The Role of Data in Creativity

What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!
Excerpt from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long in “Time Enough For Love” by Robert A. Heinlein

One of the things that really pushes my buttons is when people claim that creativity does not need prior information, be it data, expertise or any other kind of knowledge. One of the key points I argue for is that creativity is not possible if you do not have the necessary knowledge. You cannot be creative without knowing the domain.

Sure, any child can do something different, but it takes someone who knows the game to see its value. A chimp might write Shakespeare on accident, but it would not be able to differentiate it from the x-trillion other scripts it has written.

Unfortunately, this myth that creativity does not need knowledge of the issue, accurate data and expertise, is hard to impossible to kill. It’s just too damn nice for people to “do something active” without doing something equally active but laborious first. And it keeps unnecessary and only subjectively useful brainstorming sessions of uninformed enthusiasts alive, without really helping in solving critical issues.

No matter which field — if you want to be creative, hit the books first and get accurate data of the situation. Otherwise you’re just fooling around — it might be more fun in the short run, but is pointless and wasteful in the long run.