A new theory of growth

May 27, 2014

For most of human history, creativity was held to be a privilege of supreme beings, initially, the gods who shaped the heavens and the earth, and then it was extraordinary human beings who were the creators and not the helpless, dependent subjects of the wrath of the gods. We switched our views further as we began to understand more how the world worked. Whether this has helped the human race is debatable. But it would help us if we realized the responsibility that comes with our new role.

Our future is tied to human creativity.

You would think that given its importance, creativity would have a very high priority among our concerns, but we face a disturbing reality if we look at what is really going on today. The arts are seen as unessential luxuries and instead of exploring creative new solutions, cutting expenses is the approach of most managers trying to deal with global competition.

What holds true for the arts and the economy, also applies to education. The models of mass society and mass production still prevail in the world of mass education. The industrial society is re-born daily at the expense of a different sociocultural context that would embrace creativity.

The sociocultural context matters because creativity is a systemic rather than an individual phenomenon. Workable new solutions to our most pressing concerns will not appear by themselves as isolated ideas of independent people. Creativity is born in connections and in enriching interaction.

To say that Thomas Edison invented electricity or that Albert Einstein discovered relativity is a popular, but misleading simplification. These breakthroughs would have been inconceivable without (1) the social and intellectual network that stimulated and advanced their thinking and (2) the people who recognized the value of their contributions and spread them further. A good, new idea is not automatically passed on. From this standpoint a lighted match does not cause a fire. Rather the fire took place because of a particular combination of elements of which the lighted match was one. One cannot be creative alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition.

The creative era is about interdependence, not about superhuman individuals.

MiinaAn inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are people around to agree with it. It is not enough to look at the individuals who seem to be responsible for a new idea. Their contribution, although important, is always a node in a network and a phase in a movement of thought. Creativity takes place in connections and communication. The network is the enabler and amplifier. It is time now for a new epistemology; new ways of talking about knowledge creation.

However, people have always networked. Scholars depended heavily on correspondence networks for the exchange of ideas before the time of the universities. These communities, known as the “Republic of Letters” were the social media of the era, and resembled the communication patterns of today astonishingly closely. The better-networked scientist was often the better scientist. Today, the better-networked knowledge worker is usually the better worker. In the future, the better-networked student will always be the better student.

The main difference from the time of letters and the printing press is the transformative efficiency of our new interaction tools. A “man of letters” may today be a man of tweets, posts and updates, but the principle is the same: what matters most is the way we are skilfully present and communicate using all the different means that are available.

Mutually recognizing and mutually supporting relationships are the core of creative progress and growth.

To be human means to be creative.


Thank you Ari Manninen, Pasi Aaltola, Katri Saarikivi, Kenneth Gergen, Doug Griffin, Edmund Phelps, Esa Saarinen and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

More on creativity and non-routine work

11 Responses to “A new theory of growth”

  1. alain ruche Says:

    Thanks Esko.
    You keep your btilliant thesis too much at the individual (even connected) level.
    What about the creativity linked to the community as such, for example through collective intelligence?
    Detail : check the title (:)).

  2. eskokilpi Says:

    Dear Alain,

    Thank you for your comment.

    This is the opposite to individual. I am talking about interaction. I do not believe in “levels”. Levels are a wrong metaphor when talking about communication and networked interdependence. Communities are emergent patterns of interaction. They don’t have a separate identity forming an intelligence that is outside of the interaction.

    • alain ruche Says:

      OK, I had got the interaction concept, but the consciousness of being part of a community has a role to play, no? I mean, the relation between the individual conscioulsy connected to the Whole? We have a spiritual dimension here.
      Esko, would you be interested in a piece of writing in our Kosmos Journal (please Google) of which I am one of the ‘Global Ambassadors’?

  3. eskokilpi Says:

    Well, this is it. I don’t think there is a “Whole” that represents a spiritual dimension. A dimension like that is as problematic as the idea of levels

  4. Wonderful theory, Esko. One that I see applied almost daily in so many of my interactions. Just last week I had a conversation with my teenage son on how he needs to embed his creative excusions in the network, to reflect his ideas and thinking with others and to avoid getting isolated. It’s the key to our future.

  5. […] Kilp has more sophisticated ideas on Interactive Value Creation. Take a […]

  6. […] about Creativity but my idea of creativity is much more inspired by Esko Kilpi‘s idea on New Theory of Growth. He beautifully describes how creativity is just not restricted to one individual, but rather is a […]

  7. […] A nice explanation of how creativity requires networks from Esko Kilpi: […]

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