The difference between the creative and the commonplace

tufte by BruceTurner

Edward Tufte Presidential Appointment
[Via Daring Fireball]

President Obama has appointed Edward Tufte to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, “whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds”. Outstanding.


This is pretty cool. Tufte is one of my favorite people, not only for his highly original books on data presentation but also for his sheer force of personality. He is one of the most entertaining, enlightening speakers I have ever heard.

I attended one of his workshops in Seattle probably close to 20 years ago. There was an interchange that has stuck with me ever since, because it so succinctly illustrates the divide between truly original, innovative change and the typical corporate response.

Tufte was discussing the different interfaces between the Mac OS and Windows. After going through a lot of the pluses he saw in the Mac and a lot of the minuses in Windows, he stated that the Mac looked like it had been created by one or a small group of people with a single purpose, a single view of how the information should be presented, while Windows looked like it had been done by a committee.

He then said that all the best presentations were this way – a single point of view forcefully pushed onto everyone. Someone in the audience then asked but what happens if your single point of view turns out to be wrong, to not work.

Tufte replied, simply, “You should be fired.” You could almost audibly hear the intake of everyone’s breath. That is exactly what they feared and why they would always want to retreat into committee decisions – they can’t be fired if the committee made the decision. FUD is what drives most people.

The creative, the innovative do not really fear failure, often because they are adaptable enough to ‘route around the damage’ quickly enough. They do not usually doubt the mission they are on and are certainly not uncertain about the effects. Read about the development of the Mac. They were going to change the world, no doubt about it. While you can see that there really was a focus of vision, there are also lots of ‘failures’ that had to be fixed. The key was to fail quickly, leaving time to find success.

And permitting committed individuals to find their own way to success rather than rely on committees to fix them.

Committees very seldom fail quickly, since failure is the thing they fear the most. They would rather succeed carefully than perhaps fail spectacularly. And they very seldom produce revolutionary change.

Single viewpoint, change the world, rapidly overcome obstacles, adaptable. All characteristics of successful change. They do not fear spectacular failure because the fruits of success will be so sweet.

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