More creative, less wise?

“Why didn't I think of that?”

That question is asked but never answered several times during most lifetimes when people see a brilliant new idea that should have been obvious, but wasn't.

So let's answer it: why didn't you think of those brilliant ideas? Probably because you're too wise. What manifests as wisdom is founded on filtering. Brains are inherently brimming with ideas but only a small fraction of them see the light of day by entering our conscious minds.

Most individuals automatically and subconsciously reject anything that isn't inside the box. Throughout our lives, we're fed a playbook of what's acceptable and what isn't. Most of us swallow those restrictions hook, line, and sinker. Result? We fit in better, but stand out less often.

We pay a price for that, individually and collectively. Most of us wear our fingers to the bone by slaving away at jobs that engulf our lives when we could stay at home doing whatever we feel like doing and generating occasional great ideas that support us and help others lead better lives. But we don't, because our filters can't separate the wheat from the chaff, so they throw the baby out with the bathwater.

All that filtering gives you less to worry about when prospective employers scrutinize your Facebook postings and other aspects of your personal lives (as if they're really any better than you), yet it also erases the big ideas that corporations hungry for profits and market domination would eagerly accept even from people who aren't perfect angels 24/7/365.

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”
— Abraham Lincoln

“Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.”
Nikola Tesla (source)

“In heaven all the interesting people are missing.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man—that is, virtuous in the YMCA sense—has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.”
H. L. Mencken
(some interesting science suggests why that is true)

Lincoln, Nietzsche, and Mencken knew that folks polished to perfection lose their rough edges but also their luster. Put any productive genius under a microscope and you'll find odd quirks that escaped filtering. Einstein was something of a sex maniac, as were some other notable Nobel Prize winners. People who don't raise eyebrows in church generally don't do anything great. There's a reason for that. The juice of genius can also make men more likely to act like men, not angels.

Steve Jobs is virtually synonymous with creativity but wisdom and fitting in were not his strengths. Bill Gates called him “fundamentally odd” and “weirdly flawed” as a person, and his lack of wisdom may have ultimately cost him his life by delaying proper medical treatment. Had he lived, he might have spent years in prison after reportedly being the ringleader of a conspiracy to screw 100,000 tech workers out of billions of dollars.

I'd laugh if anyone called me wise, but even I see the long-term wisdom of fair wages and doing the right thing just because it is the right thing to do, such as when I paid a programmer in India twice as much as my contractual obligation at a time I desperately needed the money for myself.

As the world becomes an increasingly controlled place where people now routinely filter themselves, consciously censoring anything that isn't 100% PC and corporate approved, we find ourselves hungering for great ideas to give us better lives, fatter paychecks, and enhanced job security. We're slitting our throats—for what?

Our quest to become perfect social and corporate clones is based on self-delusion; we're no better than our ancestors were—we're just better at hiding our flaws, having embraced filtering as wholly positive without considering how that control is screwing you and your children out of better lives. You could have them, and be no worse than you are now, once we see the inimical effects of filtering and how its apparent advantages are just illusions.

Just as drugs have side effects, control and filtering do, too. One might excuse their imposition by saying that society needs only a handful of people with great ideas to drive it forward, but one never knows where the next big breakthrough will come from.

Less filtering permits more ideas to bubble to the surface along with some foolish zingers we can consciously discard and overlook as part of being human and part of the creative license to think freely.

The upside to big ideas is so enormous—potentially helping billions of people—that wise people excuse the zingers that escape filtering as a small price to pay to reap the rewards of the breakthroughs. That's why I intentionally do things that boost creativity but temporarily inhibit filtering. It's a tradeoff, but one well worth it. I already have proof, and when you see it, use it, and benefit from it, you'll agree, too.


  1. Filters that reduce ‘brain clutter’ identified
  2. Why George Lucas, Eric Schmidt, (and yes, Steve Jobs) Should Go to Jail: Conspiring to Reduce Wages of 100,000 Tech Pros
    Comment: From what I've heard, the book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap makes the case that (a) petty criminals go to jail while those who steal billions either get off scot-free or pay trivial fines (b)fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world’s wealth.
  3. Steve Jobs's brutal response to finding out he just got a Google employee fired
    Excerpt: “The prosecutors in this case are alleging that seven tech giants [engaged in a conspiracy to suppress] wages amongst their workforces and letting each company dominate their given sector of the market.” (emphasis added)
    Comment: I heard that appliance manufacturers have a similar agreement to not rock the boat with innovations that would give a decided advantage to one company even though that would ultimately be best for consumers and the economy, which depends on progress, not backroom deals by the old boys' club and mutual back-scratching.
    While I'm not alleging that wage-fixing didn't occur, some of their lofty salaries suggest its impact may not have been as great or at least as prevalent as was reported; companies are bound to compete for truly exceptional individuals.
  4. To kickstart creativity, offer money, not plaudits, study finds
The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

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