Why You Should Care About Creativity

Photo by Luca Upper @ Unsplash

I have been in the software industry for ten years with 2–2000 colleagues. With responsibilities ranging from software design to project management.

I’ve found there’s a tool that’s often overlooked in this industry. It’s useful to both creators and managers, from the smallest business to the largest. That tool is creativity. It has a positive connotation, and yet it remains underused for its usefulness. A pity, because it’s only due to a lack of knowledge. Many people don’t know why creativity is important and how to harness it.

I want to shed some light from my own perspective, and I’ll start by answering the question…

What is creativity?

Creativity for me means creating something new and meaningful. For example, when I write code, I create something new. And it’s meaningful because it leads towards a solution.

Code would also be new if I banged on the keyboard: “ahfdspudhfösadjhfpsi”, but that’s not creative because that doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, I could copy the solution “as is” for deployment. Then I would move towards the solution, but I don’t create a new one. I just use what I have created before. The idea of creativity is that I create something new and meaningful.

Creativity is not 1 or 0. That is, you either have it or you don’t. It’s a scale of 0–1→. So there can’t be 0 creativity, that there is no creativity at all. Or 1 creativity that there can’t be more of it. So it’s a scale.

Then what is the difference between 0.1 creativity and 0.9 creativity? It’s the ease of the creative process? If you’re used to copying from others, creating new alternatives can be tricky. It’s always been done this way, how can you do it any other way? And what’s the point when you already have a solution? For a more creative person, imagining alternatives can be as easy as breathing. This could be done this way, or this way, or this way…

So if I’m creative, I’m creating something new and meaningful. Depending on my level of creativity, it’s easier or harder for me. That’s a good enough grip on the slippery term. Creativity reveals itself in practice by the following question:

How is creativity reflected in software development?

If a solution to a problem already exists, it is worth copying “as is”. Why reinvent the wheel if you’ve already found a workable solution? It has already been thought through and may involve assumptions or possibilities that you may not have thought of. Of course, you have to use critical thinking and make sure that the code in question fits the situation.

When I don’t reuse existing code, I create a new one, a unique solution that has never been created before. It’s inspiring!

There are many kinds of creativity in software development. To a large extent, it’s about finding the best solution to an issue in a context-sensitive way. In coding, for example, there are constant choices. What is the most descriptive variable name and the most appropriate type? Where do I draw class boundaries, and how do I design interfaces?

More traditional creativity is represented by interface design, for example. It’s about solving a problem, such as how to present information in the most readable way possible. While at the same time making the solution look attractive. Other examples of traditional creativity include designing the layout of a website. Another would be writing emails and documentation.

When starting a new software development project, designing a solution from scratch is very creative. Designers are quite free to choose which tools to use, which architecture, which build process and so on.

But, if you are maintaining or developing an existing project, its solutions impose constraints on your work. Working with those constraints requires creativity. For example, how to solve a particular problem within an existing solution? How do you solve it by extending the existing architecture?

Thus, creativity is useful in software development. Why should creativity be at a high level? In other words…

Why is creativity important?

Creativity is critical in problem-solving, which is a key feature of software development. The solver creates different answer options and then selects the most appropriate one. The more creative the process, the more varied the options and the more appropriate the solution, given the context and constraints.

On a personal level, the more creative the person, the better the decisions. For example, career choices. Let’s say I’m a café worker. The job is fun, but the pay is poor and making specialty coffees is not satisfying. By using my creativity, I can weigh up several career options and end up, say, as a software developer.

At the organizational level, creativity is essential to find more appropriate solutions. The most appropriate solution requires the least amount of time and money. Customers are happier when they get the solution they need. They don’t have to pay for what is unnecessary or inefficient.

It’s useful to think of creativity in reverse. At a low level of creativity:

  • You can’t innovate. Innovation is commoditized creativity, so a low-creativity organization has to imitate others. A creative organization can innovate by itself.
  • You don’t see all the options. You have to resort to traditional solutions that are neither cost-effective nor flexible. Fitting a square into a triangular opening increases the cost of development. Creative developers are able to create tailor-made solutions.
  • It’s hard for you to solve complex problems. They cannot be solved with a 5-minute YouTube video or a quick internet search. So you have to limit the problems to simple ones that don’t make as much money.
  • You don’t spot niches in product development. It’s hard to identify the need for which a product can be created.
  • You don’t know how to respond to crises or unexpected bugs. When faced with them, you have to be able to imagine different angles from which to look for a way out and a solution.
  • You cannot develop ideas further. The product is developed purely as it is defined. No thought is given to how it could be improved or in which direction it could be developed further. Creative developers see areas for improvement and options for further development.

In a nutshell: creativity saves money and delights customers and yourself. A lack of creativity leads to lost opportunities and revenue. It also makes your organization vulnerable by forcing you to follow and copy the market leaders. To avoid the disadvantages and reap the benefits, we need to ask:

How do you promote your own and/or others’ creativity?

In software development, knowledge and experience is the biggest contributor to creativity. You have to know what kind of architecture should be used? What programming language or database, and so on. The choice between different options is based on knowledge.

As we evolve, continuous learning sustains creativity. You should keep abreast of ways to solve new problems. I’m not saying that you have to constantly keep up with the times and use the latest tools all the time. On the contrary, often the best tool is the boring and old-fashioned one. But using it in new situations and for new issues requires knowledge and experience.

Organizations should invest in developing people’s knowledge and skills. Invest also in storing information in a centralized and consistent way. Give employees time and opportunities to train and self-learn what suits them best. Some people prefer to learn in a guided way. Others prefer to learn independently according to their schedule and life situation.

The other side of the coin, the retention of knowledge, is equally important. Knowledge should be transferred from the brains of the experts to a form where others can learn from it. This means documentation. It should be stored in one place whereas many people as possible can access it. Attention must also be paid to the discoverability of information. It should be uniformly stored, and search engines should work well. In a large organization, when you start systematically storing information from experts, you can run into trouble. That information starts to accumulate to the point where it is of no use others can’t find it reasonably. This is where consistency and systematic approach help. Also, experts’ writing skills become very valuable here. That’s because clearly recorded information is more easily retained than unclear information.

Creativity happens the best together. You get new ideas from other people and also receive feedback on your own ideas. For me, this is a usual conversation flow:

Waltteri: Hi. Hey, this task, I thought of doing it this way, what do you think?

Colleague: Oh, okay. You can do it like this, yeah. It’s good for this and that. But have you thought about whether you should do it like this? Then this and this would happen.

W: Ah, good point, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I’ll look into it and see what I can come up with.

….

W: Hey, it worked pretty well that way. I ended up doing it this way because it did this and this. Thanks for the thoughts!

When you talk to others, you get (at best constructive) feedback on your own ideas. Plus new ideas. The same effect you have on the person you are talking to. So this develops the thinking of both, assuming a receptive interlocutor. Effective communication also increases motivation, which also helps creativity.

Organizations should make it easier to find the right person. Help information sharing and scheduling time between developers. Allow collaboration and networking with colleagues outside the project teams. Collaboration outside the organization is also rewarding. In-house experts can challenge their thinking with the competitor’s experts or developer communities. This benefits not only the experts themselves, but also the organization and the wider community.

Creativity requires experimentation. When you try something, you often fail. There is no experimentation without failure. Failures should be allowed for oneself and for others. The easiest way to do this is to start small. From every failure, you learn at least what not to do and how. At best, there is no limit to what you can try. So small risks, big opportunities. Allow risk-taking without fear of failure. Tolerate the fact that a small amount of resources is constantly spent on experiments that may come to nothing. But sometimes they can pay back the whole culture of experimentation a hundredfold. Nassim Taleb’s 90/10 strategy is a good tool for thinking about exposure to high profit opportunities: invest 90% in safe business and 10% in the riskiest possible. The worst that can happen is that you lose that 10%. But at best you can get a 1000% return.

The conditions for creativity must be put in place. The environment must be

  • safe, where failure is not judged and where you can step out of your comfort zone
  • flexible, because it reduces stress and increases time for creative work. Creative work is sometimes done “sight-unseen”, outside the workplace and time. Often things are thought through at home, in the shower, at bedtime or on the way to work. Creative thinking cannot and should not be confined to working time. It requires flexibility to not focus solely on traditional time tracking.
  • interactive, where communication with others works. All kinds of discussion and brainstorming foster creativity.
  • conducive to concentration. Some people don’t mind background noise, some need silence. Designing office spaces to encourage the flow of information but reduce interruptions.

Continue on this path

Creativity produces delightful solutions, its absence lost opportunities.

Creativity is in all people and in all activities. Instead of being a mirage, it has real benefits. And best of all, it can be increased, both in your own life and in your organization.

Make more use of creativity in your life. Think about what is most important to succeed at and how you can add creativity to that process. Is it possible to gather more information on this? Can you brainstorm with others or perhaps try something new? Are the conditions conducive to creativity? Try these tricks, you might be surprised.

Löydät tämän artikkelin suomeksi täältä: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/koodarin-luovuus-waltteri-turunen/

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store