DEV Community

Cover image for How to kill creativity: The Definitive Guide
Oleg Isonen
Oleg Isonen

Posted on • Originally published at Medium

How to kill creativity: The Definitive Guide

I woke up today with a bunch of ideas about how a particular problem could be solved or at least what could be a better attempt than what I had so far because the problem is non-trivial and there is no standard well-known way to do it.

At the same time, I realized why it took me so long.

I was blocked for over a year

The problem I was thinking about was something I started to work on over a year ago. I did a prototype, settled on one particular implementation and then realized the problem is hard and doing it that way will result in too many problems later. This realization made me feel frustrated. I stopped working on it and thinking about it.

A few days ago I decided to look at it again and I struggled to figure out what I was thinking as I did that initial prototype. I couldn't understand most of the code I wrote, it's been frustrating, I was staring at it for the entire day until I decided to throw it away. Luckily I had integration tests, so I could drop the implementation and rewrite it from scratch. Within a few hours, I rediscovered most of the problems I had over a year ago and why I stopped working on it. The difference now was though that I am determined to solve it, so I kept thinking about it and woke up with a bunch of ideas today.

What I learned out of it blew my mind: I was able to think about potential different solutions because I didn't have a definitive answer.

I don't like reading books

It might come surprising to you to hear that from someone from a tech industry since we are considered "intelligent" by the rest of the world. It's not like I don't like to read at all, in fact sometimes I enjoy doing so. I am reading stuff every day, but the only reason I do so is I am searching for a particular information or I read some short blog posts about a topic I care about. I never read a book from the beginning till the end just because it was recommended.

Today I realized I don't like reading a particular type of content: the one that gives you a definitive answer to everything it touches. It turns out I enjoy discovering things much more than I enjoy learning the facts.

I realize not every book is a definitive guide, there are tons of books that spark your imagination and let you think creatively, I never realized that this is what makes me like one over another.

A book or a blog post that gives you a definitive answer to a problem diminishes your ability to think creatively. Ultimately it creates an internal conflict and builds up a wall between the solution and the reader.

My biggest learning so far

If you are writing a book, an article or even a tweet. If you are trying to propose a solution to a group of people. When people have different opinions about literally everything - the worst thing you can do is to provide a definitive solution.

Instead, one could provide a clear problem-definition and eventually name a few potential ideas which could be thought of but shouldn't come over as a definitive solution. The last part is the most critical because the second your receiver realizes there is a solution already provided, you are taking their ability to think creatively.

Gifting a joy of discovery to your receiver is the best thing you can do as someone who tries to convey a message or foster productivity.

What happens in the brain of a receiver-person

When you announce a solution to a group of people that is supposed to solve that problem, this is what I feel is happening in their brains:

  1. They realize their help is not needed, their presence is a pure formality, the value of oneself is starting to fade.
  2. There is not much one can do now, especially if the author is the leader of the group, because it makes it even more clear that the solution is set in stones.
  3. Anything a receiver will say from now on that goes against that solution is going to be received as critique and potentially create conflict.
  4. It upsets the receiver and blocks their ability to process new information.

A friend pointed out to me there is a scientific research about this topic in case you want to study this.

The worst thing about it

The short-term effect is going to be forgotten soon enough, but the long term effect of this solution-giving approach is truly harmful to any organization. 
A one-off event usually doesn't change much, but if it happens often enough, the result is - you are building a culture where people don't think on their own. 
Once this becomes a natural way of thinking within the same group of people, this group will neither think critically nor creatively anymore, they will just follow the orders. We know plenty of examples of such cultures: military, police, religions. People in all of those groups tend to show blindness in critical and creative thinking towards their leaders and foundations of that particular culture.

There is an exception to every rule, but we are talking about a tendency here.

I don't know why, but this realization today made me somehow feel free and happy once again, so I wrote it in the hope it will do the same for you.
Today I wasn't lazy and wrote it as a blog post, but most of the time I share thoughts on twitter, so if you are interested in my low-quality award-losing content, follow me there @oleg008.

Top comments (1)

kwstannard profile image
Kelly Stannard

Interesting stuff. I will take this into account when I am working on stuff.