my history with the idea of generatively

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Generative Grammar:

I first came across the generative concept as a year 11 student in my English class, although I had no idea if would become so formative for me. Linguist Noam Chomsky developed a methodology which became known as transformational grammar, that codified what made up a sensible sentence. Once the pattern of pieces of grammar were then arranged appropriately, then any words could be inserted to give a sentence ‘life’.

Generative dialogue

I next came across the term when I became involved with the Society for Organisational Learning (SoL) and the work of Peter Senge. Peter and his colleagues used this intriguing word to describe a kind of human engagement that was respectful and life-giving, but had a clear social or business outcome. From our natural affinity with the idea, Paul Steele and I began using the word to describe a kind of organisation that engaged people deeply, to the point where they were genuinely energised by their association, and which in turn made a positive impact within its broader context. Fundamental to this usage was a sense of ‘generating’, or harnessing values and energy toward a greater good.

A few years later, we independently set up business names / brands including the term: Generative Insights for Paul and Generative Edge for me.

Generative art:

Generative art is generated from an automated system, most typically from a computer.

Generative music:

A particular kind of generative art, Brian Eno used the term to describe music that is ever changing and is generated by a non-human system, most typically a computer but some might describe a wind chime as an example of generative music.

Once I began to understand the power of the concept, I became alert to ways in which people were applying it, even if not using the word. It was a sort of meta-study of a particular discipline which deconstructed and then reconstituted what practitioners do intuitively. A de-coding for want of a better term. Perhaps the most articulate and complete example I have subsequently come across is the totally brilliant “Pattern Language” by Christopher Allexander …

Generative design:

Pattern Language lays out a blueprint for designing everything from global politics to a hallway window. Breathtaking in scope and staggeringly simple, it helps us understand why some things (engaging human interaction) just work, and other just don’t.


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