I’ve posted a ton of research about how conscientiousness may be the most important personality trait out there.
What’s conscientiousness? Having your act together. Neat and tidy. Organized and on time.
Which can be really depressing because, frankly, I’m not all that conscientious.
But this begs the question: are there benefits to not being conscientious?
Yes, as a matter of fact, there are.
My Spaghetti Abilities Are Unstoppable
Peter Skillman created a design exercise called “The Spaghetti Problem.”
Groups get 20 pieces of spaghetti, tape, some string and a marshmallow.
The group that creates the tallest freestanding structure that will support the marshmallow’s weight within 18 minutes, wins.
He tested groups of engineers, managers, MBA students, etc.
Did tons of planning help? Nope.
Really thinking things through provide an advantage? Nope.
You know who outperformed everyone?
Who crushed the engineers and decimated the MBA students?
Skillman explains. (Watch from 1:17 mins to 4:04 mins):
Conscientiousness correlates with a lot of good things — butcreativity isn’t one of them.
There are not many best practices for constructing freestanding spaghetti structures. No planning was going to help here.
What was the kindergarteners secret?
They just jumped in. They started failing immediately — and learning quickly.
This was their system: Prototype and test. Prototype and test. Prototype and test — until the time was up.
This also works for people over four feet tall. Like you.
All Geniuses Use The Same System
All creative people arrive at greatness by the same system: trial and error. Prototype and test. Just like the kindergarteners.
How does Chris Rock create great comedy? By bombing repeatedly onstage to see what works before he goes on TV.
Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, explains:
And that’s exactly what Skillman found. Multiple iterations win in the end.
If I read one more article about how companies can’t innovate I’m going to throw up.
You can’t be risk-averse, prone to punishing failure and expect creativity.
In his acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup Eric Ries makes it very clear:
I’ve seen this myself.
When I was writing in Hollywood no one ever told me “Don’t make mistakes.” They told me to make my mistakes early.
One very successful writer told me: “Every writer has three bad screenplays in them. Get those out of the way as quickly as possible.”
Failing Is Dangerous — Here’s How To Do It Right
We’ve all read articles that say “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Yeah, that’s BS.
There are very good reasons to be afraid of failure. You can look stupid. You can get fired.
There’s a reason why conscientiousness is prized, but it’s an inherently conservative strategy.
How do you bridge the gap and fail well so you can be creative and improve? Here are 3 tips:
1) “Little Bets”
Baby steps. Test theories with experiments that aren’t too expensive or risky.
2) Give your ideas time
Many of the greats used notebooks to let their ideas evolve and grow until they were perfect. Eureka moments are a myth.
A great idea comes into the world by drips and drabs, false starts, and rough sketches.
3) Hide From The Boss
When you’re testing, avoid situations where you’ll be judged. They can be paralyzing.
Megan McArdle quotes Alain de Botton as saying:
How To Get Started
Maybe you’re already an impulsive risk-taker. Congrats, you’re a born innovator.
What if you’ve had that whipped out of you by years of schooling and performance reviews? Where do you start? How do you get a little of it back?
All you need to do is remember who ruled at the spaghetti experiment: Children.
Research shows that merely pretending to be a child again increases creativity:
When you need a breakthrough, when planning and preparation won’t help — it’s time to act like a kid again.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.