Creativity Element 3: Domain Competence

2 minute read
Creativity Fourteen is a series of articles that explores the value of creativity for individuals and teams, starting from the fundamental principles.
Read the whole series.

Even if we praise some forms of naïve creativity for people new in a field, it’s essentially a given that individuals need competence on the subject they are applying the creative process to.

Still, there are some aspects of the domain-specific knowledge that are directly related to the creative process.

If we are well trained and experienced in the creative process we might easily find creative solutions even when we are at the beginning of our journey in learning a new discipline. Yet, the finding, while creative for the individual, might be already a given in that field: the result is therefore not generally considered creative.

It’s important however to make this distinction, as it highlights again the importance of context in the creative process.

An expert in a field will see from time to time other people talking about their own “new thing” note realizing that “thing” is actually something that already exists in the field as a whole. I’m making this example specifically to highlight how important it is — if we witness this specific situation — to keep a positive attitude towards the author. Comments like “that’s worthless, it has been done before” aren’t just annoying, they demonstrate ignorance in how knowledge is fostered and propagated, and how creativity works. The right thing to do in these case is to help people connect, and elevate that finding further, together.

“The painter who entertains no doubt of his own ability, will attain very little. When the work succeeds beyond the judgement, the artist acquires nothing; but when the judgement is superior to the work, he never ceases improving.”
— Leonardo Da Vinci

Since novelty is one of the criteria for creativity, domain knowledge becomes essential: it provides the ability to identify the gaps of the discipline. Once the gaps are clear the creative process can be applied to expand the discipline and find something novel.

Competence in the domain is also important in terms of tools of the trade. Creativity can express itself at its best when the learning process has assimilated the tools and made them transparent, so that the individual can work unhindered on the next level of the craft instead of being slowed down by the tool.

Think about this as something similar to learning how to drive: for many hours we focused on all the technicalities of the car itself, but then at some point the car operations became transparent, and we were able to focus on the driving itself, which for many people becomes pleasure.

This is why it’s important to have proper tools for the job, why tools keep improving over and over, and why individuals customize their tools for their own use: it allows for greater creativity.