Cognitive Miser in Creativity

But Wang-mu said nothing, because this was one of the first lessons she learned from Master Han. When you have wisdom that another person knows that he needs, you give it freely. But when the other person doesn’t yet know that he needs your wisdom, you keep it to yourself. Food only looks good to a hungry man. Qing-jao was not hungry for wisdom from Wang-mu, and never would be. So silence was all that Wang-mu could offer. She could only hope that Qing-jao would find her own road to proper obedience, compassionate decency, or the struggle for freedom.
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Thinking about the posting “Clipping Wings“, I think there is a similar process when you see that ideas are not used in general. I like knowing what other people do at the institute I work for, because I sometimes stumble over things that might be of use for them.

Sometimes it’s a tool that might be useful, sometimes it’s giving someone a name, and sometimes it’s an interesting idea. I’m not working on the same topic, so my ideas might be way, way off, but at times I’ve gotten some positive feedback (something I cherish as repayment) and, even better, some times the idea was actually used.

However, there are people who do not accept feedback, perhaps because they are insecure, perhaps because they feel threatened, or for whatever the reason. Perhaps my suggestions were bad, but — honestly — I doubt that all of my suggestions were that bad. In short, there are people who cannot accept open feedback and ideas. Perhaps I could subtly hint some ideas at them in the hope that they come to the same conclusion and take “ownership” of the idea I had, but this is not my style. I don’t expect a citation, but I expect a thank and I do not sell my creativity that cheaply.

Normally the trouble I have would be: “What to do with the other ideas I get over time that might be useful for them?” But strangely enough, I do not have any. Or at least, no ideas show up in the net I use to capture them. If I had any, they were lost or quickly starved off. I think this is a nice example of some kind of cognitive miser for creativity. Cognitive resources are valuable and if a process has no value, I do not do it. I like to be creative, but I do not like to have ideas simply for having them. Creativity is more than that. I respect it if someone thinks about an idea and says he cannot use them, but if the person simply blocks idea after idea without even thinking about it, I do not generate or find ideas for this person anymore. It has no value and there are countless other areas where ideas can be used (mostly for my own projects) and where my energy is better spend.

On the one hand, this makes me a “bad” colleague or friend, but on the other, it makes me a very economic person — and helps me realize my projects as well as help those who are willing to accept help.

No need to waste good ideas on people who cannot use them.


  1. thank you…all this information is very useful for me… I am exactly in the situation which is written here. i have wasted two years on thinking my research topic…I am doing it on my own, as I don’t have supervisor, I mean I have him, but he isn’t the one who understands what I want and also, he doesn’t have experience in that field..I am totally on my own, and I like these, but everything has limits, and you are right it is very hard, I have come to an idea, but now I need someone who could adhesive if I am going to right direction or not… now i am searching for the other adviser.. and you are still right, he should be e mentor, and not a mere adviser, but sometime i think that it is impossible to find,.your advices are helpful as they give hope to fight and proceed searching.. :)thank you again 🙂

  2. Hello Miranda,

    thank you for your comment. Doing a PhD without support is tough to impossible. Sure, you should show that you can do a topic on your own, but this does not mean that there should be no advice or guidance — esp. regarding some pointers to the critical works in the field. I wish you all the best for finding a good adviser or to get your official adviser involved more. The later part often only works if the adviser can see his benefit and thinks he has a clear advantage if he advises you. Perhaps your colleagues are a help also, although they are often under the same stress you are under …

    Wish you all the best


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