Do you overvalue originality at the expense of getting the job done?

July 28, 2012 by Joshua
in Art, Blog, Creativity, Tips

Society values originality and creativity in problem solving instead of getting the job done. I’ll illustrate how.

Imagine you have a problem you need solved. For concreteness let’s say you need plumbing work done in your house, but it could apply to any problem, personal, professional, or otherwise.

Say you ask two plumbers how they would fix the problem to decide whom to hire.

The first plumber says “I have the most creative idea for how to solve your problem. No one has ever seen a solution like this one. I will get your plumbing to do things no plumbing has done before. You will marvel at the originality and creativity in your plumbing.”

The second plumber says “Oh, I’ve solved problems exactly like this one hundreds of times. I do the same thing each time and it always solves the problem. I’ll do the same thing with yours.”

Which plumber do you hire?

Obvious question — everyone will choose the second plumber.

You might object that I chose an example from a non-creative field. Well, for someone with experience, all their solutions tend to apply past solution. Take the fields generally called the most creative, like visual arts and music. Great artists have styles, and what is a style but a set of patterns that the artists use consistently. The art world tends not to value artists whose works jump all over the place. Other creative fields like engineering and architecture tend to use design patterns — explicitly applying past solutions.

Since nearly everyone prefers people with experience, they tend to want people who apply past solutions.

People know to go with experience and known successful solutions when they know the field or how to solve the problem in some way. Then they go and ruin that pattern when they don’t know what to do by looking for so-called outside-the-box solutions, which I’ve found demonstrably counterproductive.

What can you learn from this?

When you try to solve a problem, recognize that trying to come up with something creative and original probably won’t work as well as finding something that worked many times before and therefore probably will work again.

Also, when you hire someone to solve problems for you, I recommend looking for experience over novelty.

Even what looks to you like a wild and crazy idea was probably created by someone applying a past solution that didn’t feel wild and crazy to them because they knew where they got it from.

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