Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Concepts of Creativity

I saw a question on "Linked In" today:

Do software companies need creative thinkers?

If yes, why? for what kind of work? Typically, what fraction of their developers are creative thinkers?

For most, what's more important - creativity or discipline?

what do companies do to enahnce their developers' creativity?

When reading this question and the proffered answers it reminded me of a topic that has bounced around for quite a long time.

Companies typically label visual designers or UX designers as "Creatives" or talk about the "Creative" disciplines.

Companies typically label software developers, architects and DBAs as "Technical".

This has bothered me for a long time, which, given my semantic nature is not surprising.

Anyone who has worked as or with a good software developer would not for an instant say that software developers are not creative.

Similarly, anyone who has worked as or with a good UX professional (either visual designer or information architect) would not say that UX professionals are not technical.

These labels of creative and technical are imprecise in their nature and cause much hostility and tension between the two camps who, amongst a myriad of other things, have something in common, which is ironically a large contributor to the hostility and tension; they don't like to be labeled.

This hostility and tension is apparent if you read the answers to the question.

"Creativity" and "Tool Usage" (the underlying skill behind technology) are skills we all have in different degrees. We are human and it is part of who we are as a race. When the question is asked as it above, it implies that disciplined developers are not creative. This is a blatant fallacy.

I think a more precise way to talk about the behaviors and thinking styles that people are referring to when they apply these labels is through the terms "linear" and "non-linear" thinking. Intuition and non-linear thinking are deeper components of what we percieve as creativity.

With this nuance in mind - I would rephrase the original question: "Do software companies need intuitive, non-linear thinkers?"

Answering this question without hostility becomes easier - Yes. Non-linear intuitive thinking allows for revolution where strictly linear thinking allows for evolution.

Conceptual holism (think Amazon, Apple) - comes straight out of non-linear intuitive thinking

Evolutionary atomism (think eBay, Microsoft) - comes from direct linear thinking.

If you hold all other factors neutral, enterprises with both linear and non-linear thinkers (assuming that the individual players can work in harmony) will ultimately be more successful over the long term.

Neither is more important. At the extremes - "non-linears" have trouble executing without linear practitioners, "linears" have trouble moving out of seemingly malicious compliance.

Some people answered that sending developers to conferences "where the latest and greatest ideas are shared" would develop their creative skills.

Conferences are not the answer to enhance developers capability to think non-linearly - because ideas are shared as an end result and not as a process.

Several philosophers from Jiddu Krishnamurti to Bruce Lee talk about the concept of "no way as way" to illustrate that those who are beholden to a particular dogma in any discipline, are very likely unable to see beyond the limits of the dogma.

Bruce Lee stated that his concept is not an "adding to" of more and more things on top of each other to form a system, but rather, a winnowing out.

The lack of capability to understand or appreciate non-linear thought is most felt in countries like the USA where language and discourse are focused on "Topic Centered" methods vs "Topic Associative" methods.

To actually enhance the capability of non-linear thinking (and ultimately affect that which we see as creativity) you must strike at the base assumption that every problem needs to be approached with a linear and fully predictable process.

Unfortunately, this concept while easy to explain at a high level tends to not be "teachable" through a lesson or a book. Rather, enabling a person to be more in-touch with their intuition is something that needs to be experienced and then practiced as opposed to practiced and then experienced.

So how do we attack this? Teams. Team linear and non-linear thinkers together to iteratively solve problems. When using this method, it is important to note that the success of these teams will correlate with the chemistry of the individuals and way in which the task is laid out to not give too much power to either type.

Rating Time!

Divisive labeling as "Creative" and "Technical" - Garbage
Appreciation for different thinking styles - Like it


I have not invented a "new style," composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from "this" method or "that" method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see "ourselves". . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don't, and that is that. There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune-Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune-Do is simply the direct expression of one's feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. The closer to the true way of Kung Fu, the less wastage of expression there is. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says Jeet Kune Do is exclusively Jeet Kune Do is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his self-closing resistance, in this case anchored down to reactionary pattern, and naturally is still bound by another modified pattern and can move within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive. Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one's back.

Bruce Lee