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The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing

In business and in life, change is an ongoing concern. For businesses it means to keep their cultures, employees, and leaders evolving. To accomplish this, organizations have had to acquire new hard and soft skills to respond with speed and agility.

In his book, The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing, Jeff DeGraff explores the concept of creativizing – adding creativity to ordinary practices every day, everywhere, making them extraordinary, and asserts that growing is an art that can practiced.

DeGraff explains, “Through creativizing we will implement the productive practices and make a viable place in our lives where growth happens.” We are thrilled to present the following excerpt from The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing as a sneak peak into a new read that Amazon.com says will help you “…carve out some space in your daily life to consider the art of growing into the creative, collaborative, and compelling leader you aspire to be.”

Excerpt from The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing
Jeff DeGraff, Professor of Management and Organizations
 Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russell

Creativize is a neologism – a made-up term. We organize, fantasize, modernize, weatherize, and even Martinize when we want to take something that exists and add to it. This is the essence of creativizing – adding creativity to ordinary practices every day, everywhere. We assume the role of a creativizer when we make the ordinary extraordinary. We creativize along with others in our communities as well as animate and complex creating forces like markets or nature. We are the deviants, for without our deviance there is no growth – only good continuation. Innovation requires deviation. Creativizing compels us to synthesize the thesis with the antithesis, the better with the new.

Creativizing is a tricky business because it happens when our sense of destiny and time are most inaccurate and inconstant. While we start with some clear destination fixed in mind like steadfast Polaris, we surely navigate the most circuitous of routes on the way to El Dorado or Shangri-La or some other lost horizon. As the journey progresses, hidden perils rise up while illusive fortunes descend and we are inevitably turned the other way around. We are in motion as is our world that now calls us out to correct our course or settle in some other place. This is the pressure point where vision and courage and freedom are required. We must decide in the moments where there is little data on the horizon to guide us and we secretly fear that our provisions and ingenuity will not last the night. Opportunity turns quickly to sour milk or sweet cream.

It has become common to hear pundits proclaim that now is the greatest period of change in human history. We are to believe that somehow the contemporary life is simply an anomaly in the course of events. Imagine a famer in 12th century Lyon. His father and his father before were all farmers and so on as far back as anyone can remember. One day, while returning from the Holy Lands, unsuspecting crusaders bring the Black Death to his village and every third person perishes within a week. Consider any other dislocating event from antiquity to the line of text currently scrolling along the bottom of a screen and it becomes clear that every age is the greatest age of change. While the rate may increase, so do the tools and techniques we now have to capitalize on this naturally occurring generative energy.  We can fear it, avoid it, or use it in the employ of our good purpose. While we did not singularly invent this world, we do live here and have good use of it as opportunity provides the prepared.

Creativizing happens in cycles – not lines. Like a hiker walking up a mountain on a winding trail, with each successive circuit we ascend toward the summit with ever greater clarity. Yet, most of our Western concepts of time are linear. Chronos, named for the ancient Greek version of Father Time, is sequential and man-made as indicated by the technical name for a watch – chronometer. Conversely, Kairos, meaning the right moment or supreme opportunity, is the period in which something special happens, like falling in love. Ironically, there is no viable theory for timing in economics or sociology or military science. Currencies go up and down as a matter of course but only those who know exactly when profit from their fluctuation. Social movements begin and end in their own time as do conflicts of all variety and degree. All we can really time is the development cycle of an entity or event. Children grow in phases, as do markets, as do we. While we cannot master time, we can surely be its attentive servants.

This life cycle can be seen in the rotation of history. The end of an era is typically marked by increased control, large scale, the centralization of power, and conflict. It is through the act of consolidation and productivity that an age reaches its maturity, and like human beings, begins its gradual descent into decay. This is also true of all time-bound life, both communal and individual.

How long can a centralized organization exist?

The Soviet Union lasted less than a century. Conversely, the beginning of a new era is usually indicated by radical creativity, wild variation, the distribution of energy, and conflict. Conflict is the fundamental trait that both beginning and ending share. Since an emerging epoch must contend for scarce resources it does not yet possess, it must displace the status quo through some compelling form of deviation.

The more a prevailing power works to maintain its dominant position, the harder the nascent one pushes until someone gives way. Incumbents use their power to keep the rules in place that protect their rent while upstarts and interlopers engage in seditious maneuvers that give them their only pathway to privilege. But why do some new organizations get momentum and take hold while others don’t?

The late Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter saw these cycles as more than an enlightened spiritual view when he observed, “…out of destruction a new spirit of creativity arises.”

He called this cyclical dynamic creative destruction, meaning innovation produces new types of growth that destroy the status quo and require all companies to respond with better and new products, services, and solutions. These radical new innovations create such a distinct and profitable advantage over the traditional fare that they are called in the vernacular category killers. Like the S-shaped sigmoid curve in mathematics, the descent of one line precipitates the start of the next. Schumpeter characterized growth as ballistic, revolutionary instead of evolutionary, and warned us all that in our success we sow the seeds of our undoing. It is through our complacency, orthodoxy, and desire for serenity that we are dispossessed of our power and treasure.

We creativize in perpetual cycles of growth pushed by our past and pulled by our future. Though our aspirations and expectations may change, it is through the process of ever becoming that we are constantly remade. There are four basic stages to creativizing and putting the first principles of growth into motion in our own lives:
  1. Set High Quality Targets
  2. Enlist Deep and Diverse Domain Expertise
  3. Take Multiple Shots on Goal
  4. Learn from Experiences and Experiments

Through creativizing we will implement the productive practices and make a viable place in our lives where growth happens.

We will gather in all that we have learned and use what is available to us.

We will resign as nabob and naysayer, and release the transfiguring forces that were never under our command.

We will write our encomium to the abundance of what is here now, and use it in the good service of our personal development and all those that we touch.

Learn more about The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing.

Jeff DeGraff is Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and the founder of the Innovatrium Institute for Innovation. To learn more about Jeff’s work visit www.JeffDeGraff.com or follow his syndicated column on LinkedIn.

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