From chaos to creativity

Last night I asked my Creative Discovery students to consider the word chaos.

“What does the word mean to you? What does it conjure up?”

One woman groaned. Her job feels like chaos right now. “It’s being imposed upon me,” she said, “and I HATE it!”

Another woman (the scientist in the circle) spoke of the chaos theory and how random things are always happening. She said that helped her see chaos as a positive thing.

A third woman had a body reaction to the word – said it filled her with dread and angst.

“What I’d like you to consider,” I said, “is that chaos is a necessary step in the journey toward creativity.” And then I presented the change curve.

Before the transforming idea can emerge that will lead us to the new status quo, we have to go through chaos. There are no short cuts. You see it appear in almost every development model – from community development to project management.

CHAOS is a common factor in our lives any time real transformation is about to take place.

Around the circle last night, a few looks of recognition began to appear when they superimposed the change curve on their own lives. Ah yes, they’d been through chaos.

Getting up from my chair, I walked over to a large garbage bag. I picked it up and dumped the contents on the floor. It was full of things I’d collected from my recycling bin and garbage can – cardboard, plastic, styrofoam.

“THIS is chaos,” I said. “Out of this, we’re going to invite creativity to appear.”

“I want you to imagine your life and the space you’d ideally like to live in. What things are of value to you that you want around you? What do you want your community to offer you in order for you to feel comfortable and at home? Work on your own space, but also work as a community to develop a neighbourhood that reflects who you all are and what you value. Go ahead – make something out of chaos.”

The eager ones jumped in right away and started imagining bookstores and coffee shops. The reluctant ones took their time, but before long they too were drawn in.

Out of chaos, beauty started to emerge. A comfy coffee house; a bookstore; a neighbourhood park with a play structure and trees; a farmers’ market with bins full of fresh vegetables; a recycled water bin; an urban garden; a bike rack; a tiny picnic table with a chess board. Given more time, they would have gone on – they were already talking about building art galleries and neighbourhood learning spaces.

When we were done, we all gazed lovingly at our new tiny home. It was clear what we all valued – community, green spaces, books, good food, comfort, and friendship.  There were no freeways or big box stores in sight.

At the end of the class, nobody wanted to put their new creation back into the garbage bag. This was no longer garbage – it was art and ideas and little bits of their dreams.

That classroom last night was a tiny microcosm of the world in which we live. It may feel like chaos right now, with a lot of garbage we’ve created cluttering up our lives and making us feel trapped. And yet, out of chaos, creativity emerges. When push comes to shove, and when we give space for our community and our values, something beautiful can come out of this mess.

Last night’s playtime gave me hope.

Now let’s go play with the garbage and make something beautiful.


– Photo source for the change curve: Jurgen Appelo

– Inspiration for last night’s activity, my friend Sophia’s photos of cardboard city. Check out Halifax in cardboard!

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