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What Gets To Be Called New: How We Overvalue Time


This is how Wikipedia defines creativity.

“Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has some kind of value. What counts as “new” may be in reference to the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs. What counts as “valuable” is similarly defined in a variety of ways.”

Anything new. I think that’s a better definition. Anything new in the eye of anyone. The eyes of the creator or user. Doesn’t matter.

When you work in a field like ours, you could spend two years working on a problem and still suck at it. You naturally tend to respect hard work. Real problem solving. These are concepts that we have to live by, otherwise we go nuts. So when a tool seems to provide a shortcut to that, we naturally are skeptical and question its value.

What I’ve noticed in my own thinking and the people around me is that we assume there is a positive correlation between the degree of effort and the degree of creativity in the output of someone’s work. I’m not talking about simplicity. I’m talking about the degree of work it takes to create something new. Not the simplicity of the output. Just it’s differentiation from other things (newness).

When we were deciding what to launch Breezi’s beta version with, we really asked ourselves if people would be ok with starting with a blank slate. If the users would be fine with doing the hard work of creating something totally new that looked good. We didn’t have our themes functionality done yet so it was a difficult call. We decided to launch with wireframes which were mimicking the design process. We are launching themes soon but that’s besides the point.

Let’s pause for a quick second and define something “new” into two parts. Other people’s ideas + yours. And let’s say that we’re trying to define how “creative” someone really is during a particular creation task. Person A takes 95% of other people’s ideas and 5% his. Person B takes 20% of other people’s ideas and 80% his (let’s just say that is possible for a sec). Who do you think is more creative?

I’d argue that a person that even has a 0.01% contribution of his own ideas and 99.99% of other people’s is just as creative as the others.

The question is WHAT is that 0.01% and is that something that matters in the eyes of the creator.

That can be a word, a photo, an atom, a different angle, a slightly different temperature or another title for the same book. It really doesn’t matter.

What we have to note is that the mix has absolutely nothing to do with the newness of the outcome. The outcome is something new. It doesn’t represent the sum of its parts. Everything in nature obeys this same logic.

As product developers, we’re just enablers. Enabling anything at all. Even the smallest input from the user. If 0.01% is all you want or can contribute and that could make you feel creative, then it’s our obligation to figure out how to make technology that can accept that.

The user of an application that speeds up the creativity process doesn’t care about how much effort it took to create something new. As long as it’s something new they feel creative. That’s the most valid definition there is for the word. It’s the feeling of creating something new in your own eyes.

If you look at a creativity from a product development lens, you usually have 4 parts.

Input, effort, technology, output. Input is the user contribution. Effort is how much work it takes to give the right input. We should be able to accept .01% for that. Technology obeys the minimum user input and works around that. Output should make the user feel as though she created something new.

Example in case of Instagram… Photo is the input. Effort is how much sweat it takes to take the photo and pick a filter. Technology is the app and service. Output is the final photo with the filter you chose.

What’s interesting is that if you look at the mix from a technology perspective, the input is the .01%. If you look at it from the output perspective, it’s 100%.