The possibilities of disruption: serendipity, accidents and impasse driven search

Ross, Wendy (2023) The possibilities of disruption: serendipity, accidents and impasse driven search. Possibility Studies & Society, 1 (4). pp. 489-501. ISSN 2753-8699


This article challenges the traditional view of progress as a linear trajectory from ignorance to knowledge, arguing that creative cognition involves an extended and dynamic system of non linear possibility generation. It emphasises the importance of an externalist approach which takes into account the role of objects in the environment in shaping cognition. Accidents are seen as a key trigger for creative thinking, as they disrupt planned cognitive trajectories and introduce novel elements into the cognitive ecosystem, leading to new possibilities that were previously inconceivable. However, how we filter these opportunities is rarely explored. The feeling of impasse, when problem-solvers are stuck and unable to find a solution, is also explored as an important generative state for creativity. While this state may be unpleasant, research suggests that persevering through it can lead to a sense of ‘aha’ and may be actively sought out by creatives. The article concludes that further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between aversive states, chance and human imagination in order to understand creative thinking.

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