To become creative—to consistently innovate—which strategy is best? Should you focus expertise in your domain, going deeper? Or should you be a generalist and learn broadly?
My experience, and research, leads me to believe that both are necessary.
You can’t create a new guitar riff destined to become iconic, if you are not familiar with other great riffs. You should be able to play Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), Iron Man (Black Sabbath), Sweet Child O’ Mine (Guns ‘n Roses), Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana), and Satisfaction (Rolling Stones). Only then can you invent a new one. Creative solutions are typically developed by people with some expertise in their fields. We call this deep domain knowledge.
Can you develop a new intervention for cancer without years of researching what has already been tried? I have always wanted to write a fiction bestseller, but I don’t try because I never even read fiction. (My book on Amazon, from which I still receive royalties, is fictional but really is an allegory).
Innovation, according to Peter Drucker, typically comes through borrowing from other domains (HBR, 2002), however. The big innovations that grab headlines are often born from converging knowledge types.
Neuroscience tells us that creativity often involves pulling from memories stored in our brains. When we are faced with a problem, we access the database of experiences and knowledge in our brains and choose one as THE solution. So the broader your knowledge, the larger the database from which to draw possible answers.
Unfortunately, everyone is becoming more specialized. People are able to dig very deep into their own fields. But they are less able to cross-pollinate knowledge from other domains.
If you want to reach creative eminence, make friends with people outside your profession. Spend time with weird people.
Published by Brock Stout, PhD
Brock has helped many people to be extremely successful. He has lived in various countries and has enjoyed several careers, but is now a writer and a career coach.
He sustained mild lead poisoning as a child, resulting in neurological damage. The result was a life of learning disabilities, always struggling to keep up.
But he completed two degrees from competitive universities, then advised Wall Street executives in Asia for 15 years. He later earned a PhD and worked as a university professor for six years. He has started three profitable companies in between.
So he particularly wants to help those with special learning challenges. Because so many of us now have these special challenges, they are no longer special. But they are challenges. He wants you to TEACH YOURSELF how to be successful.
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