressing accumulation of attributes and the
collaborative interplay with others -- when the challenge here is to respond
to fundamentally disruptive dynamics
The mode of the group process might also be contrasted with:
- experiments in dialogue -- criticized as 'talking' exercises
- group development processes -- criticized for their focus on the individual
- research symposia -- criticized for their indifference to the application
of insights that may emerge, or preoccupied by control of intellectual property
- various kind of game -- criticized for the lack of serious relevance to
the real world
The core group might be associated with external groups in a variety
- through representatives of a particular quality -- delegated by an extrernal
- through electronic communication between the representative of a particular
basket to external advisors -- possibly involving external second-tier vote-in
- through use of concentric 'fish bowls' of communication around
the core group -- allowing particular kinds of communication within each circle
and to (or from) larger (or narrower) circles
Vital to the success of the self-organizing process, and an immediate acid test,
would be development of the ability to handle posturing, obfuscation, loss of
focus, status seeking, and other common ills of the dialogue process.
Entraining wider participation
One readily understood outcome, that could result in entraining wider participation
in richer patterns of thinking, would be through video reporting of the self-organizing
process -- for which the various 'survivor' game-show formats provide
obviously questionable models. Interestingly in terms of restrictive binary
strategic thinking, some of these are already exploring other answer formats
than 'right' or 'wrong'. Other questionable models are televised
parliaments, courts (eg O J Simpson trial), and commission hearings (eg Belgian
The challenge would be whether the content and dynamics were sufficiently interesting
for others to observe -- even in an edited version. Any failure to hold an audience
could well signal fundamental weaknesses -- for if the process is not engaging
why should others subscribe to what it engenders.
Ideally the game patterns would be as attention-absorbing as those of some
sports -- and the heros they engender as role models. Their ability to function
like some collective, partly-ritualized games would merit reflection -- especially
those allusively described in fiction (cf Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game,
or M A Foster's Gameplayers of Zan) and explored on the web. Jeremy Rifkin
as a Necessity (2001) makes the point that 'Politicians, military
commanders and journalists talk about the "Great Game", a reference to the geopolitical
intrigues being played out between Islam and the west in the Afghan war. What
we need is "The Great Conversation" between Islam and the west so we can figure
out how to accommodate each other. Until we do, our world will continue to be
a dangerous and precarious place.'
Another approach might be to seek ways of encoding a new level of insight into
familiar games such as football, so that they lent themselves to an alternative
commentary at another level of significance. This would notably be an interesting
project for those -- such as Greenpeace -- with an environmental focus. It would
serve to reframe the use of metaphors from such sports to underpin unproductive
strategic mindsets. More subversively might be to reframe the current monetary
system as a game -- a form of Monopoly -- which everyone is obliged to
play for lack of a meaningful alternative.
As illustrated by web interest in an unusual range of constructed or artificial
languages (even including that of the Klingons from Star Trek), there
is the possibility of supporting the group process into the development and
use of a new language that would be designed to bypass the difficulties of interaction
between consistuencies with radically different value systems. Just as there
has been a strong impulse to develop dying natural languages to safeguard the
identities associated with them, there is a case for developing one (or more)
languages to hold the paradoxes across incommensurable frameworks. There are
even language construction kits.
However the fate of some artificial languages raises useful questions about
the limitations of this approach as undertaken to date -- in contrast to the
widespread success of some jargons, such as those originated by black Americans.
The strategic point to be made is that common sports are well-recognized as
providing a rich source of metaphors for strategic decision-making, whether
in political, corporate or military environments. The acid test is whether this
new process can provide even more powerful metaphors about appropriate moves
in response to extraordinary crises.
One or more such groups might provide strategic insights in a manner analogous
to consumer focus groups for corporations evaluating consumer products.
Paradoxically, the above suggestion necessarily calls for criticism in the
spirit in which it has been made. This might take the form of questions such
- is the paper about enabling creative responses or creating them? In what
ways is the vital issue addressed of putting any creative response into practice?
- The emphasis here has indeed been on enabling -- recognizing that the
quality of people that would be attracted to the process would find the
exercise trivial if the issue of effective application was not addressed.
However it is their creativity which would give form to any application
- who are the "targets" of the potential responses: people reading proposals
like these; decision makers in government or industry; the Taliban? How would
the process respond to the challenge of those who would reject many of the
- This too should be a prime concern for those engaged in the process,
notably by reframing the delivery and hunting metaphor implied by 'target'.
The kind of thinking required would not depend on static targets, but
would recognize that what might otherwise be targetted is liable to be
extremely proactive in responding to any effort to influence it -- hence
the reference to trout tickling!
- is the suggestion already too over-defined in the light of a particular
set of biases?
- The nature of the process suggested should quickly supply correctives
to many of the initial biases: other qualities could be assembled; other
preconditions could be defined; etc. In fact such re-design could be an
essential part of the process, if it is to attract the kinds of participation
capable of engendering more powerful and attractive responses.
- to what extent is the suggestion locked into a solution/resolution, problem/solution
mindset -- when it is precisely this mindset which may need to be transcended
as being too narrow for the current civilizational challenge and unable to
bring us further? Is the proposed approach not also likely to fall prey to
this imminent presence, unspoken assumption and driver of behaviour and action
-- the need(iness) for (re)solution?
- As with 'targetting' logic, this resolution indeed calls for
reframing as part of the process -- not necessarily to set it aside, but
to place it within a larger context in which other qualities of response
may be relevant (as is only too often evident in the (re)solution of personal
relationship challenges). It is the external challenge that should help
to evoke alternative responses -- given the inadequacies of the problem/solution
- are not initiatives of this kind already underway in many forms?
- The question is what degree of variety do they each embody. Do they
give new form to patterns of interaction with such variety that are in
any way relevant to some of the extraordinary crises that civilization
is now facing?
- is not part of the challenge associated with emphasis on 'talking'
when what is required is 'doing'? And what about song, dnce or drama?
- The paradoxes and dilemmas of this concern should be very much a focus
in the process. Ideally each of baskets of qualities should be associated
with a particular form of expression, ranging from speech, through equations
and programs, to aesthetic expression and the performance arts. The question
in each case is how to incorporate it into a whole process that can move
forward -- rather than being trapped in patterns of appreciation and courtesy
as each indulges a preferred mode of interaction that may for many be
the essence of group process.
Ron Atkin. Multidimensional Man; can man live in 3-dimensional space? London,
Penguin, 1981. [review].
Stafford Beer. Beyond Dispute: the invention of team syntegrity. Wiely, 1994
Edward de Bono:
- Six Thinking Hats. Penguin, 1987
- Six Action Shoes. Fontana, 1991.
- Water Logic. Viking Penguin, 1993 (Earlier title: I Am Right,
You Are Wrong: New Renaissance: From Rock Logic to Water Logic. 1990)
- Questions in seeking uncommon ground and protecting the Middle
Way from binary thinking. 2001 [text]
- Communicating with aliens: the psychological dimension of dialogue.
- Evaluating synthesis initiatives and their sustaining dialogues.
- Enhancing the quality of knowing: through integration of East-West
metaphors. 2000 [text]
- Critical factors for the long-term survival of humanity. 2000
- Coherent policy-making beyond the information barrier: circumventing
dependence on access, classification, penetration, dissemination, property,
surveillance, interpretation, disinformation, and credibility. 1999 [text]
- And when the bombing stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge
to mathematicians. 1999 [text]
- Spherical configuration of interlocking roundtables: electronic
enhancement of global self-organization through dialogue patterns. 1998 [text]
- Human values as strange attractors: coevolution of classes of
governance principles. 1993 [text]
Richard Kennaway. Some internet resources relating to constructed languages.
Jeremy Rifkin. Dialogue is a Necessity. Guardian, 13 November 2001 [text]
See related web resources on: dialogue;
governance through metaphor;
global strategy in an 'answer economy' [more]