#23 The Origins of Conflict and Creativity

Mediators such as myself sometimes speak to their clients about the creative opportunity that conflict may present. Really, how deep and foundational is this notion of a link between conflict and creative opportunity? Deep I think.

Whether speaking of creativity in such a manner is an effective way to engage a mediation participant is another (and perhaps more important) question. However, in this blog I want to focus in the origins of the relationship between conflict and creativity. I mean rock bottom basics and origins.

Whether you find explanation in science or religion, both explain there was a time at the beginning of the Universe when nothing was. From not, there was a creative becoming. This is the fundamental point of creation stories whether told by physics, a major religion, or an indigenous myth.

At the point of becoming, or shortly there after, multiplicity also came into being.  As soon as there were many things, differences between those things began to arise.


Photo with quote to liiustrate conflict and creativity: Creation and creativity give rise to new differences


If there was such a beginning as we are led to believe, differences and creativity arose together at the beginning of the Universe. And furthermore, the intimate relationship continues. Anything new that is created will be different from other things. How different can vary. But the fact of difference is always (or at least almost always) irrefutable. A new piece of art is different from others, a new highway is different than others, a new reporting system on a team is different from others, a new baby is different than others, a new way to understand someone else is different than others. Creation and creativity give rise to new differences.

Equally significant, difference is a requirement for conflict. One can argue that difference is the basis of conflict. Parties see things differently. There is a divergence of some kind. They struggle with each other over different possible outcomes. Difference may not be a sufficient reason for conflict, but it is certainly a necessary component.

Ergo, I suggest that the seed of conflict and creativity are one and the same – the creation process. And, the two are bound up together. The arising of a dispute is a creative act performed by the parties.

What are the implications of this perspective? One is further reason to respect conflict and the parties’ involvement in it. Another is to seek better ways of harnessing the creative potential of conflict.

In some disputes I find myself thinking or remarking how there is such merit to each of the party’s perspectives that could be combined to build joint advantage. And, certainly in some of those cases, I think I could be more effective at assisting parties to harness the creative potential of the situation – to assist the parties, as Fisher and Ury have famously written, to “invent options for mutual gain.”

What are your thoughts around conflict and creativity?

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One Response to #23 The Origins of Conflict and Creativity

  1. Dan Bruiger says:

    Much creativity involves problem solving, and a problem could be defined as a difference between one’s intention or conception and one’s perception of what exists. A deeper level of creativity is problem creation: deliberately seeking out or defining what does not correspond to one’s present understanding. The views of others are a resource for this process that can be deliberately solicited.

    Some myths and creation stories elude the problem of “something from nothing” by not introducing a beginning (even Genesis, actually, has the “waters of the deep” pre-existing). The idea of a beginning and direction of time probably arose with the historical epoch, coinciding with patriarchy.

    Not only does conflict arise because people see things differently, but also because they compete— for some scarce resource, including wealth, status and power. It might be helpful to people, toward a view of conflict as opportunity, to believe that they are not involved in a zero-sum game.

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