Creativity and General Systems Theory -

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Creativity and General Systems Theory by William G. Covington, Jr. ISBN: 1-15112-872-X Universal Publishers 1998 Copyright © 1998 William G. Covington, Jr. All rights reserved. Universal Publishers 1998 Universal Publishers is an imprint of UPUBLISH.COM ISBN: 1-58112-872-X Dedicated to my brother, Gary Wayne Covington, MBA, CPA . Acknowledgements Creativity is a rewarding experience and as this book points out there are systemic aspects of the process of creativity. An individual creator has various support systems in any creative endeavor. In a previous book I have made mention of these systems in the acknowledgement section. The people in my support systems largely remain the same in this latest project. Among the people I would like to thank for their varying de- grees of help are: Gary W. Covington, W. G. Covington, Sr., Edith Covington, Naomi Gates, Olen Gates, Audrey Richardson, Glenn W. Martin, Koil Rowland, Jason Medeiros, Dennis Westbrooks, and David Tassinari. I am also grateful to Jesus Christ. . Table of Contents Chapter 1 General Systems Theory................... 1 Ancient Roots The Basics of GST Talcott Parsons' Foundation General Terms Other Terms Strengths of Using Systems Theory Limits to Systems Theory Using Systems Theory in A Research Setting Systems Observations Human Instruments Epiphanies in Interpretation Systems Theory's Practical Applications Summary Works Cited Chapter 2 Creativity........................................... 17 Creativity Is Unpredictable Food For Thought Creativity And Perspective Creativity For Survival Creative People Know Change Is Inevitable Creative People Channel Their Energy Selectivity In Creativity Creativity Confronts Jealousy Creative Visualization Creativity Through The Environment Reinforcing Creative Behavior Tapping An Internal Creative Resource Creativity Through Walking Around Creative Questioning Summary Works Cited Chapter 3 Principles of Systems Applied Creatively........... 34 General Terms Applied To Creativity Feedback Is Complex Persistence is Vital During Times of Negative Feedback Several Routes Paradox and Creativity Creative System Control Creative Specialization A Creative Use of Words Creative System Processes Creative Synergy A Tale of Two Systems Answering Critics of Creative Systems Applications Effectiveness Not Efficiency Creative Power in Passion Summary Works Cited Chapter 4 Creative Productivity ....................... 50 Two Considerations What's The Problem Teaching Is Leading Creativity Is All-Encompassing Why Creativity “Feels Good” Creatively Using Interpersonal Skills Perseverance In Creativity Creative Growth in Self and Others Suggestions to Enhance Creativity Significance Creativity Links People and Ideas Breaking Through Two Barriers to Creative Thought Two Creative Ways to Analyze Observations Summary Works Cited Chapter 5 Sociological Creativity..................... 65 A Defense of Sociology Individual Contributions In Society A Special Individual Function Complexities in Large Systems Evaluating Information for Creative Purposes Creative Ways of Moving With A Changing Environment Creative Change and Organizational Structure Applying Systems Theory Creatively Examples of Systems Theory in Abstract Studies A Final Example Micro and Macro Three Types of Systems Complexity and Creative Change Creatively Looking at “the New” Creative Sense-Making Summary Works Cited . 1 Chapter 1: General Systems Theory Theory is a map for observing a phenomenon. Like any other analytical tool it has advantages and limitations. It can help fo- cus a writer's attention on an important component that might otherwise go unnoticed. General Systems Theory is one such tool. This chapter discusses its strengths and limitations. Ancient Roots General Systems Theory has been around since the days of ancient writers. Dionysius, the early Christian scholar described a hierarchy of order in his writings centuries ago (Bertalanffy, 1972). Another one of the ancient writers to describe phenom- ena using a systems approach was Nicholas of Cusa. His writ- ings, in the Fifteenth Century described what he called coinci- dentia oppositorum, the fact that a struggle exists between vari- ous system components (Bertalanffy, 1972). Logically it makes sense to consider systems consisting of many parts which make up the whole. Taken separately these individuals parts are not as effective as when they are assem- bled into a working system. Such is the observation found among early writers using a systems approach. The old adage, “a system is greater than the sum of its parts” grew out of this observation. The Basics of GST Systems theory is general in that it takes into account nu- merous systems that interact with other systems. It can be used as a research tool to study biology, mathematics, medicine, so- cial science, or virtually any other topic. In fact, some of the 2 critics of systems theory have faulted proponents of GST (Gen- eral Systems Theory) saying it was too broad in scope. Those charges have not held, however, as systems theory has become an effective analytical tool in myriad academic arenas. Systems theorists seek to gain a holistic view of an area of human activity. The environment in which a phenomenon is observed is part of this holistic approach. Another factor are the various subsystems which interact within the larger system. Talcott Parsons' Foundation One of the earliest writers to apply systems thinking to the study of society was Talcott Parsons. He wrote from the prem- ise that the complexity of human activity could not be under- stood apart from the social structure in which it was found (Morse, 1961). Other writers have built upon Parsons' system wide examination of why some cultures are more productive or creative than others. Some of these explanations have been more accurate than others and on still others the jury is out. David C. McClelland (1961) was one of the writers in this tradition. He attempted to study achievement on a global basis with a broad sweep of the theoretical brush. He looked at socie- ties in very general, systemic type ways for his comparison study. Similarly, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996) used a sys- tems approach to study creativity in the Italian Renaissance. Csikszentmihalyi (1996) describes how being open in the right environment can enhance creativity. He notes, “without a good dose of curiosity, wonder, and interest in what things are like and in how they work, it is difficult to recognize an interesting problem. Openness to experience, a fluid attention that con- stantly processes events in the environment, is a great advantage for recognizing potential novelty.” He doesn't stop there. He goes on to add, “every creative person is more than amply en- dowed with these traits.” The second chapter of this book will explore in more depth this relationship between the environment and creativity in a 3 system. Understanding from the outset the importance of open- ness is important to applying systems theory to a given context or set of circumstances. This first chapter views the basic assumptions and premises of systems theory and the key terms used by its proponents. It is necessary to establish this groundwork before applying the the- ory to a setting such as creativity. Systems theory is suitable for such an inquiry because it is applicable in numerous settings. General Terms Some of the most important terms in systems theory focus on the relationships between the various units and the system's in- teraction with its environment. Take one that has already been mentioned, openness. This systems concept is a fundamental one that is essential to systems thinking. A system must be open to changes in its environment if it is to stay vital, active, and relevant. Changes in the environment mean that the system will change in some way to adapt to the new realities. Homeostasis is another important systems concept useful for understanding how the theory relates to a given situation. It is concerned with the feedback process. After a change in the en- vironment takes place, the system adjusts in a self-regulating way seeking to achieve equilibrium. This is homeostasis (In- fante, et al., 1993). A system does not randomly interact with the environment. It exists for a purpose or more than purpose. A system is goal-directed. Finality is the term used to describe the goal-seeking nature of systems. Other writers refer to this as a system being teleo- logical, meaning a system is designed to reach certain end points or destinations (Infante, et al., 1997). The concept is more complex in a living system because a system has more than one way available to reach its goal. This ability to reach a goal from myriad ways and beginning at various locations is called equifinality (Littlejohn, 1989). Other Terms 4 It is necessary for systems to regulate feedback as it comes to the system. A system's survival may depend on this regulatory ability. Cybernetics is the term used in systems theory to de- scribe this element of control and regulation found within a system (Littlejohn, 1989). The term was taken from the Greek word having the same root as “steersmanship,” which under- scores the necessity of control found in a working system. In a complex system, generalization is not the common fea- ture to be found. In fact the opposite is true, i.e., specialization is the term used to describe the fact that system components have narrowly defined functions to perform to keep the system operating as it should to survive and/or grow (Laszlo, 1972). Necessity is a term that applies to all theories, not just systems theory. It relates to the fact that a theory must relate what it claims to relate in knowable and specific ways (Tucker, et al., 1981). In other words, the theory must provide a reasonable ex- planation if it is to serve as a source of insight. Face validity is another term academics sometimes use in making preliminary inquiries into an area of study. The question asked is simply: “does this look valid on its face?” A cursory look should pro- vide reasonable assurance that the study appears as one would expect. Strengths of Using Systems Theory Anytime a decision is made to use a theoretical approach the issue of appropriateness must be addressed. Systems theory is approach when one wants to study in a complex, openended setting, where there are many unpredictable variables at work. Systems theory is widely used for this reason. A second reason for using systems theory is that it is useful in providing a framework in which to study complex variables influencing one another. Some phenomena are beyond a cause- and-effect explanation. Systems theory is suitable for describing situations as they exist. The specialization component of the system elements is inte- 5 gral to understanding how a complex open-system functions. A third advantage of systems theory is its ability to show the com- plex web of relationships in operation as a system moves to- ward its goal or goals. Systems theory is not limited historically. It can be used to help make meaningful predictions about what can be reasonably expected in the future. This fourth advantage goes both ways as far as time is concerned. Historically, a writer can trace the ele- ments of a system to see how what was done in the past influ- ences the present. Predictability is important in a theory's use- fulness. A fifth advantage of systems theory is that it has survived the test of time. It has faced its critics and remains a viable theory used by a cross section of academe. If the theory lacked credi- bility, it would eventually die out. Systems theory remains vi- able. Limits to Systems Theory Regardless of the theory chosen for a study, there are draw- backs to be found. This holds true for systems theory. So the first limit to using systems theory could be said for any other theory that was chosen, i.e., that it is only a map of reality and not the reality itself. Like most analogies, it is imperfect and exactness is not always to be found in some explanations. A second criticism of systems theory is that is has been said to have been over utilized, i.e., critics charged that the theory attempts to explain too much. The issue is that systems theorists have such a generalizable framework that its explanatory value is decreased. Systems theory has been criticized because of its emphasis on the relationship components (Infante, et al., 1997). Critics using this argument charge that systems theorists' framework is inadequate in that it gives too much emphasis on the relation- ship components of the various subsystems and other elements of the larger system.