What is Life-Affirming Innovation?
We are all in search of a sense of aliveness – in our relationships, communities, work and environment. Yet increasingly we are creating a world incentivized to design and deliver fast food versions of truly nourishing experience. The skills that have enabled us to build empires and dominate the planet are not the ones we need now. In focusing on our ability to possess and produce, we have neglected our capacity to care for and cultivate.
As we awaken to the planet’s deepening fragility and our increasing social inequities, we must reexamine what we value. For over a century, the design canon has worshipped at the altar of form and function, in the house of hyper-commercialization. We obsess over filling ‘needs’ while still treating customers as ‘consumers’ and ‘users’, not people. Our contemporary design decisions around sustainability fundamentally maintain this ethos – simply with greater efficiencies. Sustaining, however, is not enough if we are perpetuating a way of life that depletes our inner selves and the natural world of the very aliveness we seek. We have proven that we can conquer, now we must learn to lead and look after.
How can we expand beyond the narrow aims of sustainability to shape a world that is truly life-affirming?
We can begin by embracing a more generative and visionary imagination of reciprocity with the living world and each other. We can work with nature, not subdue it; we can strive for the wellbeing of the whole, rather than seeking to exploit it for our own interests. We can value the vibrance of all living beings. When we reframe the way we innovate to acknowledge our inextricable ties to nature and one another, we can begin to imagine entirely new economies of kinship, caring and possibility.
Why Creative States?
All around us we see the corrosive effects of a culture that fuels one-upmanship, ego, tribalism and fear. We need better motivations. Yet no matter how true or convincing, appealing to facts alone rarely inspires us to change; as emotional beings, we must be moved. We believe ‘creative states’ are powerful tools to ground facts in our felt sense, and open us out of our guarded corners to embolden our bigger selves.
Creative states are expansive emotional states that help us feel imaginative, inner-directed and interconnected. They engage our head, heart and spirit to encourage enlivening ways of relating to each other and the planet. The six states we highlight are:
Uplifting us with expansive moments of warmth, beauty, love and delight
Entrusting one another with the collective care, strength, and resilience of the environments we inhabit
Moving beyond social constructs and surface appearance to probe our real selves
Cultivating deep reverence and curiosity for our wild, imperfect and precious existence
Inviting us to explore in a light-hearted, open, child-spirited and generative manner
Communing with each other from a place of dignity, humility and deep respect for all backgrounds and experiences
By prototyping innovations that aim to activate these states in one another, we explore how objects, systems and experiences can move us to feel more fully alive and motivate life-affirming change.
What if our neighborhoods could come alive with regenerative energy? What if we could negotiate peace before there is a conflict? What if we were to lab-grow entirely new relationships to food?
Through our website, prize and collaborations, we catalyze frame-changing questions and life-affirming innovations to help us imagine a future worth living into.
Maren Maier is a cultural strategist and writer. She leads collaborations on climate and equity issues at CoCreative Consulting and is professor in the Design Management and Arts & Cultural Management Graduate Programs of Pratt Institute of Art. She is co-author of Leading as if Life Matters, a book inviting culture shapers and creative enterprise leaders to attend the future of our own making. She holds a BA with honors in Anthropology and a concentration in History of Art from Columbia University, as well as a Masters in Design Management from Pratt Institute.
Kimberlie Birks is a New York-based art and design writer. Her work can be found in Dwell, Domus, Metropolis and CNN.com. Her first book, Design for Children (Phaidon), is a century-wide survey of beautifully designed objects for children. She holds a BA with honours in the History of Art from Brown University, an MFA in Design Criticism from the School of Visual Arts where she was a Silas H. Rhodes scholar, and a certificate in curation from the Sotheby’s Institute in London.
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