Technical people can never be creative…. WTF?

“What you need to learn is that being creative is not enough in this business. You have to become technical. Creative people are born creative – you’re lucky. Technical people however can never be creative. It’s something they’ll never get. You can’t buy it, find it, study it – you’re born with it. Too many creative people don’t want to learn how to be technical, so what happens? They become dependent on technical people. Become technical, you can learn that.
If you’re creative and technical, you’re unstoppable.”
– Robert Rodriguez (emphasis mine)

This quote was sent around work at precisely the wrong time.
The Tech team had been working for 16 hour days, and in some cases 30 hour days, for a total of three weeks without a break, scrambling hard to meet hard deadlines.
The entire tech team almost walked out.
[By this time we were too exhausted to move ;)]

This quote shows some very sloppy and arrogant thinking.
And from the director of Spy Kids no less.
[A little ad hominem to spice up my rant ;)]

It highlights common misperceptions about the craft of technologists.

Unfortunately the creativity involved in technology is obfuscated by it’s very nature!
Only a person who understands PERL can appreciate the creativity and beauty of a well written PERL script.
Only a person who understands software architecture can appreciate the creativity involved in an appropriately and effectively used design pattern.

Lack of knowledge and comprehension becomes a barrier to even seeing any of the creativity involved in technology, and thus people dismiss all acts of technologists as being intrinsically uncreative.
They liken technologists to unskilled blue-collar workers operating a stamping press.

Not being capable of seeing the creativity involved does not mean that it does not exist.

The blanket statement of “Technical people can never be creative” is just offensive nonsense.

The best technologists are intrinsically creative.
They are creators.
They create.
[They create damn good technology!]

The conflation of ability with knowledge espoused by the quote is another common fallacious bagatelle.
The idea that if it can be contained by a book that it is intrinsically learnable by all.

Although it is true that you can gain a good rudimentary understanding of a specific technology from books, to become really proficient and creative in its use is something that takes experience and skill and ability.

Being able to play chords on a guitar does not mean that you are able to compose a symphony.

As such my reply-all to the email was as follows;

“What you need to learn is that being technical is not enough in this business. You have to become creative. Technical people are born intelligent – you’re lucky. Creative people however can never be intelligent. It’s something they’ll never be. You can’t buy it, find it, study it – you’re born with it. Too many technical people don’t want to learn how to be creative, so what happens? They become dependent on creative people. Become creative, you can learn that.
If you’re technical and creative, you’re unstoppable.” (emphasis mine)

Full of it’s own arrogance and absurd assumptions I hope that it exposes the offensive arrogant BS in the original.

The only part of the quote that is not utter biased ignorant crap, the only part the colleague should have included, and also something that I truly subscribe to, is;
“If you’re creative and technical, you’re unstoppable.”

12 thoughts on “Technical people can never be creative…. WTF?”

  1. “The modern designer relies more and more on his position as an ‘artist’, on catchwords, personal idiom, and intuition – for all these relieve him of some of the burden of decision, and make his cognitive problems manageable. Driven on his own resources, unable to cope with the complicated information he is supposed to organize, he hides his incompetence in a frenzy of artistic individuality.” Christopher Alexander

    http://www.visualspec.org/introduction/introduction-the-analysts-attitude

  2. Hoe very nice to read! Indeed working on code or an architecture can be so creative and therefore inspiring. The only thing I still miss is that it’s not easy to be seen for a large number of people, therefore so little appreciated yet so important in our daily live. Still working on the visability ;-)

  3. People are inherently creative. Some occupations require more creativity than others, surely, just as some jobs are more technical that others. I think it’s patently obvious that we’re inherently creative and naturally inclined towards technical understanding of the world (we naturally use tools, after all, and even the simplest tool requires technical knowledge of some sort).

    Rodriguez strikes me as the worst kind of arrogant… er… feminine cleansing product?

  4. I have been reading the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.

    It confirms my suspicion that ability is not innate but learned.

    He shows repeatedly that it is a combination of opportunity and about 10,000 hours of effort that is the major differentiator of success and not something that we are born with.

    People who are amazingly artistically creative are so because they have learned to be creative by putting in tremendous effort and likewise those who are amazingly technically creative are so because they have learned to be creative by putting in tremendous effort.

    We all start out with essentially the same potential, but it is our desires that drive us towards a particular niche.

  5. Spy Kids? Well well obviously his words really hurt your feelings.

    A talented, creative musician can play music by ear, without even needing the notes, on the other hand the technical bookworm will not be able to do the same, he needs his step by step guide (even if it’s in his head).

    Creative people welcome problems, because they can adapt to the unpredictable, whereas technical people, when faced with a problem which they have had no previous experience meeting, no knowledge, they wont be able to produce the solution from their brain.

    Technicals follow a system, which can be learned – you can be a specialist at what you do but you’ve learnt the process and you’re whoopin’, congrats.

    Creativity IS something a person is born with, otherwise the world would just be a mess. I have nothing against suits, who else would fulfill the boring work =)

    So many technicals out there, with their success formulas, and that’s okay, but they will not be remembered. The creative will stand out, and their uniqueness will shine. Keep your faith starving brethren, the suits shall never be happy at heart as we are!

    1. What… the… fuck‽

      Did you even read my post Alex?

      Spy Kids? Well well obviously his words really hurt your feelings.

      I will assume that English is not your native language and that you did not notice my, perhaps a little too subtle, self-deprecation and irony that I put in a post clearly marked as a rant.

      And no, HIS words did not hurt me. But the timing of their dissemination through the company did!
      I was on a tech team during a crucial delivery, continually forced to ask the team to put in yet another late night, all because our work had been trivialised by mentalities such as your own, and not given the time needed for our work to be a success.
      [Imagine giving a "creative" 2 hours to write a concerto. That is what we faced.]

      This ridiculous belief that a Technologist can never be creative is a blatant lie.

      The internet, Facebook, Microsoft, linux, twitter, photoshop, all video and audio codecs and software, Apple, mobile phones, search engines, the internal combustion engine, mp3 players, aeroplanes, dynamite… the list goes on, but ALL of it was conceived of and developed by Technical people. Not creatives.

      A talented, creative musician can play music by ear, without even needing the notes, on the other hand the technical bookworm will not be able to do the same, he needs his step by step guide (even if it’s in his head).

      Creative people welcome problems, because they can adapt to the unpredictable, whereas technical people, when faced with a problem which they have had no previous experience meeting, no knowledge, they wont be able to produce the solution from their brain.

      While it may be true that it is hard, or next to impossible in most cases, to keep the entire API of an enterprise computing language in your head, or all of the allelel sequences in a gene, the ability to use such knowledge effectively is a very similar skill to the one that you are ascribing to creatives.

      I have “winged it”, or “coded by ear”, on multiple occasions coming up with innovative solutions to problems that I have not encountered before.
      In fact, in software development encountering unknown problems is commonplace.
      It could be considered a universal constant in the field.
      I became so renowned for this in my previous role, the one this post is about, that such inventive, immediate, creative solutions to particularly thorny problems became known as “Graney Hacks.
      I cannot imagine a technical life more boring and mundane than one in which such challenges do not actually exist.
      I, and every other technical person, relishes rising to the challenge of unknown problems and overcoming them with our skills and abilities.
      That is why we do it.

      Your analogy is invalid anyway.
      It could only work if a creative person could pick up and perfectly play an instrument that they have never seen or even heard before.
      And that is ludicrous.

      Technicals follow a system, which can be learned – you can be a specialist at what you do but you’ve learnt the process and you’re whoopin’, congrats.
      Creativity IS something a person is born with, otherwise the world would just be a mess. I have nothing against suits, who else would fulfill the boring work =)

      And music is not learnt? and what about painting? Writing?
      Creatives come straight from the womb carrying a Stradavarius, paintbrush or a typewriter?
      Could you not call a musician a “music specialist” or a painter an “art specialist” or an author a “writing specialist”?

      As I point out. You are NOT born with the innate ability to play the piano.
      You have to learn to play the piano.
      I will be convinced of your ridiculous argument if you presented any evidence in support of it other than hyperbole and rhetoric. But you can’t.

      And I feel sad that you are so blinded by hubris that you cannot see the beauty in technical innovation.

      So many technicals out there, with their success formulas, and that’s okay, but they will not be remembered. The creative will stand out, and their uniqueness will shine. Keep your faith starving brethren, the suits shall never be happy at heart as we are!

      um. Again with the suits?
      I have been in software development in various business sectors for nearly 17 years and one of the most consistent constants is that Technologists hate suits.
      Take a look at OSCON attendees for instance… how many suits?
      Are you perhaps confusing us with accountants or lawyers?

      And as for being forgotten relics of the futures past;
      There are many technologists who will never be forgotten.

  6. I think the issue here is semantics. You got “technical” and “technical”.

    I’ll step away from the obvious debate and take Bob Ross as an example.

    Bob Ross is very able to learn someone the TECHNIQUE of painting outdoor nature.
    A creative person would take these techniques and apply them to a whole range of different projects
    A ‘technical’ person would only be able to use said techniques to paint a gazillion mountain views, but would still never be able to use it to paint his/her kids or cat.

    In the above example the being a “technical” person tells us nothing about whether or not this person is technically savvy in the sense of coding, constructing or calling their parents with an iphone.

    Now, to come back to the original discussion: the person who posted that first remark is clearly a technical person in the sense that he knew how to cut and paste and post an email. He, or she, wasn’t creative enough to see that this message would, by the nature of the words used in it, offend the entire technical staff.

    Just like Alex technically wasn’t creative enough to read between the lines of your arti.. err.. rant.

    I think Robert Rodriguez meant to say that only learning the techniques of a certain trait will not help you in becoming anything else but mediocre in said field. Same as that a creative person won’t get really far without knowing the techniques of his chosen field.

    Take jQuery: there’s many people using it, creatively copy/pasting stuff they find on different webpages into their own projects. But it’s only those who know the deeper techniques behind JavaScript who can use it to it’s full potential..

    1. Mozart was not born creative. He worked hard to

    2. become
    3. creative, from the age of 3 putting in 10 hours daily.
      Sorry, but your ideology is bullshit and not reflected by reality.

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