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NY Times: Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike

This NY Times article helps explain why it's so hard to think outside of the box...the box that you created!

As our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off. Why? Because the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience.

This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

It’s why engineers design products ultimately useful only to other engineers. It’s why managers have trouble convincing the rank and file to adopt new processes. And it’s why the advertising world struggles to convey commercial messages to consumers.

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Dabitch's picture

I swear that I've read this before. Or its my box talking.

Silly me, I have read it before. Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Allan1's picture

There are some people who [can/have been able to] retain the plasticity often associated with a growing child's brain.

These people can continue to think 'outside the box', because, no matter how many things they learn, they aren't solidifying 'the box' around them. (Note that children learn at a rate about 20-40 times* that of adults - both in speed, and in amount of information they cram into their brains. Theoretical physicists [like Einstein, or Hawking] usually drop off in productivity after age 27)**.

Even though they are experts in their field, they don't feel like they are, and constantly question themselves.

Retaining a sense of child-like wonder, or playfulness, childish-ness is what is needed for maintaining creativity into one's later years...


"Remember, no matter where you go... There you are." (Buckaroo Banzai).

"Hey, barkeep, 2 Rock Over Hip-Hops and 1 Bach Over Vivaldi with ice."

* => I don't have the studies in front of me, so I'm remembering and estimating these figures. (If I'm wrong, chalk it up to old-age!).

** => Hawking apparently retains his productivity. However, even though Einstein was playful and creative throughout his life, his search for a Unified Theory of Everything (TOE) was unsuccessful after nearly 30 years of trying. Of course, one may argue that since nobody else has been able to find a working TOE in the 54 years (soon) since Einstein's death, that maybe his productivity hadn't waned, just that the theory is so damned hard to find/create...