My last newsletter ended with a call to see the potential in what’s breaking apart, and boy did the world answer. It is truly amazing to take in how much has changed in just three weeks. The entire nation is engaged in a real conversation on police brutality and racism: more people than ever before are advocating for Black Lives Matter (1), seeking to understand racist conditioning, and calling for accountability of police. I mean the Minneapolis City Council voted to defund their police department and invest in community-based strategies (2). A change like that would have seemed impossible a mere month ago, but the sustained efforts of movement leaders to imagine a different future have led us to this watershed moment. It may feel like a sudden tidal wave, but this change has been building for a long time. This is the power of collaborative ideation.
I hold this quote from adrienne maree brown as my personal call to action:
She speaks to the importance of cultivating a radical imagination but also the need to imagine together. The only way to find ideas that liberate all of us is to involve all of us. And yet, we so often fall into the trap of originality.
Our Western ideals of individualism and competition have taught us to value creativity based on the originality of ideas. Literally, a patent is a capitalistic process of valuing originality as primary to creativity; it says you have a right to own an idea because you came up with it. And yet, we know that creativity is inherently collaborative. Ideas always come from somewhere, whether that’s a conversation with a co-worker or expanding on your field’s body of knowledge. In fact, research has consistently shown that creativity flourishes in collaboration. A study of molecular biology laboratories by psychologist Kevin Dunbar found that the lab meeting was usually where breakthrough ideas came from; the lab meeting allowed scientists working on different parts of the experiment to discuss the data from their unique perspective, “creating a collaborative situation in which alternative explanations can be contrasted…[making] the group smarter than the sum of its individual participants.” (4) While each person does need to engage in an individual practice to build their expertise and have time for incubation of thoughts, solving complex problems requires collaboration. In a critique of article by Susan Cain advocating for more individual creative processes (5), creativity researcher Keith Sawyer had this to say: “Cain is absolutely right about the research showing that brainstorming groups generate fewer ideas than the same number of solitary people working alone. But there’s an important exception to this research: if the problems are complex, or if they are visual or spatial, then groups usually outperform solo workers.” (6)
This is why we so often get overwhelmed by activism; when we think our value is determined by our unique contribution or impact, we will always feel like we’re not enough. Because in fact, no individual action will ever be enough. The weight of the world is too much for anyone’s shoulders. This is partly why my newsletter is delayed this week: I found myself burnt out and unsure of how my voice could add to this moment. But if I embrace the concept of collaborative ideation, I see my work as a conversation with others’ ideas rather than a representation of me alone. Every one of us has a part in the ecosystem of change. What we dream collectively shapes what is possible individually. We are seeing the results of a legacy of dreaming of black liberation, from slave abolitionists to Reformation to Civil Rights to Black Panthers to black queer feminists to Black Lives Matter (7). The arc of justice is long and it is collective, cumulative, and creative. So rather than asking yourself “What is my calling?”, ask yourself “What am I being called to?” There is a movement waiting for your collaboration!
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
I know finding your place in the movement is easier said than done. This is why I have decided to start offering regular one-on-one ‘Support Hours‘ for anyone (and particularly white folks) who are struggling with how best to respond, show up, or contribute to social justice and liberation of oppressive systems. What I can offer is not an answer to what you “should do” but a space to process what you are struggling with without judgement (especially “white guilt”), some framing around ways to take action and practice allyship, and a thought partner in finding your part of the movement. Collaborative ideation means you don’t need to figure it out alone!
1. #BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives. From https://blacklivesmatter.com/
2. Dakin Andone, Christina Maxouris and Josh Campbell, “Minneapolis City Council members intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department”, CNN, 6/8/20, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/07/us/george-floyd-protests-sunday/index.html
3. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, p.19
4. Keith Sawyer, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, p.383
5. Susan Cain, “The Rise of the New Groupthink”, The New York Times, 1/12/2012
6. Keith Sawyer, “Does Solitude Enhance Creativity? A Critique of Susan Cain’s Attack on Collaboration”, 1/16/2012, http://keithsawyer.wordpress.com/2012/-1/16/does-solitude-enhance-creativity-a-critique-of-susan-cains-attack-on-collaboration/
7. BRIC TV, “Black Liberation Movements — Then and Now | Straight Up”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvWgcSuSWfI
Originally published June 11, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.
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