Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
Unfortunately, what Steve Jobs said is so true. There is way too much order to the way solutions are created. And something that is ordered just repeats itself. Innovation requires disorder. Something that doesn’t repeat itself. Something creative. Steve Jobs’ criticism of how we neglect diversity in the workforce’s experiences makes sense. If you work in the software industry, how many of your colleagues are physicists? How many of them are mathematicians? Probably that one colleague who is frowned upon for not having “relevant education”. Or maybe none.
This was not usually the case before the 1990s — when I looked at some Bachelor degree statistics, one observation is that while every other field is having a negative growth year on year in terms of the percentage of students in each degree, engineering-related degrees have consistently had positive growth since 1970 to 2010. When I was talking to a friend the other day about this, he asked:
“Why would you choose a different field of education when there’s exactly what you want to become an engineer?”
I think by doing that, it helps achieve expertise in the field but not necessarily creativity. Expertise is required but not the major factor that influences creativity. Most creative people are usually not the best in their fields. That might make sense because our definition of the best most often doesn’t give creativity its desired importance.
On the bright side, I think a lot of people are starting to realize this. I’ve seen some amazing software engineers who moved from fields like marketing, business, arts, etc. If you are looking to get started in software engineering, there is a wide variety of options ranging from dev boot camps to online crash courses. Beyond basics, I think it is up to the developer to achieve expertise. This also means soon, I might be sitting next to a ceramics artist coding a machine learning model to build a hedging strategy for my company. I’m very confident this helps connect more dots and be more creative.