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Creative Collaboration and Individual Focus - ‘Scenius’ and Flow: A Both/And Approach

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 23, 2012

When the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi was a young man in Zurich without enough money for a movie, he attended a free lecture on flying saucers. The lecturer turned out to be Carl Jung, who suggested Europeans traumatized by war were projecting flying saucers into the sky trying to regain some sense of order in a chaotic world.

Csíkszentmihályi had never heard of Jung, but the event inspired his study of psychology and years of research into what makes us happy. One of the experiences that makes life meaningful, he has theorized, is being a state of flow, which he describes in a talk at Ted.com. Flow happens, he says, when one becomes so totally immersed in a creative or productive activity that the activity becomes spontaneous and fluid, and so occupies the individual’s energies that there is no attention left for such mundane issues as fatigue, hunger, or trouble at home. In his research, Csíkszentmihályi found that people describe flow as something akin to ecstasy.

But this state doesn’t arise from intense focus alone. Several scholars say deliberate practice and a high level of skill are needed. Csíkszentmihályi says it takes 10 years of technical knowledge and immersion in a particular field to enter flow in the process of creating something new or something better than it was before. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be highly advanced in a skill, whether it’s music, math, art, sports, or any other demanding field.

This raises interesting questions about the relative values of learning and honing skill through intense individual focus and the creativity that comes from collaboration, intellectual diversity and sharing knowledge. The essay Cultivating Fractal Knowledge Flows at the blog onthespiral.com presents an interesting analysis, and sensibly suggests a both/and approach. The essay presents the characteristics of deliberate practice, and a concept called scenius. That term is described by musician and creative thinker Brian Eno as something that happens when many creative people in different fields come together to create an ecology of talent, and that ecology gives rise to wonderful innovative work. The onthespiral writer says "the lifeblood of scenius is knowledge flow.”

Ultimately, this writer maintains, an individual state of flow and the ecology of scenius involve the same principles. Both rely on optimizing network nodes. In the case of scenius, he writes, the nodes are networked people. In a state of flow, the networked nodes of scenius are happening within an individual’s brain. Rather than being contradictory, he suggests, the two states complement each other.

As he sums up, "A genius with out scene is just a nutty professor. Scenius without genius is merely a mutual admiration society.”

The Q4 2011 collection of complexity posts (pdf) is now available.

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