Blank Canvases

Note to future self…

I’ve heard a lot of founders, designers and even some engineers say a variation of the following:

When we were creating X we asked ourselves: what would happen if we could design Y from scratch? So we did and we started with a blank sheet/slate/canvas…

Today’s post is about pushing back a little bit on this notion that starting with a blank canvas is the optimal way of deriving meaningful insight.

Based on my own experience I’ve noticed that I come up with better ideas when I expose myself to a substantial amount of data (whether it’s visual, conceptual, numerical, etc.). I even notice it with the quality of these posts. If I stop reading interesting books and articles I have a much harder time coming up with interesting things to say.

In other words, having a lot of ideas allows my brain to make more connections. It’s almost as if there’s more activity in my brain so ideas are bound to collide. A lot of author’s have made an argument along this line including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity.

Caveat

I think that it’s important to note that starting with a blank canvas has its upsides. Sometimes solving problems that call for step-function improvements requires us to abandon pre-conceived notions of how things work and start from scratch. Nevertheless, even in these cases it’s important to know and understand all the issues that are being left behind.

Takeaway

There’s no actionable takeaway from this post. Moving forward every time I am thinking about solving a problem I will try to absorb as much information as I find necessary and only then I will consider starting from a blank slate. That’s it.

Now back to work…