“I like this innovative summary,” my co-worker told me, “but I’ve never since this word, ‘generative,’ before.”
Furthermore, my word processor won’t recognize the noun form, “generativity.”
Unapologetically, this piece is a call to engender “generative” to the normal vernacular of a leader. As an artist and thought leader who resists the utilitarian pragmatism of our culture, Mako Fujimura provides a compelling definition:
At the most basic level, we call something generative if it is fruitful, originating new life or producing offspring (as with plants and animals), or producing new parts (as with stem cells). When we are generative, we draw on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life giving… It is constructive, expansive, affirming, growing beyond a mindset of scarcity (Culture Care, 22).
Creating genesis moments matters.
What types of activities foster generativity? According to Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, catalysts for creativity are sculpted by at least three practices: immersion, questioning, and listening.
All of our senses are engaged while immersing ourselves in a people or a complex problem. Rather than relying on only our minds and outsider information, “we can immerse ourselves in the experience and collect information through any sense that is available to us – sight, hearing, smell, touch or taste” (D’Souza and Renner, Not Knowing, 217). They continue, “This rich data can provide more options for engaging with the issue at hand” (emphasis mine). Immersion generates more options, more empathy, more insight, more ideas, more compassion, and more understanding.
Pushing past that which we know and moving beyond surface-level solutions remain a challenge for leaders. Renner and D’Souza suggest keeping the questions going, despite the overwhelming discomfort of disequilibrium. Prolonged questioning allows us to approach other opinions and create areas for sharing problems. “We can choose to reward curiosity,” they suggest, “rather than reinforce dependency on answers” (238-239).
Although Renner and D’Souza don’t explicitly use the word “generative” when dealing with immersion and questioning, they employ the word explicitly when we turn to listening. Beyond other forms of listening where we look for what we already know, looking only at facts, and connecting emotionally with others, Renner and D’Souza are forced to use spiritual vocabulary to describe generative listening: “Generative [listening is] where we connect at a deeper level, and to something larger than ourselves. This experience is hard to describe; it has an ‘out of this word’ quality, where things slow down and we are fully present to what is unfolding” (225). Something is created in that moment of listening that was not alive or present before: a connection, a shared experience, an idea, a restorative way forward.
It’s God the Artist, not God the CEO, we see in the Genesis moment of Scripture. It’s hands in dirt and breath in nostrils that fill the page, not stale pragmatic lists. It’s a poem about the imago dei, not dry prose that usher humans onto the cosmic stage. This Genesis reality should form a generative people. A generative people need a generative leader. And a generative leader cannot be formed without the embodied vocabulary of “generative.”
Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2017).
Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity (New York: LID Publishing, 2016).
13 responses to “Embodied Generativity”
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It certainly is “God the Artists” and not “God the CEO.” I would add that “God the Artist” prioritized and continues to prioritize immersion if we take incarnation seriously. Makes me wonder if and/or how incarnation made God more generative.
It saddens me that many miss the power of incarnation by theologically restricting it only the salvific work of Jesus.
How does “incarnation” inform “innovation?”
Is this a fastball? The doctrine of incarnation moves us from simply a heart of empathy to solidarity. Jesus moved in and announced, “your problem is now my problem.”
One of the techniques used in coaching is deep listening. The desire to hear beyond the words. It assists in curiosity that leads to powerful questions.
Questions assist in connecting dots that would not normally be connected. When I think of the concept of being a generative leader I thing of Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God…” How has being still lead you to a sense of knowing? What changes do you sense are needed to become a more generative leader?
The rare times I’m consciously in step with the Spirit, I specifically ask, “What might you be doing, God, and how might I further that?” You’ll want to see Darcy’s comment here, too, as you two are kindred spirits on this point.
In spiritual direction, we talk about waiting for the question that wants to be asked. We don’t just ask questions based on our listening, we listen and then listen for the underlying question, the way below the surface question. Sometimes I’m able to hear that question and ask it- when it happens, I know immediately that the question didn’t come from me; it came from a deep, holy listening space where spirit and souls danced to create something new. It is like sparkly magic when it happens and it often unlocks. reorients, or gives a huge a-ha type moment. It cannot be contrived. It has to be waited on.
I wonder what role a waiting posture has in your generative embodied leadership? When have you experienced asking a question that wanted to be asked and seeing something really wonderful and new emerge from that space?
Did you see Greg’s comment? You two both prioritize and model the deep question, like yours at the end.
Shawn, how would you connect this idea of embodied generativity with your previous post about “pregnant pauses”?
In a single word – rhythms. Finding the rhythms of generativity would be key. Movements, and leadership, are both organized and organic. An overemphasis on either lead to problems.
Our generative God. Absolutely 🙂 there’s the reconciling, redeeming (healing) aspect to His generativity too? After the breaking and separation of formerly (and, perfectly) put-together things, that is. How do you see Jesus, his very being, as generative?
Thanks Shawn. You are a blessing! A wonderful work of God’s beautiful generativity and, generative. Such is this post and impact on me.
Appreciate your care and the introduction to a new (awesome) word.
Great post. Makes me think of your other posts about jazz. How are all of these images coming together in your research? Any twists and turns, surprises, or other invitations to modulate or modify? (I did that on purpose because I know how much you love alliteration!)
Ample alliterations act as aphrodisiacs.