Complex is not (the same as) difficult (8)

Pieter Jansen and Fredrike Bannink


Creative processes.

A recent development in theories about psychological processes is the honing theory (Gabora, 2016). She describes creative processes from the perspective of complex systems. Systems theory, and especially complexity theory, sees us humans and our brains as self-organizing systems.
Gabora refers to a publication by Hirsh, Mar and Peterson (2012, see Complex 7), who developed a model using entropy as a description and measure of psychological uncertainty.


The term entropy refers to disorder or uncertainty. In the information theory, entropy is a measure of information density. Self-organizing systems need to restrict entropy, and in a psychological sense this means that we need to limit uncertainty. We experience uncertainty either as anxiety or – more generally – as arousal.


We cannot store information in our brain in the same way we store books in a library. We simply do not have enough neurons; instead we store information in neural networks.
We constantly add new information and these neural networks must constantly be rearranged. Because of this complexity, the storage and rearrangement cannot be explored in a reductionist way. Here we need information theory, because rearranging happens by aiming for the lowest possible entropy.


Gabora describes creative processes as a constant process of exchange, comparison and reorganization of information, all with the aim of minimizing entropy. We experience high entropy as arousal, either in a negative sense as fear or cognitive dissonance, or in a positive sense as curiosity or inspiration. Low entropy corresponds to peace, stability and harmony.


The solution-focused model (Bannink, 2013; 2015) provides a good way to stimulate creative processes. Practitioners ensure an encouraging context for change and invite patients to see different perspectives by asking solution-focused questions. Patients may compare, combine and reorganize the information from these new points of view. This way they construct new ideas and possibilities. When the spontaneous creative process gets stuck, the solution-focused approach may help to get it going again. It is easy to notice parallels between the honing theory and the solution-focused approach. However, further research into these parallels is necessary.


The problem-focused – medical – approach is an analytical process. Practitioners look for the error (disease), and treatment focuses on repairing the error. It requires convergent thinking in search for the one correct answer. The solution-focused approach supports a creative process (together with our patients). It is about designing, constructing and achieving a new and better life with (new) possibilities. This requires divergent thinking— a constant exploration of possible options, which may then be (partly) realized.



Bannink. F.P. (2013). 1001 Solution-focused questions. Handbook for solution-focused interviewing. New York: Norton.

Bannink, F.P. (2015). Book series: 101 Solution-focused questions for help with 1. Anxiety, 2. Depression, 3. Trauma. New York: Norton.
Gabora, L. (2016). Honing theory: A complex systems framework for creativity. Cornell University Library.

Hirsh, J.B., Mar, R.A., & Peterson, J.B. (2012). Psychological entropy: A framework for understanding uncertainty-related anxiety. Psychology Review, 119, 304-320.