There’s a conundrum with knowledge in the pursuit of creativity.
It goes something like this: the more you know, the more information your brain has to access in order to generate new ideas. That’s good. But the more you know, the more likely you are to rely on that knowledge in order to do your work. Which can be bad.
It’s the classic scenario of an expert being unable to solve a problem, but a novice enters the scene and effortlessly finds a novel way to do it. Why?
When we become experts, we begin to frame our perspective on problems around what we know is possible. Where the novice, the beginner, the naive creative, doesn’t know any better: anything is possible (until it’s realized that it’s not).
We get so deep into our own experiences that it becomes difficult to see the world in any other way.
If you know a certain route to work or school or your favorite cafe is the most efficient or most beautiful, how likely are you to explore new routes? Not very likely.
Yet it’s by exploring new routes that you discover there’s an even better, or more beautiful, way.
We tend to prefer the safe route (both metaphorically and literally) when pursuing our work or the other activities of our day-to-day life. Why try something new if we already know what works? Why pursue new information if we know the answers that are already fact?
The answer, of course, is that leaving the well trodden path – exploring new routes, trying new foods, second-guessing what we’re doing, even if we know what we’re doing is right – is what leads to creative insights, innovation, new frames of mind.
Sure, sometimes the new paths aren’t worthwhile. Sometimes you decide to try the new path or question what you think you know and you end up right where you where before. But occasionally you discover something new. Either a new way to think or see the problem or a new place you’ve never been before, which in-turn inspires more creative insight.
It’s worthwhile for creativity to second-guess everything you know, to question it and ask “what if” and see where it leads you.
What do you know? What would happen if you questioned it?
Photo by Ian Muttoo