The Jewish Torah teaches that the Creator created our world through ten utterances–for example, “let there be light.”
The Jewish mystical tradition explains that these utterances correspond with ten stages in the process of creation. Every creative process in the world ultimately follows this progression, because it is really a part of the continual unfolding of the world itself, in which we are co-creators.
This article aims to present an overview of the mystical process of creation and principal of co-creation and to illustrate how it can guide bringing digital product ideas into reality–although it’s easy enough to see how this could translate to other products and services–in a way that ensures a great user experience, and makes our creative process more natural and outcomes more fruitful.
And a note as you read: In Jewish mysticism, the pronoun “He” is used when referring to the transcendent aspect of the Creator that is the source of creation, and “She” is used when referring to the imminent aspect that pervades creation, because they are characterized by giving and receiving, respectively. Because this article discusses the relationship of the transcendent aspect, the masculine pronoun has been used.
The process of creation
Ten stages, four realms
The ten stages in the process of creation progressively create four realms.
Three triads create three spiritual realms, and the tenth stage creates our tangible reality, which is the culmination of creation. It is understood that creation becomes increasingly defined and tangible as the creative power flows from one realm to the next. When we participate in creation, our efforts naturally follow the same progression.
The four realms are traditionally referred to by Hebrew terms, so to make things easier I’ll refer to them using a designer’s day-to-day terms–ideation, design, implementation, and operation.
Before we dive in though, one more thing to note is that within each realm there is a three-stage pattern whereby the creation first becomes revealed, then delineated, and finally consolidated in a state of equilibrium. Hang in there, you’ll shortly see what this means.
The realm of ideation
In the beginning there was only the Creator, alone.
In the first three stages of creation, He simply created the possibility for a creation. This corresponds with the generation of business ideas.
Just as before there was anything else it had to arise in the Creator’s mind to create the world, so too, the starting point of all products and services is the emergence of an idea–a simple and common example of which is “a digital channel will help our customers connect with us.”
Next, the seed sprouts a series of details to define it. In creation, the details included the fact that creation will be limited and that there is an order to its unfolding. In business, the idea undergoes an extrapolation to define its reach and scope. For example, “the digital channel will need product information, a shopping cart, a customer database, and a social function for customers’ reviews.”
The third stage in the process of creation is the preparation for bridging the gap between the abstract realm of potential where the Creator is still effectively alone, with a new reality of seemingly separate creations. Correspondingly, in business the third step requires bringing the idea from a place of theory to a point that it can be shared with others, such as presenting to decision makers and stakeholders, or briefing agents and consultants.
The realm of design
Now that it’s possible to distinguish between the Creator and His creation, the next three stages serve to coalesce the homogenous creation into spiritual templates. This corresponds with the conceptual design of how the business idea may be realized.
The first stage in this realm is an expression of the Creator’s kindness, as He indiscriminately bestows life to all of creation. Correspondingly, the design process begins with telling the end-to-end story of the idea, from the user discovering the new product or service through to their consummate pleasure in using it, without our being too concerned with practical considerations. This could be captured in business process diagrams, but human-centred user journey maps or storyboards have proven more natural.
Next, the Creator expressed His attribute of judgement to establish the boundaries of His evolving creations. In business, we begin addressing practical considerations, such as time, budget, and technical constraints to define the boundaries of the concept. This generally involves analyzing the desired story to establish the finite set of practical requirements for realizing it. For digital products, the requirements are often closely followed by a business case, an information architecture, and a system architecture.
As mentioned, the third stage is where a consolidated state of equilibrium is reached to form the output of the realm. In creation, mystics describe the culmination of this realm as being sublime angels who are only identified by their function–for example to heal or to enact justice–and consider them to be the templates for these attributes, as they become manifest in the lower beings.
Similarly, we consolidate the business idea by sketching or prototyping how we envision it will become manifest. Typically we deliver low-fidelity interaction, product or service designs, which are often accompanied by a business plan and functional and technical specifications.
The realm of implementation
Using the spiritual templates, the next three stages serve to create individualized spiritual beings. This corresponds with implementing our conceptual designs into an actual digital product.
In creation, the life-force is now apportioned according to the ability of the created being to receive, similar to pouring hot liquid material into a statue mould. Correspondingly, we apply branding, colors, and shapes to bring the blueprint to life–the result being high-fidelity visual designs of what the digital product will actually look and feel like.
Next, the life-force solidifies to form the individual spiritual being, similar to when the hot liquid cools and the mould can be removed. This corresponds with slicing the visual designs to develop the front-end, developing the database, and integrating the back-end functionality.
The culmination of this realm is often depicted in artwork and poetry as being angels that have human form, wings, and individual names. They are, however, still spiritual beings, not physical beings like us. Correspondingly, at the final stage of implementation, there exists a fully functional digital product…in a staging environment.
The realm of operation
The culmination of the process of creation is our tangible reality, which is comprised of physical matter and its infused life-force (part of which is our physical bodies infused with our souls). Bridging the infinitely large gap between the spiritual and physical realms is often considered the most profound step in the process of creation, yet paradoxically it’s simultaneously the smallest conceptual distance from a spiritual being that looks and functions like a physical being, and an actual physical being.
Correspondingly, launching a digital product into the live public domain can be the most daunting and exciting moment, yet it can be as easy as pressing a button to redirect the domain to point to the new web-server or to release the app on the app store.
At this point the Creator is said to have rested, observing His creation with pleasure. Similarly, it can be very satisfying to step back at this point and soak in how our initial seed of an idea has finally evolved into an actual operational reality–which will hopefully fulfill our business goals!
The principle of co-creation
By now we can appreciate why there seems to be a natural and logical sequence for the activities typically involved in creating a new product or service. Jewish mysticism, however, unequivocally adds that we are co-creators with the Creator. That is: We, created beings, are able to influence what the end product of creation will be, just like users can influence our products and services when we engage with them during the creation process.
Jewish mysticism relates that the Creator consults with His retinue of angels to make decisions regarding His creation. This corresponds with our soliciting user input to validate the direction of our creative efforts, such as:
- during ideation, conducting research to ensure the ideas indeed meet users’ needs and desires;
- during design, conducting user validation to ensure the sensibility and completeness of the story, correlation of the framework with users’ mental models, and usability of the blueprints; and
- during implementation, conducting user testing to help smooth out any remaining difficulties or doubts in the user experience.
We are also taught that the Creator is monitoring human activity and makes adjustments accordingly. Similarly, at the stage of operation, it’s good practice to steer the finished product to better achieve business goals by monitoring the usage analytics.
Finally, we’re taught that the Creator desires our prayers beseeching Him to change our reality, similar to how we’ve come to understand the most potent consideration is user feedback on the fully operational product.
On the surface it still seems as though the process of creation is a cascading “waterfall,” but we see that our world is constantly evolving–for example, more efficient transport, more sophisticated communication, more effective health maintenance–seemingly through our learning from experience to improve our efforts. In a simple sense, this can be likened to the “agile” feedback loop where learnings from one round of production are used to influence and improve our approach to the next round.
Jewish mysticism teaches, however, that under the surface our genuine efforts below arouse a magnanimous bestowal of ever-increasingly refined life-force into the creation. This can be understood as similar to a pleased business owner allocating increasingly more budget to continue work on an evidently improving product or service.
These days, it is becoming more common for businesses to implement a continuous improvement program, whereby an ongoing budget is allocated for this purpose. The paradigm of continually looking for ways to more effectively meet user needs and achieve business goals–such that they can be fed back into the process for fleshing out the idea, designing, and then implementing–perfectly parallels the reality that we are co-creating an ever more refined world using ever-deepening resources.
But how can a compounding improvement continue indefinitely? Jewish mysticism explains that as the unlimited creative power becomes exponentially more revealed within our limited reality, there will eventually come a grand crescendo with the revelation of the Creator’s essential being, which is neither unlimited or limited, but both simultaneously. This will be experienced as the messianic era–“In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know their Creator.”1
Users front of mind at every stage
Before we get there, however, it can be seen from the above how every stage of the creative process has a unique effect on the user experience of the end product or service, such that it would bode well if we strive to ensure:
- The initial business idea meets an actual need or fulfils an actual desire of our users
- The concept is designed to function according to the user’s understanding and expectations
- The product or service is implemented in a way that is appealing and easy to use
- The operating product or service is continually improved to meet users’ evolving needs
By knowing each stage and each skill set’s proper place in the sequence and how to incorporate our learnings and user sentiment, we can achieve a more natural creative process for ourselves, our peers, and our clients and ensure the end product or service offers the best possible user experience, indefinitely.
|Creative activity||Co-creation activity||Output|
|User research||User pain points
|User focus groups
|User testing||Staging product|
Ideas for improvement
References and further reading
- Sefer Likutei Amarim, “The Tanya”, by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
- Sefer HaMaamorim Melukatim, by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
- Basi L’Gani, by the Rebbe Rayatz, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson.
- Beshaah Shehikdimu 5672, “Ayin Beis”, by the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn
- Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Melachim uMilchamot, Chapter 12, Halacha 5, by the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon
Wow. I love how you bring the fresh breath of spirituality into our technical work. I wonder how much we could advance by being more receptive to spritual insight. Thanks
Thank you very much for this post. I am a big fan of Jewish Mysticism (I have studied with Andrei Orlov and Jim Davila who both have interests in this area) and am just now getting into the field of IA/UX.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated you working the principles of Jewish Mysticism into your ideas on user experience. It makes great sense and was highly enlightening. I look forward to seeing more of your ideas in the future!
I was thinking about ways to integrate Hindu and Buddhist meditative practices and product development, when I came across this post. This would be a good series, imo, to develop further insights, if and when actual products are built using practices from Jewish mystical traditions. I often wonder, especially when visiting temples and monasteries that are really old, how people could build architectural structures that have that lasting quality ( 2000+ years after the fact) and still deliver functionality. It’s not like they did surveys before they built these structures! I have similar questions about Shaker products and traditional Japanese crafts. Good stuff.
Hindu and Buddhist meditative practices and product development, when I came across this post. This would be a good series, imo, to develop further insights, if and when actual products are built using practices from Jewish mystical traditions. I often wonder
Hindu and Buddhist meditative practices and product development, when I came across this post. This would be a good series, imo, to develop further insights, if and when actual products are built using practices from Jewish mystical traditions. I often wonder.http://pembesarpenismaxman.com/
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