Descriptive vs Generative: A distinction

Image: Clem Onojeghuo

Our logical, personal minds are largely descriptive. It’s all about x,y,z, what’s in front of us at the time, our identity at the moment, and connecting the dots that are on the paper — right here, right now.

It’s brilliant at describing things... Like, everything.

I’m thankful for the descriptive mind. It helps me stay alive. It sees threats and labels them so I can get outta dodge before things get real. It tells me that red lights mean stop and green lights mean go.

It’s awesome, really.

If we largely live from the descriptive mind, we can get really good at describing stuff.

But here’s the problem (yes, you knew this was coming)… If we limit ourselves strictly to living from the descriptive, it becomes our language and our worldview. It pulls from its vast database of past experiences and applies them to the now and the future, which (like we talked about above) is helpful in some cases, but it also means that our past becomes our now and our future.

I urge you to take things one step further…

Try thinking (and living) from the generative.

The generative is the creative. It speaks of things that haven’t happened yet. It acts on inspiration and insight instead of raw facts and circumstances. It bypasses problems and jumps straight to unforeseen solutions.

By living descriptively, we put ourselves in a situation where we‘re limited to the structure of a world that already is. Like the little marble in a labyrinth, we do our best to make our way through the maze that’s been put there by the outside world.

But by living generatively, we knock the maze off onto the floor and break out the colored pens.

It’s uneasy, this whole ‘living from the generative’. Because we just don’t know for sure. It might not work. Our model of the world might not match up with the actual thing.

But at least we’ll be making it up as we go.


I’m Jonas Ellison — a motivational messenger and transformative coach who writes daily here on Medium. To get my short vignettes in your inbox every day, click here.

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