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D as Diagramming: The Path of Creative Life

How to name a diagram?

What’s the difference between the above two diagrams? The only difference is their names. Each time I name a diagram in order to save it as a new file.

Each time I reflect on my thoughts behind a diagram when I name the diagram. This time, I am trying to share an example of such a moment of reflection as a public post.

Part 1: The D as Diagramming Project

This post is for the D as Diagramming project which aims to explore the power of diagrams and diagramming. What I really want to know is about the value of diagrams for turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

I use three approaches for the project:

  • Reflect on my own works
  • Interview others
  • Collect examples

This post is about my own work around the iART Framework. On August 16, 2021, I got the initial idea about the framework while I was reading a book. After designing an initial diagram for the framework, I expanded it to a diagram network with a set of diagrams.

I realized this is a great example for the D as Diagramming project. However, I need to write several articles to complete a self-study report.

Part 2: The Path of Creative Life

The diagram below is part of the diagram network of iART Framework. I use “The Present Room” to name this diagram because it was generated by a meta-diagram named “The Dialectical Room”.

The above diagram was designed at 5:37 PM of August 19, 2021. Two hours later, I expanded it to the diagram below at 7:19 PM of August 19, 2021.

The new diagram was named The Life-as-Activity Framework (v1.0). Why did I use this name for this diagram? In fact, I wrote an email to a friend and I told her the name for this diagram is not the final solution. I just needed a name for this diagram.

I also told her that another option is The LARGE Method (v2.0) because the above diagram highlights three keywords: Reflection, Exploitation, and Exploration. These keywords are the core of the LARGE Method (v1.0) which was developed in 2019.

The LARGE Method is named with an acronym “LARGE” which is formed from the initial letters from Learn, Action, Reflection, Generate, and Explore/Exploit.

The Life-as-Activity Framework (v1.0) has more concepts than the LARGE Method (v1.0). Thus, I could call it the LARGE Method (v2.0) too. However, the acronym “LARGE” can’t cover all concepts of the framework.

The Life-as-Activity framework aims to adopt Activity Theory for discussing life development. The v0.3 of the framework was published on Nov 29, 2020. I started writing articles about Project-oriented Activity Theory on Dec 26, 2020 and edited these articles into a book on Jan 24, 2020.

The Life-as-Activity framework (v0.3) is based on a branch of Activity Theory: the Activity System model. However, the book Project-oriented Activity Theory focuses on the Project-oriented approach.

Though I have suggested a solution for balancing the Activity System model and the Project-oriented approach in the book, I have not conducted a solution to upgrade the Life-as-Activity framework (v0.3) yet.

The Life-as-Activity framework (v1.0) uses the same diagram which was originally designed for Project-oriented Activity Theory. So, I just use the name for the new diagram.

However, I am not sure it is the ideal solution for the new version of the The Life-as-Activity framework (v1.0) because it was inspired by Robert Rosen’s Anticipatory System theory too.

This morning (August 30, 2021), I downloaded two papers about Vygotsky and Creativity from the platform.

The second paper mentions the relationship between Vygotsky and Howard E. Gruber. This reading experience guides me to reflect on the Life-as-Activity framework (v0.3).

In fact, I use a special method to develop the Life-as-Activity framework(v0.3). First, I adopted several theoretical aspects from Activity Theory as a foundation for the framework. Second, I curated several concepts from other theoretical resources about motivation, mental complexity, creative work, cultural life, organizational development, and self-knowledge to expand the framework.

One of non-activity theoretical resources is the evolving systems approach to the study of creative work (Howard E. Gruber, 1974,1989). I really love this approach because it is about creative careers.

Today, I realize that what I want to develop is not a general framework for everyone. What I want to develop is a framework for creative life. That’s the reason why I love Howard E. Gruber’s approach.

Moreover, I recently added a small piece to my framework about Creativity: The NICE Way and Creative Actions. I realized that there are three timescales for the 3i model which is a part of my framework.

  • Moment: creative action
  • Project: creative work
  • Life: creative life

The NICE Way framework goes beyond traditional view which focuses on creative products. It considers creative actions as products. From the perspective of timescales, a person can produce a creative action at a particular moment. For example, the screenshot below shows an example of an unintended creation action.

A person also can run a creative project for a short period of time or a long period of time. For example, The BED Talk challenge was initiated by speaker and author David Rendall and Stan Phelps. The idea behind a BED Talk is to share a short, unscripted video sharing something helpful…recorded from your bed since you’re (hopefully) at home. This is a creative project.

Finally, we can consider the whole life of a creative person as a creative product. For example, the Austrian philosopher and social phenomenologist Alfred Schutz is a creative theorist whose work applied phenomenology to sociology. His works are recognized as creative projects. However, his life can be considered a creative life too. Though Schutz had a very short teaching career at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, he was not a formal scholar who has a job in a research university during most time of his intellectual career. We can say that he was an extremely excellent independent researcher.

According to Helmut R. Wagner who is the author of Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography, “In organizing his time, Schutz gave priority to four sets of relevant interests. Each of them belonged to a different area of concern, each had its own primary relevance, and each formed a relatively self-contained sphere of life. ” Schutz’s four life spheres are family life, business activities, theoretical-philosophical activities, and music.

Schutz’s life is a creative life of intellectuals. I’d like to point out that there are many kinds of creative lives. For example, Steve Jobs, Neil Alden Armstrong, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai. Moreover, we should notice that there are many creative lives that are not “Big-C” such as famous figures. Scholars have offered us a 4C model of creativity.

  • Big-C: famous creative achievements such as music, paints, inventions, theories, etc.
  • little-c: creative behavior in everyday life. For example, making waffle art, using cardboard boxes for sliding, decorating a place for a birthday party, etc.
  • Mini-c: the novel and personally meaningful interpretation of experience, actions, and events.
  • Pro-c: “amateur” creators and professional creators who are successful, but have not reached a level of prominence as eminent creators achieved.

The original purpose of the Life-as-Activity framework is developing an activity-theoretical approach to biography-based study. I’d like to continuously work in this direction if I could find a good solution.

The new name “The Path of Creative Life” removes the word “Activity”, that means I want to apply the new diagram to develop a framework about creative careers. The new framework doesn’t need to be a pure application of Activity Theory.

Part 2: A Quotation

I’d like to quote a section from the second paper about Vygotsky and Creativity.

The text below is quoted from Creativity in the making (2000) by Seana Moran and Vera John-Steiner.


The individual becomes for himself what he is in himself through what he manifests for others.

Self-mastery also has a more subjective component: transformation. For Vygotsky, creativity not only transforms objective materials into creative products, it also transforms the creator: “In fulfilling the activity, the subjects also change and develop themselves.

The transforming and purposeful character of activity allows the subject to step beyond the frames of a given situation and to see it in a wider historical and societal context. It makes it possible for the subject to find means that go beyond the possibilities given” (Engestrom, 1999, p. 39). The person learns and creates artifacts, imbues them with meaning, and through this process, comes to have mastery over himself or herself.

Creativity is a lifelong process that transforms the person to ever new vistas of insight (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991). In fact, Vygotsky goes so far as to suggest that personal transformation is perhaps an end goal of objective creativity: “It is for oneself, in the mind, that poems and novels are produced, dramas and tragedies are acted out, and elegies and sonnets are composed” (Vygotsky, 1998, p. 165). In other words, subjective and objective creativity are dialectic, not separate, with each of them more prominent at certain developmental periods (such as the heightened role of subjective creativity in adolescence).

In a seeming contradiction that Vygotsky synthesizes through creative development, a person becomes more social — and more capable within society — through becoming more thoroughly individual. The more differentiated his personality becomes, the better able he may be to contribute and possibly transform his or her culture. Social homogeneity or entropy has no part in Vygotsky’s conception.

Furthermore, neither development nor creativity stop with physical maturation. They are lifelong endeavors. In fact, creativity is a resource for sustained lifetime development; it makes development open-ended by forming a self-propelled zone of proximal development for the person.

Vygotsky’s lifespan perspective parallels that of several contemporary Western researchers. Barron (1970) focused on the creative life more than the single creative act: what a creative genius may be remembered for historically is only a small subset of the many ideas he produces in his lifetime. Helson’s (1990, 1999) longitudinal study of women found that personality development and creative achievement interact dynamically. Wallace and Gruber (1989) and Gardner (1993) both take lifelong perspectives in their studies of creative individuals, and Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993, 1996) has studied creative work at various stages of the lifespan.

Gruber succinctly summarizes the dialectic of creativity and transformation: “How can I express this peculiar idea that such an [creative] individual must be a self-generating system?…The system regulates the activity and the creative acts regenerate the system” (quoted in John-Steiner, 1997, p. 78).

In addition to the attributes of novelty and value, Gruber gave creativity two more dimensions: intent and time. Creativity was purposeful and took a lifetime to manifest. These ideas reinforce Vygotsky’s thinking that creativity was conscious and goal driven, and dynamically unfolds through time.

Time is a key ingredient for both development and creativity: neither is a priori or universal, and both link the past, present and future. They follow a path that is both common to all and unique to each, based on the particular materials available in the culture and the social and emotional experiences of the individual within that culture.

Rogers (1970) concurs: “My definition, then, of the creative process is that it is the emergence in action of a novel relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of his life on the other” (p. 139). At the creative act, lifetime and historical timescales, the change of materials and thinking through time is crucial to creativity and development; they are not instantaneous.

Part 3: iART Framework and Creativity

The diagram of “The Path of Creative Life” is inspired by the iART Framework. Now let’s connect the iART Framework with Creativity. I have not talked about this topic yet.

The above quote mentions a key issue about time. I’d like to re-quote it for present discussion.

Time is a key ingredient for both development and creativity: neither is a priori or universal, and both link the past, present and future. They follow a path that is both common to all and unique to each, based on the particular materials available in the culture and the social and emotional experiences of the individual within that culture.

The iART Framework offers an ecological perspective on personal adult development. The term “ecological perspective” means the following three contexts of personal development:

  • Practice context: the “Know — Act” ecology (Activity).
  • Spatial context: the “Self — Other” ecology (Relationship)
  • Temporal context: the “Present — Future” ecology (Time).

A major theoretical resource behind the iART Framework is Robert Rosen’s Anticipatory System theory. Rosen’s theory is a meta-theory. It is not easy to directly apply it to life, career, or personal development. The theory claims that an anticipatory system has an internal predictive model of itself and of its environment. I have offered three perspectives for understanding the internal predictive model:

  • Intrapersonal perspective
  • Interpersonal perspective
  • Transactional perspective

Now let’s apply it to discuss the path of creative life. The diagram below identifies the relationship of “Shaper — Supporter” within a creative person’s life. The basic idea of the diagram is that a creative person needs to develop a great relationship of “Shaper — Supporter” in order to improve his/her predictive model.

From the perspective of the Ecological Practice approach, the great relationship of “Shaper — Supporter” could bring Supportances to the creative person. The concept of Supportance refers to potential supportive action possibilities offered from a social environment. It is inspired by Ecological psychologist James J. Gibson’s concept of Affordance which refers to potential action possibilities offered from environments. You can find more details about Supportance here.

We should notice the relationship of “Shaper — Supporter” is dynamic. A creative person could be a shaper at a particular short period of time. He/she could be a supporter and support other creative persons at other periods of time. It all depends on different personalities and various situations.

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