See the Creative Systems website ( ) for a detailed look at Creative Systems Theory and how it can be applied to systemic questions of all sorts.

A “snapshot” Introduction:

We can understand the concept of Cultural Maturity as a stand alone general notion. But if we want to be detailed in our understanding, we need appreciate it as a formal notion within Creative Systems Theory, a body of conceptual work developed by Dr. Charles Johnston and others at the Institute for Creative Development over the last 40 years. CST presents a comprehensive framework for understanding change, purpose, and interrelationship in human systems. One of its essential contributions is that it provides a way to understand the times in which we live and many of the most important challenges we now face as a species.

CST helps us think rigorously about Cultural Maturity’s mechanisms and implications. It also supports making the needed distinctions between Cultural Maturity and more limited views of the future that can get in the way of what the future requires. In turn, the concept of Cultural Maturity highlights why frameworks like Creative Systems Theory have become newly critical. CST is significant not just for the practical usefulness of its ideas, but also for the fact that it represents the kind of conceptual perspective that the concept of Cultural Maturity argues will be increasingly essential.

It follows from the concept of Cultural Maturity that the future will require not just new more mature ideas, values, and ways of relating, but that we rethink understanding itself. We must learn to think in ways that are more encompassingly systemic—that get beyond polarized beliefs that have relegate parts of ourselves to wholly separate worlds (ally and enemy, mind and body, political right and political left). New ideas must also helps us think in ways that more effectively address the fact that we are living systems—that take us beyond the mechanistic assumptions of our most recent chapter in culture’s evolving story. Creative Systems Theory provides a compact set of “pattern language” tools for thinking with the needed new systemic sophistication.

CST is concerned with how human systems of all sorts—individuals, relationships, families, communities, nations—see themselves and act in the very different and often odd and contradictory ways that we do at different times and places.  Within CST, the concept of Cultural Maturity describes a particular change point within culture as an evolving system and the kinds of thinking, acting and relating that this change point requires and make possible.

CST has important significance in the broader history of ideas. It proposes a new fundamental organizing concept to replace Descartes’ notion that we can think of reality as a “great clockworks.” It argues that we can better understand at least the reality of human experience (the only kind we can know) as “creative.” We are tool makers, and more than this, makers of ideas and makers of meaning. The theory describes how the use of a creative frame allows us to develop new kinds of ideas better able to address the challenges we now face. (It also describes how we can understand Descartes’ “clockworks” reality as a predicted stage within culture as an evolving formative process.)

For making sense of Cultural Maturity, the word creative at least provides useful metaphor, a way of describing how Cultural Maturity changes how our world looks and what it asks of us. Culturally mature understanding paints a more dynamic and generative—we could say simply “creative”—picture of life and human life. CST argues that human understanding has always been creative, but that we are only now becoming capable of the maturity of perspective needed to recognize how this might be so.

More conceptually, CST goes considerably further. It describe how human intelligence, with its different aspects, is structured specifically to support our audacious tool-making capacities. And it goes on to describe how the more mature kind of perspective Cultural Maturity makes possible allows us in a new way to step back from the whole of this richly creative cognitive complexity. One result is a dynamic fullness of understanding that has not before been an option. This “Integrative Meta-perspective” makes it possible to think in ways that better honor that we are alive (and also to better appreciate the unique kind of life we are by virtue of being human). It also offers that we might think with the systemic nuance  and sophistication today’s new questions increasingly demand.

The ideas of Creative Systems Theory were introduced with Charles Johnston’s first book, The Creative Imperative: Human Growth and Planetary Evolution. Various books since have helped fill out these initial observations. Pattern and Reality: A brief Introduction to Creative Systems Theory provides an overview of key concepts. Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future (with an Introduction to the Ideas of Creative Systems Theory) draws on CST notions that are particularly pertinent to culturally mature leadership. And Quick and Dirty Answers to the Biggest of Questions: Creative Systems Theory Explains What It is All About (Really), uses CST’s ability to help us address big-picture questions as a provocative way to introduce the theory.

The Creative Systems website ( ) provides an overview of  Creative Systems Theory concepts and documents the continued evolution of the theory. The “theory” section of the blog library includes short descriptions of Creative Systems Theory notions that may add important detail and background to observations made in blog posts.


The Creative Function