Training and Development

The Geeks vs. Creativity?

The image of a geek is tricky. On the one hand, research keeps highlighting that most kids are put off careers in tech because of its shockingly geeky image. Whilst on the other hand, a recent Modis “Geek Pride” survey of 1,011 general Americans revealed 87% were proud to display their inner nerd.

The problem, of course, is none of this research is massively scientific. And even the term “geek” is pretty open to debate. A geek can be a clumsy individual in glasses, with no social skills. It can suggest a general fondness for gadgets. Or it can give a label for anyone who is a passionate advocate of their own interests.

Based on the last description, Talent Culture sees “geekery” as a good thing: “No matter what your interests may be, if you’re a geek, you tend to be creative and experimental. Since you don’t learn via traditional methods or work via traditional processes, you tend to find ways to teach yourself.”

Maybe it all comes down to creativity then? "The popular myth of the technology industry being inhabited by hyper-analytical geeks and badly dressed nerds is probably partially why the notion of technology being 'non-creative' has persisted,” offers Stephen Bedford, CEO of Cognisec.

Tech entrepreneur, Anthony Rushton, of digital media forensics firm, Telemetry believes all this poor stereotyping comes down to “office Christmas parties, shows like the IT Crowd and a fear of the unknown.”

“I would imagine that the first structural engineers to exist were deemed a little ‘eccentric’ and ‘withdrawn’ until wider society realised that without them they would not be able to cross rivers or enjoy the views from a skyscraper,” he adds. “Tech engineers are the modern day structural engineers, on which lies the bedrock of application lead creativity.”

Dr Guy Bunker, SVP Products at Clearswift suggests some context: “Tech people are not good at self-promotion, hiding their light under a bushel, and leaving the glory to others who are more than happy to bask in the limelight. But behind the scenes, it is the techie that has had the creative idea, put it into practice, handed it over to someone else to sell – and gone back to being quietly creative behind the scenes.”

“I think that tech has this [uncreative] reputation because there is a lack of knowledge of what is actually involved and what opportunities there are,” says Arndt Hensgens, chief engineer at Harman.  “Just look how Apple’s user interface revolutionised the way we use portable devices. That demonstrates the importance of creativity and the power of change it can have.”

Apple is, of course, always cited as the “perfect example of a company that defies this myth of tech as non-creative in both its software and hardware design,” says Cognisec’s, Bedford. “It was the creative-thinking of the late Steve Jobs, along with that of his team that stimulated consumer demand for products and services they previously had no idea they needed.”

“Creativity is a desirable attribute in any field and tech is certainly no different,” he adds. “It is what separates the competent from the exceptional. In tech, it is what separates the product that simply does the job, from one that anticipates user behaviour by incorporating an intuitive user experience.”

This can manifest itself in a number of ways. “Our team features a combination of retail and technology expertise,” says Alan Morris, Executive Chairman of Retail Assist, “meaning that the technical people think in the same creative way as a retailer, and conversely IT innovation developed creatively to respond to customer trends is always rooted from sound technical understanding.”

“As I see and practice tech, it is pure creation, craft, and art,” says Dana Paxson who has spent a half century in IT and the last two decades building an immersive online universe for his science fiction stories.  

“Geekiness and creativity have always seemed to me the most intimate of siblings,” he adds. “I come from a family of artists; I happen to be the techie among them, all through my long life. We're all creative geeks. We're great with the media we use and live in; we have to work much harder dealing with people who are not like us. That's true for me whether we're tech-savvy or not - one of my sisters is a true Luddite when it comes to tech.”

He feels “tech's reputation among non-techie people as non-creative might come from the amazing ways tech has simply infiltrated everyone's life almost invisibly. We take it for granted. We never examine it. A movie like Gravity, a technical tour-de-force, has everyone so interested in the survival of its characters that the immense world of technologies and wizards that created it goes almost unnoticed.”

“That makes the technology inaccessible, incomprehensible, and dismissable as the province of those hidden geeks who operate it”, he continues. “Is it creative? [Yes] of course it is!” But do most ordinary viewers seeing the film spend time piecing apart the way in which the film shows space debris colliding with a satellite? I don't think they do.”

Yet most people do agree that technological advances have made society itself more creative. As Greg Satell wrote for Forbes recently: “Probably the strongest sign that technology enhances creativity is that, as Richard Florida argues in The Rise Of The Creative Class, creativity is becoming an intrinsic part of working life.  The man in the grey flannel suit has been replaced by the hipster with spiky hair and tattoos.”

This is because tech automates processes, frees up people’s time and provides them with the tools to be more creative in their everyday lives and jobs.

However, Rushton of Telemetry is keen to stress that tech itself is even more creative “than the end result that is placed atop of it. [This is due to the fact that] it's a deeper process because the tech has to encompass many objective outcomes and usages as opposed to a singular, subjective use by a solo artist or creator. Facebook not possible without the World Wide Wed. Case in point.”

“Tech is the substrate of our world,” concludes Paxson, “the underground city of its functioning, and because we see its workings so rarely, because we have made it so successful, we dismiss it and walk in the lands it has created for us, oblivious to the creative astonishments with which it blesses our days.”


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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