When someone deploys their creative power in a solo or group setting, it can manifest either in a degenerative form or a generative form, depending on their state of consciousness. In this article I will try to explain what I mean by the terms degenerative and generative, and I will attempt to bring the terms to life by means of examples drawn from a variety of sources.

Degenerative and generative: official definitions

Degenerative: Of, relating to, involving, or causing degeneration.
Degenerate: To pass from a higher to a lower type or condition; to sink into a low intellectual or moral state.
Source: Merriam-Webster

Generative: Having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing.
Source: Merriam-Webster

What I mean by degenerative and generative forms

Degenerative formGenerative form
Pseudo-power. Can also manifest as anti-power, aimed at constraining or cancelling-out another’s true powerReal power
Self-serving; motivated by a desire to enrich oneselfOther-serving; altruistic; motivated by a heartfelt desire to enrich the world
Minimises or halts the generation of valueMaximises the generation of value
Egosystem-focusedEcosystem-focused; serving customers, other stakeholders, and wider society

Ecosystem/egosystem distinctions originated by Otto Scharmer (view source)
Induces stagnationFosters constant renewal
Clings to the status quoRejects the status quo
Engenders imitation, repetition, illusion, derivative versions, and mediocrity masquerading as greatnessProduces the original, the genuine, the magnificent
Inhibits the realisation of value generation potentialEnables the realisation of value generation potential
Seeks to generate anti-value.Seeks to eliminate anti-value
Exercises control as domination, oppression and enslavementExercises control as a service (e.g. Houston Mission Control Center; air traffic control)
Correlates with synthetic imaginationCorrelates with creative imagination
Read about value and anti-value

A hypothesis

If you should find yourself struggling to embrace the ideas set out below, I recommend that you suspend disbelief and play with them for a few days as you go about your business. Then review the situation.

Although I find it hard to resist an enticing concept, I’m a practical, action-focused person and trust my experience over the theories and opinions of others. Degenerative/Generative is not an ideology or belief system — it’s a working hypothesis (“an interpretation of a practical situation or condition taken as the ground for action”) and so far it has served me well. But I’m not wedded to it. If something better should appear, I’ll adopt that instead.

So here’s the hypothesis:

Two fields surround our planet. One is what I call the degenerative field (D‑field); the other is the generative field (G‑field).

The fields resemble frequencies we can tune into. The mind is like a radio that can only receive two radio stations.

The fields have no intention, just as radio waves have no intention. They just do what they do.

Tuning into each field produces a corresponding state.

When we are tuned into the D‑field and in a degenerative state, our thoughts and actions have degenerative consequences

When we are tuned into the G‑field and in a generative state, our thoughts and actions have generative consequences.

The ego is not a malevolent, self-serving part of ourselves. It is a state of consciousness that arises when we are tuned into the D‑field.

An alternative Bergsonian understanding of the function of the brain is that it acts as a type of “receiver,” somewhat similar to a radio or television set. Drawing upon this second metaphor, Bergson postulates that the neurochemical activity of the brain does not produce consciousness, but rather enables the brain to “tune into” appropriate “frequencies” of preexisting levels of consciousness—that is, the states of consciousness that correspond to waking life, dreaming, deep sleep, trance, as well as, at least potentially, the consciousnesses of other beings. Just as the programs received by a television set are not produced by the electrical activity within the television itself, but rather exist independently of the television set, in the same way, this Bergsonian understanding of the brain/consciousness relationship postulates that consciousness is neither contained within nor produced by the brain.

Source: G. William Barnard in his book Living Consciousness: The Metaphysical Vision of Henri Bergson, p. xxxiii, citing philosopher Henri Bergson.

Some analogues

Erik Erikson: Stagnation vs Generativity, the seventh stage of psychosocial development

Erik Erikson was an eminent psychologist and psychoanalyst best-known for his theory on the psychosocial development of human beings, and the originator of the term generativity.

Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development. © Verywell, 2018

Illustration by Joshua Seong | © Verywell, 2018
The seventh stage is called Generativity vs. Stagnation. (I reversed it for the heading to maintain consistency.)

Stagnation is what happens when someone fails to find a way to contribute. People trapped in a state of stagnation tend to feel alienated from their community or from society as a whole.

Generativity is about contributing to society by caring for others and creating that which makes the world a better place.

Read more about Generativity vs. Stagnation, the seventh stage of psychosocial development on the Verywell website

Erik Erikson knew that self-invention takes a lifetime, by M. M. Owen, Ph.D., on Aeon website

View the Wikipedia entry for Erik Erikson

Otto Scharmer: Ego-system awareness vs. Eco‑system awareness

Dr. C. Otto Scharmer is a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and founding chair of the Presencing Institute. He introduced the concept of “presencing”—learning from the emerging future—in his bestselling books Theory U, and Presence (co-authored with Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers).

When operating with ego-system awareness, we are driven by the concerns and intentions of our small ego self.
When operating with eco-system awareness, we are driven by the concerns and intentions of our emerging or essential self— that is, by a concern that is informed by the well-being of the whole.
The prefix eco- goes back to the Greek oikos and concerns the “whole house.” The word economy can be traced back to this same root. Transforming our current ego-system economy into an emerging eco-system economy means reconnecting economic thinking with its real root, which is the well-being of the whole house rather than money-making or the wellbeing of just a few of its inhabitants. But while the whole house was for the Greeks something very local, today it also concerns the well-being of our global communities and planetary eco-systems.

Source: Leading From the Emerging Future—From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies, by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer (pdf, 71pp)
Read more about Otto Scharmer and his work

Napoleon Hill: Synthetic imagination vs. Creative imagination

Imagination is the seed of power. It is where power starts.

Source: Imagination solutions at the edge of time, by Jon Rappoport.
In his classic 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill describes the process of combining existing ideas to create a new one, which he refers to as the use of synthetic imagination.

Nowadays, writers such as Maria Popova use the term combinatorial creativity when referring to this process, and insist that originality is a myth. This is tantamount to asserting that original literature is a myth, because it’s nothing more than a combination of words that already exist. In the material world, everything is made out of something.

Truly original ideas with the potential to enrich the world come to us by means of creative imagination, and not through synthetic imagination, which produces derivative ideas and mediocrity.

The imaginative faculty functions in two forms. One is known as “synthetic imagination,” and the other as “creative imagination.”
SYNTHETIC IMAGINATION Through this faculty, one may arrange old concepts, ideas, or plans into new combinations. This faculty creates nothing. It merely works with the material of experience, education, and observation with which it is fed. It is the faculty used most by the inventor, with the exception of the who draws upon the creative imagination, when he cannot solve his problem through synthetic imagination.
CREATIVE IMAGINATION Through the faculty of creative imagination, the finite mind of man has direct communication with Infinite Intelligence. It is the faculty through which “hunches” and “inspirations” are received. It is by this faculty that all basic, or new ideas are handed over to man.

Source: Think and Grow Rich, Chapter 6: Imagination | Download Think and Grow Rich (no paywall)
View the Wikipedia entry for: Napoleon Hill | Think and Grow Rich

Read more about the two forms of imagination

Edward Matchett: Preserve the old vs. Create the new

Edward Matchett (aka Ted Matchett)

Edward Matchett (1929–1998) started out as a design engineer at Rolls-Royce—aircraft engines, not automobiles—in Derby, UK, later becoming a teacher of design.

From 1966 to 1970, he conducted an investigation into the creative process, sponsored by the Science Research Council of Great Britain. The aim of this research was to identify practical and workable means of injecting a new order of “creativeness, professionalism and achievement” into product design and development.

His findings, some of which can be found in Creative Action, The making of meaning in a complex world (Turnstone Books, 1975), are a much-needed antidote to the mechanical and soulless ‘brainstorm then project manage’ approach to innovation.

Edward Matchett established his company, Matchett Training and Consultancy Services, in 1970 “to take people to the highest level of professionalism and original thinking”, and to do this in a systematic way. This work was usually done in-house, often in a carefully constructed environment that Matchett called a logosphere of meaning.

Matchett’s concepts and methods are based on 40 years of continuous first-hand experience as a manager, teacher, consultant, coach and counsellor, on many hundreds of practical industrial projects in R&D laboratories and product design offices, and at what is now Cranfield University.

The underlying discipline employed by Matchett was predominantly his Fundamental Design Method (open FDM in sidebar), on which he began work in 1958. Matchett asserted that “the most advanced form of FDM lifts a mind into ‘meta-control’, making it possible to produce the quality and quantity of thoughts and actions that are normally produced only by a person of genius.”

The “two spirits” described by Matchett in the following passages correlate strongly with Napoleon Hill’s creative imagination and synthetic imagination. This is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Matchett’s Credo

The great gulf that divides mankind is not political. It is not the gulf between religions, between religion and science, between science and art. It is not the gulf between rich and poor, between the privileged and the underprivileged. Not the gulf between the practical and the theorist, between those who would work and those who would dream. It is not the gulf between management and those that are managed, between the possessive and the philanthropist, between the saints and the sinners. All of these things are important, yet none so important as men often suppose. They are all streams that flow towards the same sea. All would meet and be reconciled except for one division that is greater by far then these — a division that is far more fundamental. It is the split between those persons who would hang on to old forms and those who wish to see new ones.

Two spirits are at work in the world. It is they who are the cause of the great divide. One would drive the world along at an ever-increasing rate, one would have the world stay precisely where it is. One has its foot hard down on the accelerator, the other is trying hard to apply the brake. One has his eyes fixed firmly on the future, the other has his eyes fixed firmly on the past (he does not realise that the ground that he thinks he is standing on disappeared many years ago).

What is it that has to be preserved? Every form that still equates to needs. What is it that has to be built in addition? New forms that equate to needs that either were not present earlier or that have not been satisfied. What does this have to do with the person who is doing the creating? Everything! At every moment, within himself, the same ceaseless battle must go on. He must destroy every form (ideas, beliefs, visions, attitudes, values etc.) that is no longer needed. He must preserve every form that still equates to needs. He must build new forms within (new ideas, new beliefs, new visions, new attitudes, new values etc.) that equate to needs that either were not present earlier or that have not yet been satisfied. To the extent that he does this within he will be able to do it without. Neither more nor less; it is all very precise.

Source: Edward Matchett legacy website (open FDM in sidebar)
Either knowingly or unwittingly, Edward Matchett is referencing the Trimurti, the trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified as a triad of deities, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.

View the Wikipedia entry for Trimurti

The three functions are sometimes presented as:

  • Generator (in the graphic below: Create new value),
  • Operator (Preserve existing value), and
  • Destroyer (Sacrifice value for the good of the whole),

… providing the clever but misleading acronym GOD.

Ecosystem value specification tool
Visit the Edward Matchett legacy website

The Matrix: Take the blue pill vs. Take the red pill

In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo a choice: take the Blue Pill and continue to live in a synthesised, computer-generated world, or take the Red Pill, escape from the Matrix and live in the real—but very hostile—world.

“All I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” Runtime 2:40.


A Course in Miracles: Ego vs. Holy Spirit

A Course in Miracles was channeled by Helen Schucman and published as a book in 1976. It consists of a curriculum claiming to assist its readers in achieving spiritual transformation.

We have seen that there are only two parts of your mind. One is ruled by the ego, and is made up of illusions. The other is the home of the Holy Spirit, where truth abides.

Source: A Course in Miracles, Lesson 66
View the Wikipedia entry for A Course in Miracles

Christianity: Satan vs. God

Satan was an anointed cherub. He sat in heaven, a being of the highest rank and exalted position. Created by God as the “seal of perfection”, Satan turned his eyes away from his Creator and began to admire the creation: himself. “You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17). He became proud and exalted himself; a desire to rule was born in him. He wished to put himself in God’s place. He whispered lies until he had a third of the hosts of heaven on his side.

Source: What does the Bible say about Satan? on ActiveChristianity website
Although I commonly refer to the degenerative and generative fields as D-field and G-field, it would be a mistake to think that D means Devil and G means God. According to my hypothesis, D and G are energies without anything resembling human form or conscious intent. When tempted to speculate about the purpose of D or G, I remind myself of Stafford Beer’s dictum: “The purpose of the system is what it does.

Further reading

Creating greatness in the realm beyond systems thinking (pdf; 22pp) An article I contributed to an e-book for participants in European Sharing on Systems Thinking, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2015

Power … has both a generative and creative side and a degenerative and destructive one. An individual or group that exercises power to achieve its desires and ambitions, but pays no attention to the desires or ambitions of others, will end up steamrolling the others. This degenerative power shows up disturbingly as greed or arrogance and catastrophically as rapaciousness or violence.

Love and Power—When Are they Generative, Instead of Destructive? by Adam Kahane, a director of Reos Partners, a social enterprise that helps businesses, governments, and civil society organisations address complex social challenges