Creativity as a Collective Activity

Krystyna C. Laycraft / July 3, 2019

Krystyna Laycraft tells the story of founding a school in Poland after the collapse of Communism, showcasing the role of individual choices within meaningful relationships.

For fellowship to be right, there must be organization within diversity; clarity in purpose within the strength of diversity. Then does fellowship lead to order.

—I Ching

After eight years living abroad in Canada, I returned to my native Poland to establish a high school in Warsaw—a process of creation that ultimately led its participants to experience a deep psychological coherence. As I wrote in the last issue of Third Factor, this decision to return to Poland was a major turning point in my life. Now I can say that my decision marked my transition from the systemic value dimension into the extrinsic one.

You’re probably asking, what does that mean? These concepts are those of logician and philosopher Robert S. Hartman, the creator of a science of values called axiology.  Hartman introduced the three value dimensions: systemic, extrinsic, and intrinsic. The systemic value dimension reveals the capacity for a long range planning, strategic visioning and structural integrations, implications, and consequence. The extrinsic value dimension is the social world; it involves a variety of tasks, projects, and processes.  And the intrinsic value dimension encompasses the personal and individual.2

Since my graduation from the University of Warsaw right into my forties, I lived in a world governed by the systemic value dimension. I had long-range plans and my thinking was analytical. Most of my professional life was centered on creating mathematical models of complex physical phenomena. Even though I was excited and satisfied with my work, a strange feeling of dissatisfaction had begun to creep into my life. I started to feel like an insignificant element in a large, sterile system. Slowly, I began to feel that I needed something different.

Through my decision to return to Poland, I found myself operating in the extrinsic value dimension. I joined many others, and together, we immersed ourselves in different tasks and responsibilities, applying our skills and capacities to a shared project. In this social world, I was able to discover what was worthwhile in my life. During the first three months of organizing our school, I developed friendship and companionship with many people and felt great enjoyment and satisfaction when we opened our school’s door for the first time.

I joined many others, and together, we immersed ourselves in different tasks and responsibilities, applying our skills and capacities to a shared project. In this social world, I was able to discover what was worthwhile in my life.

But how did it all unfold? Allow me to share the process by which our school became reality. I’ll analyze this process by applying the main concepts of psychosynthesis, a framework developed by the Italian psychiatrist Robert Assagioli.  In his psychology, Assagioli assigned a central place in his theory to the concept of will as an essential function of the self. It is the necessary source of all of our choices and decisions.3

Enacting the Will: Vision, Evaluation, and Confirmation

As we act out our will, we go through several steps, including vision, evaluation, and confirmation. You can see the unfolding of each of these functions in my effort to launch the school.  I got to work on the project as soon as I got to Poland. I had a clear vision of a future school, but at that moment, it existed only in my imagination. So, I had to evaluate whether it was possible to open such a school. This led me to visit the Polish Ministry of Education and the Civic Education Association, where I learned about the country’s new educational policies. I also connected with my friends and former teachers. Then I organized the first meeting with them. To my delight, most of them enthusiastically expressed their will to be part of it.

As Dabrowski noted, the function of the will is to make decisions and act.4 All of us felt that in this new atmosphere of political and intellectual freedom, we would be able to create something truly significant for a young generation. After the first meeting, we decided to place an ad in the local newspaper announcing the opening of a new school. Almost immediately after this information had appeared in the paper, we received more than hundred requests to register students to this not-yet-existing school. This was a definite confirmation of the enormous need for this kind of school in Warsaw.

Deliberation and Visualization

Next, we have two steps that are particularly important to a collaborative creative process.  For several days, we deliberated and discussed many issues regarding the school. We had to make decisions regarding the location of the school, the size of building, and the number of students. We also discussed how to find future teachers, what curricula and texts we should choose, and where to buy books, equipment, and furniture. Many people were involved in it, so the process of deliberation was dynamic and chaotic. Through this process, we began to visualize the school in its actual political context.

Decisions as Bifurcations

After this chaotic process of deliberation, we had to make concrete decisions. In the end, we found an unfinished building belonging to the local church, and at a meeting with parents of potential students, we decided to lease it for our school. Most of people attending this meeting enthusiastically expressed their commitment to participate in this project.

At this point, we started to organize ourselves into small groups with different responsibilities. We had to prepare all the necessary documents for the registration of society and the school’s accreditation, hire teachers and administrative staff, prepare entrance examinations, and enroll students. We needed furniture, equipment, books, computers, and so on. With all of this activity, we roared like the river in the spring.

In the language of chaos theory—which I’ve linked to positive disintegration before—we had created a complex, dynamic, nonlinear, and open system that was under influence of different types of attractors. Our system encountered bifurcation points that led to different futures.

In this case, the bifurcation points were the meetings of different groups, each responsible for certain decisions about the future steps of the school. Members of the Society of Friends of the School had to prepare all documents for the school’s accreditation. Parents of future students were responsible for renovating the building. Future teachers were responsible for student enrolment, choosing curricula and textbooks, and preparation outlines for courses. Administrative staff selected the furniture and equipment for our school.

Internal forces such as willingness, enthusiasm, and commitment played a part in the formation of these groups. They came into being without much planning, arising more or less spontaneously from self-organized activity that flowed among them and their tasks, goals, and responsibilities.5

Complexity in Complexity in Complexity

All of the people involved in this project contributed to the creation of a system that contained many levels of complexity.

The system as a whole was complex because it contained groups with different responsibilities and purposes that were connected by the common idea of creating the school.

Those groups, in turn, were complex because they contained members who were distinguished from one another in a highly expressed structure of roles, skills, and activities, and who were at the same time linked with each other in order to accomplish their goals. The groups were also open systems involved in active, two-way exchanges with other groups and their environment. The openness and resourcefulness of these groups were extremely important during this process. These traits empowered them to overcome obstacles to their goals and efficiently apply their capacities.

Finally, every individual was also a complex system. All these individuals brought to the group their diverse skills, knowledge, experiences, beliefs, creativity, and emotions. In this way, the organization was almost like a set of Russian nesting dolls: Complexity in complexity in complexity.

In the long run, when diverse individuals self-organize, they are able to create highly adaptable and resilient forms. A new collective intelligence emerges as individuals—each with his or her own self-organized creativity—are joined together.

Responsibility, Authenticity, Autonomy, and Coherence

Over time, we perceived ourselves as autonomous individuals who were the creators of this new school. Because of this, we felt motivated and valued. We consciously accepted our roles as important parts of a team, leading each of us to feel personal responsibility for the outcome.

In the theory of positive disintegration, responsibility, autonomy, and authenticity are dynamisms on the borderline between organized multilevel disintegration (level IV) and secondary integration (level V). Dabrowski wrote, ”Authentic responsibility can be measured by the extent of realization or by the extent of authentic readiness to act and authentic attempts of realization.”6 He proposed that this kind of responsibility expresses an authentic attitude that “has emotional and intellectual roots. It arises from genuine emotional, intellectual, and imaginational excitability, from empathy and identification, from consciousness and self-consciousness, and from prospection.“7

We found the time and energy necessary to work on the project even though this was frequently challenging. Our commitment fully corresponded with our sense of authenticity and who we were. We had strong feelings of competence and knew we were skilfull and effective creators. We also felt autonomous because we knew we were in charge of our own choices and actions.

As Dabrowski wrote, “Autonomy is a very important factor in intellectual, emotional, and instinctual development. The result of its activity is a consciousness of being independent in thinking, expressing, and behaving.”8 Autonomy is therefore a vital part of authenticity, which is strictly connected with the essence of each individual. “To be authentic—in the sense of becoming a unique human individual with an unrepeatable, autonomously developed social attitude—must be considered one of the fundamental elements of our ideal of personality and hierarchy of aims.“9

Autonomy is a very important factor in intellectual, emotional, and instinctual development. The result of its activity is a consciousness of being independent in thinking, expressing, and behaving.

Kazimierz Dabrowski

Moreover, as we progressed through our journey to open our school, we experienced a sense of relatedness and developed coherent and meaningful relationships with each other. Nico Frijda, a Dutch psychologist and a researcher on emotions, postulated that establishing a sense of coherence with others and the world is an important emotional aim. Obvious examples of coherence are love, friendship, and social belonging. When someone is experiencing coherence, their interactions are driven by their felt satisfaction and excitement—emotions which in turn signal a high-level capability of functioning.10 Surely, then, the enormous satisfaction and enjoyment we experienced as we actively worked to create our school is an example of such coherence. Acting as autonomous individuals, we found coherence as we created together.

It was this blend of autonomous choices fueling collective action that made our school a reality. We began in May 1990 as individual enthusiasts under a new atmosphere of political and intellectual freedom. Our emotions of joy, enthusiasm, acceptance, anticipation, surprise, resourcefulness, satisfaction, and excitement interconnected with our skills, knowledge, and experiences drove this project into a real and functional institution.

Our school, which we named “Ark,” opened its doors on September 1, 1990.

1 The Pocket I Ching (1987). The Richard Wilhelm Translation. Arkana Penguin Books, p. 26

2 Hartman, R.S. (2013). Freedom to live. The Robert Hartman Story. Eugene, Oregon:WIPF& Stock.

3 Assagioli, R. (1992). The Act of Will. Arkana.

Assagioli, R. (1976). Psychosynthesis. A Manual of Principles and Techniques. Penguin Books.

4 Dabrowski, K. (1973). The Dynamics of concepts. London: Gryf Publications Ltd, p.106.

5 Arrow, H., McGrath, J.E., & Berdahl, J. JL. (2000). Small groups as complex systems: formation, coordination, development, and adaptation. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage Publication, Inc.

6 Dabrowski, K. (1973). The Dynamics of concepts. London: Gryf Publications Ltd, pp. 95-96.

7 Ibid. p. 96.

8 Ibid. p. 89

9 Ibid. p. 89 & 94

10 Fijda, N.H. (2007). The laws of emotion. Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, p. 223

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