How the industry is killing our creativity

A problem with the hiring pipeline and the industry

introduction

I’m a student (more about me here) and this post is written from what I’ve observed over these years and things that I’ve heard from a diverse pool of individuals with a variety of experience levels. This also comes from my time looking at job boards, getting in touch with hiring managers, and experiencing the fierce entry-level job market.

I love bringing out my creative side. I get random ideas at unexpected times, and I keep a track of these in my notebook. In the pursuit of being creative, I lost touch with LeetCode - which is absolutely vital for countries like India; the competition is insane and the only acceptable common ground is LeetCode-style hiring. (nothing wrong here; this is not going to be a rant.)

I had a wonderful experience with my previous employer, but it has been frustrating trying to find a job which respects opinions and ideologies over mundane, monotonous work.

This post might have a lot of strong, subjective statements. Please feel free to disagree with any viewpoints put in this article.


how the industry is killing creativity?

A lot of these points have come from talking to a diverse set of people, ranging from senior engineers, junior engineers, new grads, and students.

competition

Competition
Competition stifles creativity.

Competition stifles creativity. The job market is competitive and extremely competitive in certain countries like India.

A competition that is driven by the thoughts of becoming better than everyone will eventually lead to an end to one’s creative side. Cut-throat competition leads to a cascade of events wherein an individual is forced to give up on their creativity. (fight for survival)

Since applicants need to “fight” for a single job opening, applicants try to effectively become the best fit for the role, dropping their creative personas.

The result? Artificial, monotonous people fighting for a job. This is prevalent in India, where I’ve seen extremely creative people having to drop their creative desires, and become artificial to get a job.

no tinkering culture

No place for experimentation
No place for experimentation

There’s no culture for experimentation. Experiments are attached with the connotation of failure. Experimentation is good, however, the risk factor associated with experiments is high. This is the prime reason why organizations keep a 10-foot distance from experimentation.

However, my opinion here would be to introduce experimentation in an isolated environment with zero effect on the business - hackathons, show-n-tell sessions, etc.

catering to market requirements

The job market is tough
The job market is tough

The job market is a mixed bag. Jobs require individuals to have X years of experience with Y. There aren’t enough jobs in X1, but X2 has been hyped up and is “guaranteed” to be the next big thing.

This introduces some amount of fear in people who start their careers, as they feel that they should pick X2 as their career goal. Being able to tailor ourselves to cater to the current job market is considered the first step in making an individual’s career secure.

Catering to job requirements isn’t a bad thing; but if it comes at the expense of losing out on what an individual’s creative abilities are, then, we’re heading to a future where the number of creative individuals will reduce significantly.

over-optimization of efficiency

Result-oriented development
Result-oriented development

Industrialization targets efficiency. Efficiency in this context is entirely different - it’s about achieving goals before period X, and churning out more “results” in a specific period.

This is pretty common in organizations with bad management practices. Achieving results isn’t bad, but since it allows almost zero space for making creative decisions; this makes efficiency look like a vanity metric. Efficient, but at what cost?

rigid management

Managerial issues
Managerial issues

Some organizations have management that only cares about Excel sheets and pie charts. This unfortunately takes a hard hit on the engineering culture of the organization, and in turn, reduces the creative abilities of employees. Employees are producing code and achieving targets; no room for creative decision-making, and no incentives for being creative.

Creative capital is a real thing; these organizations have failed to utilize their arsenal of creative thinkers.

“no reward” mindset

No incentives for creativity
No incentives for creativity

Creativity is always seen as something optional; there’s a mindset that has been wired to the minds of upper-level management, which is to perceive creativity as a trait to be optimized in certain situations, which introduces the bias of making it associated with a “no reward” sentiment.

For an art shop, it’s essential to be creative. Companies that deal with software might consider putting creativity on the backseat due to its inability to produce “immediate” results.

fighting bureaucracy is tough

What a waste of time.
What a waste of time.

Employees feel that they are wasting their time and energy just to fight bureaucracy, and don’t see any value from it. The more centralized decision making is, the less employees have opportunity to add their input.

Having too much red tape gives no room for creativity. Not all bureaucracy is bad, but creativity, flexibility and risk-taking are needed for innovation. Having some amount of leg room for making decisions without being crunched by formalization allows individuals to innovate.

generalization

Niche fields
Niche fields and fewer jobs

People are diverse and are motivated by different things.

Generalization is prevalent in the industry; a lot of jobs require an individual to be generic: you should be good at building APIs, web apps, etc. If every organization resorted to hiring generalists, there’s no incentive for an individual to explore their creative side.

This is also the reason why new grads don’t usually try to become a specialist - if there are no incentives and jobs, why would they care to explore? Being a generalist is considered a safe option (and there’s nothing wrong with being a generalist), but having generalization as the sole factor to not being able to explore and tinker is disappointing.

The industry has boiled down to these career paths for new grads:

These career paths are considered niche, and are generally avoided by a significant portion of new grads:

The negative bias associated with niche fields (although they’re highly rewarding), along with the number of resources that build up on hype and give false advice, has made software engineering a collection of these highly-discussed topics.

This puts a false layer on what real software engineering is - it’s an amalgamation of beautiful fields focusing on solving the problems of humankind. We need to appreciate the real beauty of writing software!

example of indie games vs AAA games

Indie games thrive on creativity.

AAA games thrive on optimizing the revenue pipeline.

Developers tend to be creative when they’re not bound by managerial rules or publishing contracts where the requirements are rigid. This is why indie games are a great product of creativity - no chains, complete freedom on the game’s plot, mechanics, etc.

Indie developers have a playground for tinkering with users being the feedback loop. It’s the perfect hub for being creative!

However, when you bring this creativity down to a box with rigid deadlines and requirements, creativity comes to a dead end. If the main focus is on optimizing revenue generation, not innovation, it’s fairly easy to say that the opportunity to tinker is minimal.

I’ve talked to a couple of game devs before working on AAA titles, and the experience for them has not been pleasant. They’re now considering going back to indie game development.


personal obstacles

These are some challenges/obstacles that I think hinder the ability of an individual to become creative:

1. fear of failure

Failure is an essential aspect of creativity.

Starting with pixel art? The first few tries will fail, and you will be atrocious. But you learn from your failures. Maybe you would learn about a new shading technique, who knows?

The key is to embrace failure and learn from it.

Most of our important discoveries have resulted from failures. Failed experiments. Failed journeys. Failed calculations.

2. not exploring

Being able to explore new things is also an essential aspect of creativity.

If an individual is stuck in their comfort zone, how would they be able to improve themselves?

Exploring things without fear is a great way to become more creative. I explored mobile app development, even when I had zero ideas about Java/Kotlin.

3. fear of judgements

People fear sharing things due to judgements. Judgemental pressure is real.

Overcoming this fear is important. Improving upon criticisms is perceived as a good thing.

Shared your blog post on the Internet and got bombarded with criticisms? It’s okay to fail, learn from critiques and improve your blog post!

My blog is a great example. If I wouldn’t write these posts, I wouldn’t have become better than my previous version.


conclusion

Our industry and hiring pipeline has successfully ruined the next generation of creators and ideators. With all these problems in place, this is going to get worse. We collectively need to do something and encourage the culture of tinkering and exploration!

I’m not proposing to scrap LC-style interviews (LeetCode-style) completely, but there needs to be something done at the grassroots level - fostering creativity during the early stages of one’s career is essential. The industry needs to provide some avenue for flourishing creative talent.

Further reading

Illustrations by Freepik.