How experience often beats creativity, originality, and intelligence

July 25, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Creativity

Yesterday I wrote about being called intelligent or smart and the sometimes downsides associated with it.

I found that while society seems to value intelligence, on a personal level people value getting the job done, relationship skills, experience, people’s networks, and other things, at least in leadership and decision-making roles. For a few roles that don’t require teamwork people value intelligence, but they aren’t that common in professional environments.

What about creativity and originality?

It seems to me society and business value them more, though I’ve written how they are commonly misperceived.

Actually, I find people overvalue creativity and originality. They see results they call creative and value the person who created them. To me, I see professional work as problem-solving, whether the work is in an office, an artist’s studio, or any place else. As long as someone is paying someone else, someone is solving a problem.

I use my plumber model in such cases, which I feel simplifies the situation.

Say you have a problem with your plumbing at home. You call two plumbers. One looks at your pipes and says “I have a creative and original solution to your problem. No one has ever solved such a problem this way. I will create the most amazing plumbing solution seen in centuries.” The other says “I’ve solved a thousand problems like this. The same solution works every time. I’ll do the same thing here and it will solve your problem just like it solved every similar problem before.”

Which plumber do you hire?

Of course we all prefer the second plumber and hire him or her even if we have to pay more. We like originality and creativity, but when we need something done that matters, we like experience in the field.

Having relevant experience means knowing solutions that work, solutions that don’t work, and people to go to for help. People with experience demand higher compensation. Perhaps counterintuitively, even successful people in so-called creative fields tend to find techniques that work as they gain experience. Their work revolves around similar themes or techniques. While we may call them creative, that may result from our not knowing the middle steps of their work.

People who don’t understand the value of experience often say they want creative and original people, or even smart people, when they’d probably solve their problem more efficiently with experienced people.

Personally, I prefer working with people with experience over merely creative or original people. Merely creative or original people haven’t yet made the mistakes that we call experience. I prefer not to pay for them to learn on my teams.

Of course, if I only have to choose from inexperienced people, all else being equal, I prefer originality and creativity, but rarely do you have to restrict yourself to only inexperienced people. If you do, maybe for budgetary reasons, you might have made a mistake.

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2 responses on “How experience often beats creativity, originality, and intelligence

  1. Joshua:
    I arrived here via your post on Quartz, regarding intelligence. On this post, I agree with you for the most part. Everyone does not need to creative or original, rather, quite the opposite. It is an organizational disaster when everyone wants to be a visionary, the leader. Who does the work e.g. the implementation of the idea, the user-acceptance testing, troubleshooting, customer support. A “creative help desk” is a recipe for disaster! Reliability and methodical thinking is much better.

    Good plumbers don’t work the way you described, like this:

    “I’ve solved a thousand problems like this. The same solution works every time. I’ll do the same thing here and it will solve your problem just like it solved every similar problem before.”

    A really good plumber is not so different than a really good cardiologist or other clinician, or teacher or systems administrator. They have these qualities in common: Relevant education or training (skilled tradesmen like plumbers are assistants, journeymen and eventually masters; cardiologists go to school then do internships and residencies); Breadth and depth of first-hand experience acquired over the span of years; Good memories, in order to recall formal and experiential knowledge; Strategic thinking, in order to quickly evaluate scenarios, associated outcomes and make the right decision, based on all of the above.

    I don’t consider that a form of creativity, nor originality. Instead, it seems closer to a combination of intelligence, relevant experience and ethical standards. The ethical standards are honesty, reliability and compassion.

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