William Liao

September 12, 2021

The nemesis of creativity

When Indiana University’s (IU) Kelley School of Business built their online MBA program, they actively avoided comparing themselves to other programs.

In the eyes of the program development team, comparison would threaten their ability to produce something truly innovative. 

The challenge with making comparisons is that it often brings you to a point that is difficult to return from:

It isn’t easy to unobserve how something stacks up against another thing. And in many cases the knowledge of how things compare inadvertently anchors your sense of what’s possible — it narrows the playing field and ever so subtly discourages playing out of bounds (where innovation happens). 

IU avoided all that and ended up creating one of the most prestigious online MBA programs in the country.

This is an anecdote of course, not a research paper, so take it for what you will.

Maybe there’s no causation at all.

However, it is at least worth considering how what we choose to pay attention to either promotes or inhibits the creative process. 

Competitive analyses, best practices, and frameworks can be tremendously helpful — we should still pursue them. 

But what if there’s a separate class of amazing ideas to be extracted when our product teams start with a blank canvas and for a period of time just focus on exploring the question: “wouldn’t it be impactful if…?”