Friday, May 1, 2009

The origins of creative innovation

Today David Brooks writes about "the modern view of genius," or rather his view of it, which is that creativity can derive from hard work and dedication rather than from an inherent gift.

The implications are frankly rather reassuring in a way: if you work hard, you will "get it." I doubt this is exactly what he meant, but it's a fair reading of the piece. To be sure, Brooks also writes about patience and delayed gratification, things that economists would call preferences, and perhaps what's really going on is that some people are naturally gifted with patience. But like a good social conservative, Brooks also points out the roles of parents in fostering the hard work.

It would be a mistake to argue that because inherent gifts are so important, we shouldn't care about interventions that increase hard work and patience. But I find this "modern view" unconvincing. There are many routes to creative productivity, and not all of them are 99% perspiration. The work of David Galenson and others in identifying different creative processes of great artists and thinkers is instructive here.