barriers to entry

I’ve been contemplating the issues of barriers to entry. Barriers that stand in the way of ideas being recognized.

Ideas, or creativity, are really important. On a low level, they might be called problem-solving skills. You know? Looking at a problem and finding ways of resolving it. Or sometimes just finding a way of re-framing it that reveals new avenues of approaching the solution.

An extremely unpronounceable author, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, has written a book about creativity, and how it works. He’s a psychologist, so he uses the tools of psychology to attack the issue. He likes to say that the world is dependent on creativity. Well, that’s not really over-stating the case. Here in Silicon Valley, everyone is familiar with Moore’s Law. “Moore predicted that the number of transistors per integrated circuit would double every 18 months.” In order for Moore to make that prediction, he depended on innovation and creative responses to the problems that arose in trying to get more transistors on that integrated circuit. Naturally, Moore’law had wider implications that affected other kinds of hardware, and software, and bandwidth expectations, etc.

BUT! My main point is that we KNOW we need innovation. We rely on those geniuses to come up with answers to the problems. We build it into the plan, “At this point in the time line, inspiration will strike”

And yet. The barriers to entry into the echelons of the creative contributors are very strong. It is hard for just anybody to contribute.

Part of this has to do with expectations. I’ve never been able to forget one thing I learned in a linguistics class. The professor was demonstrating how different languages have different sounds. He said that if a person’s first language does not contain a certain sound (for instance, Russian does not have the “th” sound) not only do they have difficulty pronouncing it, they can’t even hear it. If they are not expecting to hear it, they won’t. Many of my ESL students in Russia could not pronounce “th” at first, they used “s” or “f” instead.

But this is the point: if people are not expecting to hear creative contributions from a certain sector, then if or when those contributions are given, they will not be heard.

Let us leave aside the obvious problem, that the “unexpected” groups might not be given access to information about the problem to begin solving it.

As I mentioned before, there are significant barriers to entry into the “creative contributors” group. Credentials, money, ethnicity, gender, things like this bar the overwhelming majority of the world’s population from working on the world’s problems.

It’s not fair to anyone to block off potential sources of creativity. We need help to solve big problems. But it is not only that the non-contributing population should be brought up to the level of the creative contributors. The creative people, and the executors of the ideas, need to learn to hear the unexpected.