Creative vs. technical minds: Today’s paradox?

by Brittany Roper on August 9, 2013


creative vs technical

I am particularly inspired to write a post on this topic this week.

Why? I’m in the midst of a job hunt.

What’s the correlation? Job hunting = stereotyping

Question: Have you ever been asked: “What do you do?” or “What did you study?” and felt like you were being personally judged for your so-called ‘career’ instead of for your true talents and interests? I have. 

Or, have you ever felt like you would be an even better fit in a different role/industry/lifestyle but thought it would be too hard to change or that it wasn’t ‘practical’? Yep, me too. 

Meet ‘little’ Brittany… BalletAge5

Yeah that’s me on the right. In my younger years, anyone who knew me would have definitely classified me as a ‘creative’.

I was good at Dance (or at least I thought I was)…





I was even ok at Geometry!


In summary, I had a knack for seeing beauty in things others overlooked and for solving problems creatively and spatially.

I was also not as good at the more ‘technical’ studies.

Chemistry? Ehh…


Math? What’s the point?


Engineering? Hahahahaha… no. funny-engineering-joke-tape

Now don’t get me wrong, I got decent grades. I just always felt like I had to work a little harder in these subjects than the average student.

Fast forward to my professional careerThe Office

A lot of my youthful creativity has been sucked out of me… and I miss it!

I’ll admit that part of this is change simply due to growing up. As we get older, our responsibilities and priorities change.

But part of this is also due to the current education system.

Caveat: My intention is not to smash the education system. I’m a MASSIVE fan of learning. I was one of those weird people who actually enjoyed getting my master’s degree and am still considering a PhD.


Let me explain…

My gripe is with the educational bias toward the technical fields. Especially among universities, art and creative studies are typically deemed less important, which then flows into the economy.

As a ‘non-technical’ person, I’m acutely aware of how I am perceived — especially in terms of my career. I’m sure there are also plenty of technical people out there who have a similar issue. They are ‘technical’ therefore they are not ‘creative’ in the common use of the term.

You’re either one or the other. There are very few careers that encourage both (architects come to mind, but it’s difficult to think of others). The majority of people tend to think that creative and technical minds cannot co-exist in an individual. Those who attempt to do both are often dismissed. Essentially, they are beautiful mythical creatures that live in a world of rainbows and fantasy. Unicorns. 


My point? There’s a lot that technical and creative minds can learn from one another. Currently, it’s much harder to outsource creativity to a computer than it is to find a creative person (although that’s not to say this won’t change). And as some of the more technical fields are being reduced to computers, greater rewards are being given to those who employ both creative and technical strategies to business and to everyday life.

It seems to me that the most extraordinary ideas are coming from people who pull from several fields and skill sets. Social entrepreneurs are definitely at the forefront of this – solving wicked problems that not only help the economy, but create a better, more sustainable world for us to live.


When most people think of great innovators they think of people like Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein. Well, duh. But who are the people we can learn from who exemplify leadership in innovation today?

The list is potentially endless. There are millions of people who are doing this every day without any sort of recognition… but here are a few people I’ve been reading about recently who I think are pretty great unicorns…

Rob Kalin, Etsy founder, painter, carpenter and high school drop-out


At the age of 25, the aspiring furniture designer went online to find a website to sell his hand-made pieces. After a few hours of searching, he quickly realized no such site existed. What did he do? He decided to build one! In June 2005, Etsy went live. Last year Etsy sold $895M worth of goods and is rumored to be considering an IPO. Check out this blog post that likens Rob to Steve Jobs.

Sid Meier - Hailed as the “father of video gaming”


Whether it was toy soldiers, railroads, or simple blocks, Sid Meier was definitely an imaginative child. He credits his youthful imagination as the main influence that caused him to become a game designer. Sid graduated with a degree in Computer Science before there were desktops in most homes and has been at the forefront of the gaming industry for decades. He has a knack for capturing the attention of millions of people in a world where they can play and be who they wish by using his programing skills to develop incredible games. He’s most recently known for his Civilization game series.

Salman Khan – Khan Academy founder, revolutionizing the education industry


Salman Khan is on a mission to provide world-class education to the masses. The kicker? It’s free! Salman certainly has a thing for education. He holds a BS in math, electrical engineering and computer science. He also has an MS in computer science from MIT and an MBA from Harvard. Phew! In late 2004, Khan began tutoring his cousin, Nadia, in math using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad. When other relatives and friends sought his tutoring, he decided it would be more practical and beneficial to distribute the tutorials on YouTube where he created an account on 16 November 2006. As of May this year, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube attracted 1,233,000 subscribers and the videos had been viewed over 283 million times.

Janine Benyus – Biologist, innovation consultant and author


Janine Benyus is a true all-rounder. In one of her (six) books, Biomimicry, she discusses an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes. Since the book’s release in 1997, Janine has evolved the practice of biomimicry, consulting with sustainable businesses and conducting seminars about what we can learn from the genius that surrounds us. She brings together biology and design by introducing innovators to organisms whose well-adapted designs have been tested over several billion years.

Nate Silver – Math genius and baseball fan


Ok, technically he’s a statistician, sabermetrician, psephologist and writer. Through his innovative analyses of political poling, Nate has become one today’s leading statisticians. Nate takes his readers through a modern prediction science, uncovering a surprising connection among humility, uncertainty and hard data. He has a knack for taking complex numbers and making them relevant to the masses.

Anna Heringer - Architect, proponent of sustainability


Anna Heringer is a true gem in the male-dominated architectural world. Anna studied architecture at the University of Arts and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria. She graduated in 2004, but her interest in Bangladesh began in 1997 when she spent a year volunteering there. After completing her university thesis titled “School: handmade in Bangladesh”, she began working on the project itself. The METI Handmade School project was carried out with assistance from members of the local communities. The school was completed in 2006 and now provides a place for more than 180 local students to get an education. Through this project and others like it, Anna has given local craftsmen and the local community confidence in their use of traditional building methods, preparing them for the future.

This list is obviously not even close to exhaustive, but serves as a reminder that some of the most innovative people in the world are those who employ both creative and technical skill sets. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to realign it (Anthony J. D’Angelo).


Not creative enough? Too ‘out there’ with your creative juices? Whether you’re more right-brained (creative) or left-brained (logical), there are things you can do to engage your brain’s other half. Here are some ideas that have worked for me to have a more balanced brain…

  1. Learn something new every day. You should never stop learning. Never, ever. EVER. Did I say never ever enough?
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of pen and paper (or in my case, Crayola and paper). Sometimes getting ideas out in the physical world is the best way for our brains to grasp them.
  3. Don’t limit yourself by trying to work in one direction. Don’t know where to start? Work backwards! Start with the product / service / goal you want and work backwards on how to get there. Your process does not have to be sequential.
  4. Connect with people who don’t think like you. This is a biggie. We tend to spend a lot of time with people who are similar to us. By expanding our social networks, we’ll get a broader perspective on life. Some of my most fascinating conversations have been with people who have totally different perspectives to me.


There are a bunch of brilliant people talking about these ideas…

  • Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on How schools kill creativity‘. TED Talks are infamous for discussing some of the most interesting, educational, inspiring and revolutionary ideas around the world… this one is especially brilliant.
  • Steven Johnson developed a book and accompanying video titled ‘Where good ideas come from‘, which won him the title of best business book 2010 by The Economist. Worth a look.
  • Can Computers Write Storylines and Create Music ? Uh oh – can creativity be programmed into computers? Check out this BBC piece.
  • Technical people can never be creative? WTF? This post is from the a technical point of view…
  • The Most Creative People in Tech – Thank you again, Business Insider.


Comments are closed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: