The first time I heard about the living process I was born with was mid October 1992 in Atlanta (US). Not that it is of any direct importance, it happened during the week of the first baseball World Series in which games were played outside the United States. It pitted the American League (AL) champion, Toronto Blue Jays, against the National League (NL), champion Atlanta Braves. During that exceptional week I learned more about the Creative Interchange process than about the baseball game and I still remember those experiences as if they happened yesterday: both were great fun and a proof the Creative Interchange is a living process!
I happened to be in Atlanta for an ODR’s certification MOC® course level II. ODR’s CEO Daryl Conner, what I’d expected, did not run this course. Sharp on time another fellow stumbled into the Olton room of Atlanta’s Swissotel: he presented, and at the same time excused himself for, his bruised appearance (he fell the day before while running down his favorite hill ‘Stone Mountain’). I’ll never forget his opening phrase: “Our learning systems focus on what we got wrong, better approach is to look what was done right and to build on it the next day.” Officially it was a three day MOC® course. In what Charlie Palmgren taught us was extremely more deepness than what I’ve experienced during the three day Level III course run by Daryl Conner earlier that year. It took me some time to appreciatively understand that Charlie smuggled into the ODR course a basic introduction of Creative Interchange. And there was more, during the presentation of the ODR part around FOR (Frame of Reference) Charlie presented his own Vicious Circle, the process that hinders Creative Interchange.
At that course there were five participants: two ODR junior consultants and three ‘foreigners’. Those three stuck together for evening meals, to talk about what we’ve learned (for instance regarding Charlie’s one liners as “Culture teach us hypocrisy”) and to watch in the restaurant baseball games of the Atlanta Braves vs Toronto Blue Jays. One our company of three was a Canadian lady from Toronto and the other two European gents (A Dutch KPMG fellow and myself). Needless to say that we acted during those evenings as Blue Jay fans in the hometown of the Braves. Although I learned a lot during that unforgettable week about Baseball game rules, it was Creative Interchange that impressed me most.
A year later I found out that Charlie had been the ghostwriter of a chapter of Daryl Conner’s bestseller ‘Managing at the speed of Change’[i]: Chapter 12: The Synergistic Process. ICharlie called the Creative Interchange process in those years the Synergistic Process, although, off the record, as in the course in Swisotell, he called it by its genuine name: Creative Interchange.
I became a follower of Charlie Palmgren in 1994 and learned more about Creative Interchange and slowly started to live it.
For Henry Nelson Wieman (Charlie’s Palmgren’s mentor), creative interchange is an experience, the kind of experience that transforms us in ways in which we cannot transform ourselves. According to him, creative interchange is the experience of spontaneous human-heartedness and human-thoughtfulness that opens us to an increasingly widened and deepened appreciation and understanding of ourselves as individual persons and of all other persons we encounter.
Ordinarily, the experience of most of us is dominated by the concerns of survival and security. This survival-security orientation easily minimizes creative Interchange between people since it is an orientation fed by the Vicious Circle[ii]. In fact, the harder we try to live within our Vicious Circle, the more intolerable life becomes. Charlie Palmgren has described the obstacles to Creative Interchange brilliantly in ‘The Chicken Conspiracy’. His mentor, Henry Nelson Wieman emphasizes, in his book, Man’s Ultimate Commitment, the obstacles as:
“These barriers to creative interchange are not only internal to the individual. They are also social. Barriers are built into all our social institutions.”[iii]
The reality is that the experience of creative interchange is a somehow difficult to attain experience of individuals and societies. Wieman is calling for the experience of creative interchange as something more than an occasional interlude in our lives; he is calling for the experience of creative interchange as the nurturing matrix out of which we continuously build, correct, and rebuild our individual lives, our societies, and the one world to which we are inescapably connected:
“Creative Interchange is that kind of interchange which creates in those who engage in it an appreciative understanding of the original experience of one another. … Creative interchange has two aspects, which are two sides of the same thing. One aspect is the understanding in some measure of the original experience of the other person. The other aspect is the integration of what one gets form others in such a way as to create progressively the original experience, which is oneself.”[iv]
The Nurturing Matrix of Creative Interchange
Creative interchange is that kind of experience that confirms and assures us of our sense of individuality, both apart from and in connections with other human beings. Human nature needs more than anything else if it is to be satisfied in the deepest and most far reaching ways.
Creative Interchange is not limited to the acquisition of information alone. “Creative communication in its most complete form can be described thus:
You express your whole sefl and your entire mind freely and fully and deeply an truly to the other persons who understand you most completely and appreciatively with joy in what you are as so expressed, and you yourself respond to others who express themselves freely and fully and deeply and truly while you understand them most completely and appreciatively with joy in the spirits they are.”[v]
This way, Creative communication encompasses two of the characteristics of Creative Interchange: Authentic Interacting and Appreciative Understanding. For Wieman this kind of free, full, deep and true expression between two persons is always experienced in the form of events. For him the fundamental experience of creative interchange, which is the most precious good in our lives, is rooted in events. Event, in his understanding, means passage, disclosure and growth. The Original Self emerges in a series of events, free and full of dynamic possibilities for insight, joy and constructive action. I envision this emerging as follows:
Creative interchange then is an ongoing series of events in the lives of people, transforming them in the direction of the greater good, as they cannot transform themselves. To Wieman “Transformation can occur only in the form of events.”[vi] Perhaps his most famous description of those events in connection with Creative Interchange is in chapter 3 “Creative Good” of ‘The Source of Human Good’. In that chapter he analyzes Creative Interchange into four subevents of emerging awareness, integrating meanings, expanding richness of quality in the appreciable world, and deepening community. His summary statement on these subevents is:
“The four subevents are: emerging awareness of qualitative meaning derived from other persons through communication [Authentic Interaction]; integrating these new meanings with others previously acquired [Appreciative Understanding]; expanding the richness of quality in the appreciable world by enlarging its meaning [Creative Integrating]; deepening the community among those who participate in this total creative event [Creative Interchange] of intercommunication [Crucial Dialogue].”[vii]
It has be underlined that those four subevents, or characteristics as Charlie Palmgren calls them, or phases as I has called them in ‘Crucial dialogues’ (one of the applications of Creative interchange), are working together and not any one of them working apart from the others constitute Creative interchange. Each may occur without the others, and often does and that’s ok. In that case though it is not creative interchange. The four can be distinguished and together they constitute creative interchange.
I described those subevents one by one in my books – ‘Creatieve wisselwerking’ as characteristics & ‘Cruciale dialogen’ as phases- and many articles. Mostly even as a ‘logic chain of events’. I made nevertheless clear that distinctions made for the purpose of analysis and understanding should not obscure the unitary and complexity of the four-fold combination necessary to Creative Interchange.
The experience of creative interchange is in itself an event with different dimensions. At its best it is the always moving, free, unplanned emerging, understanding, feeling, integrating, expanding and deepening qualities in our lives. It is our way of being in the world (and not of the world) with openness to new insights, new experiences and trusting new relationships. Through this living creative interchange from within we are able to think, feel, and act based on our core values and core qualities; we are willing and eager to be corrected, transformed and enriched by the novel possibilities inherent in shared experience.
Through Creative Interchange we have relational power. By this I mean the ability to affect others and to be affected by them. Relational power is opposed of unilateral power as Creative Interchange is opposed to the Vicious Circle. Unilateral power grows out of the dominant desire for survival, security and domination towards others and is the fruit of the Vicious Circle. Relational power nurtures a particular kind of human development and, if at work in Organizations, a particular kind of Organizational development. The secret of relational power lies in its capacity to enable people to meet one another with a basic openness of heart, mind and will, thereby rendering the progressively yielding, whenever appropriate, their most treasured and cherished beliefs and even values. Creative Interchange is the expression of relational power and, as such, is the experience of self-correction. From the perspective of Creative Interchange as relational power, we are open and expect to be transformed in the direction of the greatest good, i.e. our Original Self, as we meet others in moments of genuine dialogue. From Wieman’s point of view, any amount of knowledge, beliefs and values is fallible, and the insistence upon them as absolutely true and final is a direct blockage of the exercise of relational power, and thereby weakens the possibilities of Creative Interchange.
Creative Interchange is a self-corrective experience, and as such it is the unending experience of emerging, understanding, feeling, integrating/expanding and deepening. Therefor I use as ‘image’ of Creative Interchange the Lemniscate, which is the infinite symbol. In Wieman’s words:
“Every value pursued in modern life can become demonic – beauty, truth, morality alike – if and when it excludes the demands of creative good in the name of the false finality of what has been created.”[viii]
Charles Palmgren calls this the false finality of the created self. From Wieman and Palmgren’s frame of reference, any and every finality is false, and it is finality in its many forms that blocks and sometimes kills altogether this life enhancing self-corrective experience of Creative Interchange. Wieman makes this point extremely clear when he emphasizes that:
“At the ultimate level of commitment one commits [oneself] to the actuality, holding [one’s] beliefs about it subject to correction because [one] knows that [one’s] knowledge false short of omniscience.”[ix]
Palmgren makes his observations most forcibly when he points out that:
“Most people are just scared to death to ask them [the crucial questions regarding their created self]. For if we ask them, we may discover that we were wrong. Being wrong means being inadequate, and being inadequate means putting our worth on the line. The vicious circle plays itself out so strongly in the lives of many people that they won’t even let themselves think about ideas, ask questions, or expose topics that are beyond their current demands and expectations [i.e. their current mindset].”[x]
Those two quotes emphasize the duality between creative interchange and the vicious circle.
Our primary commitment must be to Creative Interchange, for Creative Interchange and Creative Interchange alone can transform us in ways we cannot transform ourselves. We must seek to imbed Creative Interchange into the center of all of our experiences, as the guiding principle for all that we think, express, understand, feel, imagine, decide and do in our lives. In order to do this we must abandon many of our habits, fruits of our personal Vicious Circle, thus much of our mindsets. This seems and is a very simple proposition, but like other simple propositions, we – curiously enough – have the greatest difficulty to successfully adopt it.
[i] Daryl R. Conner, Managing at the speed of Change. How resilient Managers Succed and Prosper Where Others Fail. New York: Villard Books, 1993, pp. 200-215.
[ii] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy, Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998.
[iii] Henry Nelson Wieman, Man’s Ultimate Commitment, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America ®, Inc. Reprint, Originally published: Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, , 1958, p. 53.
[iv] Ibid. p. 22.
[v] Ibid. p. 23.
[vi] Henry Nelson Wieman, “Intelectual Autobiography,” in The Emperical Theology of Henry Nelson Wieamn, edited by Robert W. Bretall, The Library of Living Theology, New York: Macmillan, 1963, p. 3 & http://urantiabook.org/sources/wieman_autobiography.htm
[vii] Henry Nelson Wieman, The Source of Human Good, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946, p. 58.
[viii] Ibid. p. 25.
[ix] Henry Nelson Wieman, “Commitment for Theological Inquiry,” in Seeking a Faith for a New Age, edited and introduced by Cedric L. Hepler. New Jersey: The Scarcrow Press, 1975. p. 145.
[x] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy, Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998. pp. 105-106.