To forge the uncreated in the smithy of my soul…

Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” James Joyce.

I was meditating on these words earlier this week, re-reading (although not quite for the millionth time) Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, when luck put me in touch with Dishaa and the Presencing Institute‘s core process of profound innovation.

Dishaa is the Hindi word for direction. It is an initiative ran by Common Purpose in partnership with the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office that challenges a newly formed group of 40 emerging leaders from India and the UK to develop innovative solutions to common societal issues. This week, in just a few days, the group met for the first time and identified what systemic change would be required to make heart surgery at USD 1,000 a possibility. As a matter of fact, this is yet another great example of Indovation.

Impressed by the outcome, I started digging into the process they used. Common Purpose immerses people in real-life challenging and complex problems. Participants’ expectations and perspectives are challenged, and as they step out of their comfort zone, they let go of their preconceptions. Follows a phase of retreat and self-reflection, in which participants find that they have an increased understanding of what it takes to lead and act beyond their own circle of authority, how to create coalitions, influence others, and produce change.

The Presencing Institute offers a three-movement flow chart that describes, in its simplest form, a similar process for profound innovation:

  1. Observe, observe, observe
  2. Retreat and reflect: allow the inner knowing to emerge
  3. Act in an instant.

It struck a chord.

While it cannot be emphasised enough, the first movement, observation, is well-known. The third movement is equally well-known: when ‘things’ start to crystallize, it all goes very fast and it becomes possible indeed to act in an instant, a phenomenon related to what Malcolm Gladwell calls Blink. The more mysterious part is in this second movement: retreat and reflect, allow the inner knowing to emerge…

It is common amongst innovation practioners to invoke the need for incubation. It drives the point home that you do not grow a plant by pulling at it, that programmatic management does not yield innovation, that we need to provide time and space for the creative idea to emerge. All true, but deep inside I always felt a bit dissatisfied with the 100%-passive meaning that the incubation word conveys. I felt that there had to be a way, having retreated in the smithy of my soul, to actively forge the uncreated.

If we accept, for the sake of keeping things simple:

  • the distinction between the conscious and the subconscious,
  • that true creation first happens in the subconscious,
  • and that creation takes shape once it reaches the conscious,

then incubating amounts to waiting for creation to move from the subconscious into the conscious. But we know that we do not have to wait, that there are ways to go tap into the subconscious, that we can take steps to connect with our deeper self in order to access our creative resources. That’s what Common Purpose is about: connecting with others, but also connecting with the deeper self. In view of the early results of Dishaa, I want to learn more.


Illustration by Marc Lapierre: Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, Greek god of technology, craftsmen, sculptors, metallurgy and volcanoes.  

  1. February 7, 2011 at 12:40

    just perfect thoughts! how nicely put in the words, I feel the same after attending the first Dishaa course.

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