Creativity by numbers

Creativity killed by numbers?

Do you subscribe to a technical or professional e-zine?  If you do, like most people who are engaged in some of online occupation, you wouldn’t have failed to notice that these days you are almost obliged to do things by numbers.  Puzzled?  Well, just access your page for instance, or a similar news aggregator, and you will see what I mean.

In my latest foray in these information channels today I counted about 40% of all the featured articles as starting with a numeral, like ‘Seven ways of optimising your content (I am making it up, the article in question actually stated nine…)’, ‘Ten ways to impress your partner’, ‘Three exclusive tips to ensure your profile is visible on LinkedIn’… you’ll get my drift.

Chopping onions

I know that you and I and all those a little longer in the tooth like me, will appreciate that this is just a bit of sensationalism, a way of attracting readers’ attention, but there is an inherent and subtle danger in such elementary approach.  The thing is that in life you can’t even realistically list seemingly simple steps like those enumerated in a recipe.  Confused?  Well, take a banal action like chopping an onion.  It would be listed as a single step in most recipe books, but you and I know that in real life this is rubbish.  You don’t just ‘chop an onion’, you search for it first, then you try to locate the chopping board, which is never in its place but has temporarily migrated inside the dishwasher and therefore needs cleaning, grab a suitably sharp knife, scrimmage around in the veggies basked for the only onion left and which has started germinating, peel it and look for the nearest box of tissues to wipe copious tears off your eyes, etc. – hardly a single step…!

In moderation a step by step approach is fine of course (and recipe books are the ideal example), but we are truly exaggerating now when it comes to professional activities and this may be to the detriment of experimentation and creativity.  The point is that there is hardly ever an instance where your specific business needs will be addressed by a single 1-2-3 approach.  There are at best milestones, but quite often you will need to add a variety of other paces in between and the more creative the task the least concerned about form filling and steps you’ll be.

Too many lists stifle creativity

So a step by step approach is particularly inappropriate and obnoxious when it comes to original thinking.  Do you think that Michelangelo was painting by numbers when he created the Sistine Chapel, or that he opened a manual and followed the ‘twelve steps to

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

paint an awkward ceiling’? Of course not.  Like all artists, architects and sculptors he was instinctively aware of the necessary milestones, but he used his limitless human inspiration to achieve that masterpiece, untrammelled by unnecessary and artificial impositions.

If by now you have lost the thread it’s probably because I am not setting myself artificial boundaries in making my point.  All I wanted to say, in simple terms,  is that a stepped approach may be practical, but too much of it, like too much of all good things, may stifle creativity and may give you a false sense of security too.

But if your mind only works in steps and want to know 7 things you didn’t know about the Sistine chapel just click here

Now enjoy the summer, in three easy steps:

a) stop browsing the Internet reading inconsequential blogs like this

b) get outdoors

c) lie down in the sun


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