Open Invitation Letter from Robert Fritz
On May 25th, my friend and colleague Peter Senge and myself are going to spend a day together exploring one of the most important topics for social and societal change there is: the collective creative process as practiced within a broader community. This day is co-sponsored by the Society for Organizational Learning, and Pegasus Communications.
Peter has worked on ideas about community for decades. He is a seminal thinker, creative, penetrating, never satisfied with the usual cliché answers. And one reason we wanted to join together to explore the topic is that it is not all groups are capable of leading change. Many people join together in good causes that don’t go anywhere. Some people try to boost their identity by their membership in a group, and all that does is create separation with those who are not members of the group.
I must admit, I don’t usually trust groups on general principle. Maybe it is the artist in me. And by that, I mean that to create art demands an individual point of view, not a collective one. I have always agreed with John F. Kennedy when he said, "The artist, faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an offensive state."
On the other hand, it is through groups that many wonderful things become possible that would have been impossible had they been done by a single individual. And here is the place where I become interested in a collective creative process.
There are many ways to get this wrong. The patterns many groups have is: join together in a common cause with a shared vision; agree with each other; decide upon some collective action; lose momentum; break into fractions; turn their focus inwardly; lose touch with their original purpose.
Groups that join to protest, suffer from the structure of conflict manipulation, which always sees action followed by inaction. Groups that collect around common beliefs become more and more narrow and less and less creative in their effectiveness. Groups of these sorts do reflect the real world example of what JFK described as an intrusive society and offensive state, as more and more conformity to doctrine and ideology is demanded from its members.
So, for me, the question is how can we join together in groups and still maintain our individual integrity? And one very powerful answer comes from the reason the group forms in the first place. If the group joins together to create an outcome, a creation, then the best of all worlds can be realized. It takes strong individuals to be able to participate. It takes collective action to be effective. It takes true leadership. It takes the ability to align with the group and the leaders to make it work.
It takes collective structural tension in which the group has both a vision of the outcome they are working to create, and the current reality they have during the collective creative process. This needs to be followed by effective and strategic actions on behalf of the vision.
Another type of community of creators is found in the arts and sciences. It has always fascinated me how, during certain historical periods, the greats collected in a city or location. France for the impressionist, New York City for bebop and abstract impressionist, England just before World War 1 had Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Yeats, and a slew of other great poets. The Beats in New York City and then San Francisco. This type of community of creators is one in which, while each person was working independently, they knew they had colleagues. They could carry on discussions, debates, collective shows and publications, and support each other.
Now, we can have virtual cafes’ where like-minded creators can join a supportive community of creators. That is one thing we are working to create in our online course. People from all over the world can join together in support and colleagueship; strengthen their learning, while maintaining the integrity of their individualism.
On May 25, in Boston, Peter and I will delve deeply into these questions. I always learn something new and exciting whenever Peter talks. He brings such a mastery of thinking to any event of which he is part. So, I am really looking forward the day we spend with those who think the subject is vital to explore. This day is especially good for those who lead teams, who manage organizations, who work with others in production teams, those in the arts who work collaboratively, and anyone who is involved with collective group and communal projects.