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Creative Thinking and Disruptive Innovation

Do we need to invest exceptional levels of time and attention in becoming experts before we can make significant creative contributions?

One of the key ideas of author Malcolm Gladwell is that “outliers” on the upper end of intelligence, ability and achievement have engaged in about 10,000 concentrated hours of practice and study in a specific knowledge area.

From my post Outliers and developing exceptional abilities.

Malcolm Gladwell is author of Outliers: The Story of Success.

But a new article by entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain, the founder of World Innovation Institute (among other credits) writes that while this may be “an interesting thesis” and perhaps true earlier, it may not apply “in today’s world of growing exponential technologies.”

Jain thinks that “people who will come up with creative solutions to solve the world’s biggest problems — ecological devastation, global warming, the global debt crisis and distribution of dwindling natural resources, to name a few — will NOT be experts in their fields.

“The real disruptors will be those individuals who are not steeped in one industry of choice, with those coveted 10,000 hours of experience, but instead, individuals who approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities.”

The photo is of one of the people Jain identifies as a disruptor: Elon Musk, the entrepreneur and inventor known for co-founding SpaceX, Tesla Motors and Paypal.

Jain adds that “there will always be a need for experts, who will continue to drive steady incremental advancements in fields such as biotechnology, environmental sciences, or information technology.

“But I believe that the best ideas come from those not immersed in the details of a particular field.  Experts, far too often, engage in a kind of myopic thinking. Those who are down in the weeds are likely to miss the big picture.  To my mind, an expert is in danger of becoming a robot, toiling ceaselessly toward a goal but not always seeing how to connect the dots.”

Pattern recognition

Jain points out that our neo-cortex is “designed to recognize patterns and draw conclusions from them. Experts are able to identify such patterns related to a specific problem relevant to their area of knowledge.

“But because non-experts lack that base of knowledge, they are forced to rely more on their brain’s ability for abstraction, rather than specificity. This abstraction—the ability to take away or remove characteristics from something in order to reduce it to a set of essential characteristics—is what presents an opportunity for creative solutions.”

From article Rethinking the Concept of “Outliers”: Why Non-Experts are Better at Disruptive Innovation, By Naveen Jain, Forbes mag.

Other factors

Carol S. Dweck, PhD, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, thinks other factors in addition to – or even aside from – expertise are important, and has written that “great, creative contributions are the product of passion, learning, and persistence.

“More researchers are regarding motivation as the key ingredient for exceptional achievement.”

From my post Carol Dweck on developing creative talent.

Photo from Guardian [UK] article: “Tesla’s Elon Musk: the democratisation of electric cars is speeding up.”


Creative Thinking and Disruptive Innovation

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Creative Thinking and Disruptive Innovation. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Jul 2012
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