‘Creative communities with a cause’

April 29, 2014 by
Filed under: The RSA 

I have been trying to use my preferred way of thinking about human motivation and social power to develop the RSA’s emerging world-view, ‘The Power to Create’. In this regard I am grateful for an idea given to me by public intellectual and social innovator Charles Leadbeater (who will be speaking soon at the RSA about his new book ‘The frugal innovator’.

Charlie tells me that from his own direct observations he has come to the conclusion that the most innovative and successful organisations are ‘creative communities with a cause’. The potential synergy between my simplified application of cultural theory and the goal of greater creative capacity is obvious (well, to me, at least): Broadly, the three ‘c’s in Charlie’s phrase line up respectively with the three sources of social power in my account; the individualistic (creative), the solidaristic (communities) and the hierarchical (cause).

A concern with The Power to Create has been its lack of ethical substance; looking out on the inequalities and wastefulness of modern society the question asked is ‘whose power to create what?’ A focus on the role of human drives in the effectiveness of organisations, people and places doesn’t solve this problem, but it might help.

Going in reverse order, consider the critical polarities for each drive:


The production and maintenance of rationality is often the role assumed by leaders and the hierarchical systems over which they preside. But in his study of bureaucracies (of which he was generally a fan), Max Weber made the powerful distinction between substantive rationality (directed at ends/outcomes/values) and procedural rationality (directed at means/procedures/rules). Organisations are established to pursue substantive rationality but over time, as they become institutionalised, procedural rationality often starts to dominate.

By the idea of ‘cause’ Charlie’s description of the most effective organisations implies leaders who maintain a focus on substantive (value) based rationality rather than procedural (process based) rationality. Interestingly, there is growing emphasis in debates about corporate responsibility of the ideal of purpose driven organisations.


People on the left often assume that solidarity is their kind of thing. But this human drive – based on shared norms, identity and values – is characteristic of racist populism as well as workers’ cooperatives. The key polarity here may be between ‘solidarity for’ and ‘solidarity against’, both in term of identity (an expansive versus an exclusive bond) and mobilisation (cooperation to develop solutions versus cooperation simply to mobilise protest).

The context in which Charlie uses the word ‘community’ implies an expansive idea based on a constructive activity.


The Power to Create is an alternative to a previous, less stirring, definition of the RSA’s mission, namely ‘enhancing human capability’. A focus on capability points to the key polarity when it comes to the individualistic drive. This is between the fulfillment of individual appetites (for stuff, power, wealth or whatever) versus a notion of human development. There are many versions of the latter and RSA folk are particularly keen on that of Robert Kegan but the key point is that this is an idea of individual aspiration linked to self-discipline and self-knowledge as well as self-expression.

By using the descriptor ‘creative’ the implication of Charlie’s phrase is that the individualist drive in the most effective and innovative organisations is directed to personal growth and pride in craft rather than success measured only by income or promotion.

For me the most intriguing aspect of the Power to Create is that it implies two distinct but overlapping ideals, one with a primarily idealistic rationale and the other responding to more practical imperatives: first, citizens being able to create the lives they choose; second, an economy and society characterised by mass creativity.

The kind of creative organisations, places and societies needed to pursue both these goals would, according to this account, tend to exhibit leadership based on substantive rationality, forms of solidarity that are inclusive and constructive, and a developmental model of individual aspiration.

Certainly, as we look at the largely depressing tableau of modern politics and public discourse, to make the case for idealistic leadership, for forms of belonging which are generous and optimistic and a model of human success which is to do with being rounded productive citizens rather than wealth-hoarders or consumers – well, it seems pretty revolutionary.



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  • Matthew Mezey

    When Prof Kegan came to the RSA, he spoke about an emerging way of thinking that he argues has shown itself to be the most capable and creative at developing solutions to complex ‘wicked’ issues.

    He calls this the ‘Self-transforming mind’ (It’s fairly evident that it has the same characteristics as the multi-faceted ‘Clumsy’ thinking advocated by Cultural Theory).

    This feels – to me – like the kind of creativity the RSA would be wanting to, well…, increase.

    Yet Kegan’s guesstimate is that only about 4 to 5 million people in the UK have the characteristics of the ‘Self-transforming mind’ (mostly found in older people).

    It’s always struck me – if we want ‘mass creativity’ (or mass co-creativity) – that we need to:

    * Do a national survey to determine a more accurate figure for the prevalence of the Self-transforming mind (and the ‘Self-authoring mind’ too, which it outgrows. The latter is also the minimum foundation for ‘active citizenship’, I argued in the ‘Beyond the Big Society’ report I wrote with Jonathan Rowson).
    * Find out how a society might greatly boost those few million ‘Self-transforming’ minds, so that there are 10s of millions. What works to do this, what doesn’t?

    We particularly need to increase the small percentage of leaders with ‘Self-transforming’ minds ‘at speed’, as Dr Nick Udall explains in his wonderful new book ‘Riding the Creative Rollercoaster’, which I think we should perhaps bulk-buy for every RSA Fellow ;-)

    Kegan’s recent article – in Harvard Business Review – about ‘Deliberately Developmental Organisations’ is an interesting read for those who want to know how organisations can become more creative.

    As is the book ‘Reinventing Organizations – A Guide to Creating Organisations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness’ (pdf here: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/pay-what-feels-right.html)

    Matthew Mezey
    (RSA Online Community Manager)

  • Oliver

    Matthew Mezey: Thanks a lot for the recommendation – I checked out that Kegan piece in the HBR. Extremely damn good. Every word.

  • Matthew Mezey

    Hi Oliver,

    Just to complicate matters, though, Frederic Laloux felt fairly sure that one of the organisations Kegan used as a case study is in fact fairly conventional – but just very focused on development of its staff, beyond the point where most of us would probably be feeling pretty exposed and vulnerable.

    It would be simpler to follow if the ‘late stage’ organisations Laloux investigates in his book and the ‘Deliberately Developmental Organisations’ Kegan profiles were one and the same. Even better if it all mapped over to Kegan’s very capable ‘Self-transforming’ stage.

    At least people are starting to pay attention to all these important differences, even if we don’t agree on the best lens to use… ;-)

    Matthew Mezey
    (RSA Online Community Manager)

  • Oliver


    Personally? I’d be super happy if my lot didn’t take away our bins from under the desks. I want my little bin back….

    But seriously cheers for all this. I also downloaded Wilbur’s new book – fairly impressed already, the guy can write. I may even pay for this in a month. Great that he decided to do it that way, given the amount of work it was for him to produce that product.

  • Matthew Mezey

    I know what you mean, real life – and improvement – is about little everyday wins.

    I presume you mean Laloux’s book, with a foreword by Ken Wilber?

    If Wilber’s ever going to do a book again, I need to know – I’ve heard rumours of, well, maybe up to 6 or 7 different ones by now ;-)

    Last real book by him was ‘Integral Spirituality’ in 2006, I think. I ought to be on the ball with it all – as I was one of the people he asked to be a founder member of his Integral Institute, back in 1998. Bit out of the loop now though…

  • Oliver

    Yes you’re right – Laloux

  • Benjamin D

    Thanks for introducing me to Max Weber’s idea about substantive/procedural rationality. In my experience the NHS has become too focused on the latter.

    Even the Francis Inquiry – which started on values and outcomes has become an action plan tick box exercise once filtered through the Dep. of Health sausage machine.

  • http://www.co3gallery.co.uk co3gallery

    Thank you for your enlightening article.
    My name is Angella Horner and I am a co-Director of CO3 Art Gallery in Colchester, Essex and have recently been appointed a FRSA.
    The work of myself and co-Director Giuseppe D’Anna is closely related to the concept of human motivation and social power and we support the RSA’s philosophy ‘The Power to Create’.
    Our business is built on philanthropic foundations. In this respect we wholeheartedly relate to Charles Leadbeater’s observations that the most innovative and successful organisations are ‘creative communities with a cause’. particularly regarding the first two ‘C’s of social power namely the individualistic (creative) and the solidaristic (communities). Our philosophy is based on constructive activity. We support the individual creative in order to promote their work and assist them in communicating with appropriate groups and other creatives. In this way we aim to build a strong network within our creative community and have seen much progress in the relatively short time since our business began in October 2013. Charlie is correct in his assumption
    that the individualist drive is the most effective, but this has to be nurtured within an appropriate community led by innovative organisations who measure success, as Charlie rightly says, by personal growth and pride in craft rather than only by income or promotion.
    I am heartened by your own personal beliefs regarding combining the idealistic rationale with more practical imperatives.
    We believe that CO3 can continue in their facilitative role to make life more enriching for all within our own community and wider afield and will continue to work alongside the RSA to this end.

  • Cristina

    The debate around how best to place creativity at the centre of the RSA’s mission pivots on the issue that Adam Lent’s argument for the Power to Create, although persuasive, does not fully balance with the self-aware, socially embedded model of autonomy the RSA has been seeking to promote. In particular, it leaves two needs that Matthew Taylor deems vital to the future of society unaddressed. One is ‘the interpersonal’, which — as we have seen from the rise of personalized service/technology and the decline of politics — does not take care of itself. And second, the need for ethical and substantive rationality in leadership. In couching his argument in terms of the social and economic benefits that unleashing the Power to Create will bring to all, and acknowledging inclusivity and social responsibility merely as adages to creativity, Lent steers too close to the individualist narrative of ‘progress equals well-being’ that Taylor and others are looking to get past.
    Matthew Taylor’s recent take on creative communities with a cause can help resolve this tension and re-describe the Power to Create in a way that features inclusive connectedness. In refining its discourse, the RSA could also explore Brian Eno’s concept of ‘scenius’ and make room for an origin story of creativity as something that takes place between people — i.e. language as a creative act born of shared experience — while de-emphasizing the individualist myth of man as the tool-making animal.
    It is curious how the modern world is re-affirming ancient ways of political thought, putting social at the heart of human nature and making concepts like the city-soul analogy relevant again. This suggests that the communities and social clusters we are part of today differ from the bureaucratic institutions that have dominated social organization since the Enlightenment not only through the fact that they transgress old cultural and geographical barriers, but also in how they operate. If the RSA is to enhance its capabilities of combining thought leadership with civic innovation in the next ten years, it must explore the workings of creative communities with a cause with a view to supporting them and helping remove the obstacles that stifle their formation and mobilization.
    In striving for this, the RSA would best be served by adding a complexity science department in its Action and Research Centre. Sometimes known by the less palatable name cybernetics, this science investigates the laws common to all self-regulating complex systems, be they physical, social or digital. Investing in this kind of expertise to inform its projects would give the RSA a leg up in nurturing creative communities with a cause ten years from now, since many of the innovations the RSA supports (i.e. Ken Robinson’s paradigm shift in education) already align with the cybernetic perspective.

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