On generativity

Photo credit: Azuma Makoto

A fascinating etymological history.

The term generativity was introduced for the first time by Erik Erikson to indicate the stage of care in his theory of human development, the aspiration and the need to leave a legacy for future generations, in contrast to a state of stagnation. Erikson relates generativity to “making our mark” on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast ourselves and will be beneficial for the next generation.

Generativity and generation have indeed the same etymological root, common also to words like genius, and gene: they derive from the Greek-Latin root gen, which relates to birth, and origin.

If we go even back in the history of the linguistic root of Sanskrit, we find the root j-a-n. Fascinatedly, I discovered that j means “motion that allows advancing” and a-n means “animating breath of the waters”. (1)

In particular, our Indo-Europeans ancestors have joined the two consonants j= motion ahead and n= water with the vowel a =effect of action, completion, while constructing their language from spiritual beliefs and tangible experience. Impressively, from the same 3 sounds-symbols, they constructed also another root, j-n-a, which means “to know”. (1)

“To generate” and “to know” have the same ancient elementary nuclei of sounds and symbols, both being archetypically connected to divine waters, movement ahead, and action, learning, and completion.

Generativity and Creativity

In the root “gen” lays an essential notion of creativity, in a way that comprehends two basic steps of creativity connected by an act of motion. The first step is diving into the water, finding a place that is more profound and more open, that is, tapping into the world of infinite possibilities (the divine waters). The second step is moving ahead, and having a direction. The two steps are joined by the connecting-transitional element of bringing out, taking out from the invisible, inside world into the tangible, physical, outside world.

These are also the two crucial steps both in the process of Generative Change by Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan (2) and in the Theory U framework of deep change (3).

The presence of the divine, cosmic waters refers to what in Generative Change is called “the creative unconscious”; and in Theory U “the source”. The movement ahead is what in Generative Change is named as “desired state” and in Theory U as “intention”.

The three elements integrated into the root “gen” fundamentally constitute a unique relationship and create a conscious connection between the world of infinite possibilities (the water) and the idea of moving ahead through mindful, conscious action. It is the link between an inner, unshaped world to a shaped, and defined world; the link between the source of everything and a future emerging and taking a shape.

I find it fascinating that both these processes, developed as technologies for deep change and creativity, contained fully integrated the core of the first intuition and perception of our ancestors, at the (now) forgotten moment of constructing a language from their spiritual beliefs and very deep experience of the world.

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The essential U-process


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The essentials of generative-change

Linear representations of the U process and the generative-change process.

Both are generative, ecological, and systemic (complex).

Generativity and Emergence

In Generative Change, we talk about a continuous conversation between the creative unconscious and the tangible world. Like for any authentic conversation, the essential condition is to be present, open, attentive, connected, and welcoming of what emerges. A conversation that has a direction, but not a destination (cit. Robert Dilts, in Generative Coaching). Similarly in Theory U, generative listening at the source level is about embracing the unknown and attending to the very new we cannot foresee nor imagine.

The process of generativity is essentially an open-end process.

It involves ceaseless creation and interaction while attending to and holding the complex phenomenon of emergence, the unfolding from within.

Generativity and Ecology

Accordingly, generativity is inherently ecological. It primarily makes space and welcomes what needs to emerge for a system to continue to learn, grow, and prosper. It is about the process of new parts of the system becoming visible and being integrated for the system to thrive while being embedded in a bigger system.

It is about creating and interacting from a deep place, from “the pattern that connects” (4), that takes care of and sustains primary connections and relations. And, then it is about giving birth to a unique shape, so as to create “the difference that makes the difference” (4).

Finally, it is about offering our unique contribution to the world while sustaining relations and unleashing new forms, for expanding and enriching life and creating abundance.

(1) Franco Rendich, Dizionario etimologico comparato delle lingue classiche indoeuropee

(2) Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts, The Hero’s Journey

(3) Otto Scharmer, Theory U

(4) http://www.naturearteducation.org/AnEcologyOfMind.htm, a movie about the thought of Gregory Bateson