Are Creative Products the Result of Randomness?


How do you become a good cartographer? This is the question I was ruminating on yesterday. If you really think about it long enough it’s amazing how far this one question takes you into psychology, philosophy, and the science of teaching. The easy answer, and the one that I’m known to espouse, is that it takes (1) study and (2) practice.

But what needs more attention is the pathway to get from study and practice to true creative success. For one thing, you can’t simply copy what you study in order to be a good cartographer. Indeed, the map products you create have to be yours–original. I’m guilty of being rather flippant in one of the books, where I simply say that through lots of studying and practice you’ll eventually get to a point where the particularities of your data and study area and audience will all contribute to the uniqueness of the product.

It’s not that that’s not true. But we still have a serious issue of how you get from study/practice to original and noteworthy cartographic design.

Random. I feel that randomness has a lot to do with it. Some ingenious efforts are a result of randomness. The practitioner who makes a creative breakthrough somehow has enough sense to duplicate the result of that random design breakthrough and publicize it. This is how new techniques come into being and its also how new “good” cartographers are made.

Now, the implication of this conclusion is decidedly painful. It implies that every great creative achievement through time is essentially the result of one or more people, who have had the requisite study and practice, randomly discovering something new. So why bother trying? The key here is that you can’t randomly come up with something creative without that experience and study. That’s where the trying comes in. Then, if you hit yourself regularly with a healthy dose of idleness in order to foster those random synapse connections, the creative successes will¬†might come. I still think its a rather depressing idea. Let me know what you think.

The main inspiration for writing about all this was actually an opposing idea: does a lack of ability to notice detail mean that you can’t be a good designer? If you are someone who never remembers where the car keys are, a big picture kind of person, what chance have you?

  1. #1 by Psloane on November 15, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    As a big-picture guy I know that to do any kind of creative work that’s not awful I have to work harder at it than someone whos always noticing how things are done in design. I had to make a small ad recently, and only had one day to do it. That’s probably plenty of time to make an ad for most people but it was amazing to me how hard it was. I never really paid attention to what those look like before so it was like taking a senior writing class and never having written an essay before.

  2. #2 by G.P. on November 17, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    Exactly! –G

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