The significant difference between the Western and Eastern worldview is basically that we see everything in a dualistic way, while in the east everything is seen as one. An all encompassing, harmonious unity where everything coexists.

With seeing everything in binary pairs our world is defined by the first and also superior of the two entities. The first member of the two is also the originative one, the creative source of everything that exists. This completely defines our vision of creation and of creativity in general and plays an important role in trying to understand the Chinese creative process.

Chinese ways of creating

Confucius is seen as the «founder» of the Chinese culture although himself he stressed that he had invented nothing, that he was merely trying to reinvigorate the principles of harmony which had once existed in the golden age. Confucius tried to bring order and civility to a politically chaotic and fragmented state. He initially rose to an important position at the court but fell out of grace and was banned to travel through China till he was really old. But because of these travels he was able to collect a lot of data from all regions and made it also possible to spread his learning by starting a sort of community of followers. He was gathering data through a social network. Even after more than 2000 years he is still very relevant for most Chinese and his learnings are literally ingrained in Chinese culture.

Western philosophy has conditioned us to see things in opposing pairs, but we don’t have to see things in this way. We could also see them as connected, parts of one and not two different opposing entities.

chinaCreaIn the Chinese one world view, the power of creativity comes from the world itself. The Chinese creative process can be described as follows. “It’s like when you start drawing without an end goal in mind. You build up the visual representation by association of elements from the world around you and from what these correlations evoke in your mind within the context that you are in.” It’s a process of constructing a harmony by blending or connecting different things together. It’s more about the process, how to get there, and not the end goal. It’s not just throwing things together, it’s about the quality of the combinations.

This is an interesting approach because ours is often so commercially, result driven towards a valuable product, that sometimes we loose track of why we are doing it in the first place. When I think of design and specifically digital design, designers are more and more becoming obsessed with the end goal, with the end experience on a piece of equipment or device. The path of getting there is becoming less important, as a matter of fact human intervention could be almost completely removed from the entire process. Apart from an initial ideation and a final Q&A phase we could almost speak about a ‘black box’. The Chinese iterative, emergent way of doing things, without a pre-conceived solution or visual image, could add a different value to our process. It’s more a trial and error way of seeing without taking that distance to the object to get perspective (seeing from afar). Of course there is an important element of tradition and craft within every creative process. The Chinese way of creation is a personal emergent one, drenched in enormous pools of culture and context. Like a creative sponge squished in dynamic synthesis. The world is a living thing, so is creation. The Chinese are masters of change and adaptation. This defines their whole way of seeing.

It could be an important lesson for us, when we are creating, to change our universe, our consciousness in space and time that makes us who we are and how we see ourselves. When we change what has immediate meaning or context, we change what we see. If we could wear a Chinese hat and direct our selective attention to select another meaning or context, we could recognize that our ‘natural default’ way of seeing is not the only way. This could open up to so much more possibilities and other perspectives in our creative activities.

The Chinese creation or innovation process is incremental which means that it is more flexible on the way to the solution with a lot of short, accumulating steps in between. It is an evolutionary process that takes much longer than the more disruptive or revolutionary process of the West. In the East they set long term goals but have short term incremental adaptations.

In the west the process of change goes often so fast that the reality completely altered before arriving at the solution.

It’s important here to show that after the East being called an innovative sponge (absorbing innovations from the West) the West is finally starting to easternize and it is now looking to the East for inspiration when it comes to agile project management and business strategies.

Dr. Jari Grosse-Ruyken’s Lecture was given during the Asian residency of the EMBA program at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership in Shanghai – May 2016. This is my personal view on what he talked about that day.

Related articles