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Tag Archives: Tim Harford

Why Cross-Pollinating Your Work, Works

At Farnam Street we believe in the idea that a multidisciplinary approach to big ideas is the best way to form a deeper understanding. Some concepts will intuitively lend themselves to this type of thinking. Something like evolution is an easy one. But there are also times when this cross-pollination is far less intuitive, yet can produce some amazing results.

In Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, author Tim Hartford walks us through some amazing examples of cross-fertilization and how purposefully adding a measured dose of chaos to your work can benefit you greatly.

Sandpaper Without the Sand

In the 1920s a gentleman by the name of Dick Drew worked as a sandpaper salesman at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

One day Drew was thinking about the challenge of painting a car — it wasn’t a specialty of his but he could appreciate the problem. What he did know inside and out was sandpaper, and he intuitively realized that sandpaper could help solve the problem. What he needed was a roll of sandpaper without the sand.

This became known as masking tape and it transformed more than just how we paint cars.

Presently we call the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company 3M, and Dick Drew’s insight in the early 1920’s wasn’t an anomaly, it is the type of innovation that has defined 3M as a company. What made them so consistently creative and innovative?

…3M has a “flexible attention” policy. In most companies, flexible attention means goofing off on the company dime. In 3M it means playing a game, taking a nap, or going for a walk across an extensive campus to admire the deer. 3M knows that creative ideas don’t always surrender to a frontal assault. Sometimes they sneak up on us while we are paying attention to something else.

3M also rotates its engineers from one department to another every few years. This policy is one that many companies—not to mention some employees—resist. Why make someone with years of expertise in soundproofing or flat-screen displays work on a vaccine or an air conditioner? For the company it seems wasteful and for the employee it can be stressful. But for a company that makes masking materials out of sandpaper… the real waste would be to let ideas sit in their tidy silos, never to be released.

The key term here that Harford hits on is reducing silos.

Many companies, whether by design or by accident, tend to be very compartmentalized. In essence, you are given a tiny box within which to work on your project but you often won’t have a good idea of what’s going on in other areas of the company; the opportunities for cross pollination are limited unless you commit to moving positions/projects.

By adding just a little disorder, a company can give its employees the freedom to think differently and maybe even help them out of a rut that is often caused by looking at something with too narrow a focus. Sometimes we just can’t “see the forest through the trees” — we're stuck in our little box.

Crop Rotation

A company doesn’t have to rotate it’s personnel into wildly varying positions to achieve this goal; it can be as simple as providing an environment which allows employees to easily work on various/differing projects.

Creativity researchers Howard Gruber and Sara Davis see a strong link between the most creative people and their tendency to work on multiple projects. Gruber notes that Charles Darwin is a good example of this.

… throughout his life [Darwin] alternated between research in geology, zoology, psychology, and botany, always with some projects in the foreground and others in the background, competing for his attention. He undertook his celebrated voyage with the Beagle with “an ample and unprofessional vagueness in his goals.”

And then there are the earthworms. Darwin could not get enough of earthworms. This great scientist, who traveled the world, studied the finches of the Galápagos, developed a compelling account of the formation of coral reefs, and—of course—crafted the brilliant, controversial, meticulously argued theory of evolution, studied earthworms from every possible angle for more than forty years. The earthworms were a touchstone, a foundation, almost a security blanket. Whenever Darwin was anxious, puzzled, or at a loss, he could always turn to the study of the humble earthworm.

Gruber and Davis have coined a term for this melting pot of different projects at different stages of completion, they call it a ‘network of enterprises'. They argue that the parallel project approach has four benefits:

  1. Multiple projects cross-fertilize. The knowledge gained in one enterprise provides the key to unlock unlock another.
  2. A fresh context is exciting; having several projects may seem distracting, but instead the variety grabs our attention—we’re like tourists gaping at details that a local would find mundane.
  3. While we’re paying close attention to one project, we may be unconsciously processing another—as with the cliché of inspiration striking in the shower. Some scientists believe that this unconscious processing is an important key to solving creative problems. John Kounios, a psychologist at Drexel University, argues that daydreaming strips items of their context. That’s a powerful way to unlock fresh thoughts. And there can be few better ways to let the unconscious mind chew over a problem than to turn to a totally different project in the network of enterprises.
  4. Each project in the network of enterprises provides an escape from the others. In truly original work, there will always be impasses and blind alleys. Having another project to turn to can prevent a setback from turning into a crushing experience. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called this “crop rotation.” One cannot use the same field to grow the same crop indefinitely; eventually the soil must be refreshed, by planting something new, or simply taking a break.

Gruber and Davis argue that with the right network of enterprises, an impasse in one project can end up feeling somewhat liberating. If you fall down the wrong rabbit hole you have the ability to pivot to something fresh.

The writer can pull out some old jottings, the scientist can turn to an anomaly she had long wanted to investigate. What would have been a depressing waste of time for a single-minded person can become a creative lease of life for someone with several projects on the go. That’s the theory, but in practice it can be a source of anxiety. Having many projects on the go is a stressful experience that can quickly degenerate into wheel-spinning. (Rather than turning to the study of earthworms for a break, we turn to Facebook instead.)

We have written before about the negative aspects of multitasking and dividing your attention and focus. The goal here would be to find out the number and type of projects which give you the benefits outlined by Gruber and Davis but still keep that number manageable enough to not create an undue amount of stress. This will likely take a bit of trial and error.

Harford himself has a strategy that seems to work. It’s a wonderful mix of messy and organized.

I have a related solution myself, a steel sheet on the wall of my office full of magnets and three-by-five-inch cards. Each card has a single project on it—something chunky that will take me at least a day to complete. As I write this, there are more than fifteen projects up there, including my next weekly column, an imminent house move, a standup comedy routine I’ve promised to try to write, two separate ideas for a series of podcasts, a television proposal, a long magazine article, and this chapter. That would potentially be overwhelming, but the solution is simple: I’ve chosen three projects and placed them at the top. They’re active projects and I allow myself to work on any of the three. All the others are on the back burner. I don’t fret that I will forget them, because they’re captured on the board. But neither do I feel compelled to start working on any of them. They won’t distract me, but if the right idea comes along they may well snag some creative thread in my subconscious.

You can organize your projects like Harford, or come up with your own technique that suits your network of enterprises. The key is to create an environment that allows you to cross pollinate and, ideally, to rotate your crops when you stop liking what the harvest looks like.

If you want more, check out our other post on Messy, it’s a great book if you are looking for ways to facilitate a bit more creativity in your life.

Embrace the Mess: The Upside of Disorder

“We often succumb to the temptation of a tidy-minded approach
when we would be better served by embracing a degree of mess.”
— Tim Harford


The breadth and depth of products and services that promise to help us stay organized is almost overwhelming. Indeed, it would seem that to be messy is almost universally shunned, considered a sign of not being “put together,” while being tidy and neat is venerated to the nth degree.

Tim Harford has a different take. In his book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, he flips this notion around, showing us that there are situations in which disorder is beneficial, or at the very least that order has been oversold. (Tim previously introduced us to another counterintuitive thought with Adapt.)


One of the reasons why we put so much time and effort into being organized and tidy is because we make assumptions about what this will do for our productivity. If all our papers are neatly filed and email is neatly sorted, it will be easier to retrieve anything that’s important, right? Maybe not.

Harford cites a paper by Steve Whittaker and researchers at IBM called “Am I Wasting My Time Organizing Email?” to illustrate the fallacy.

Whittaker and his colleagues got permission to install logging software on the computers of several hundred office workers, and tracked around 85,000 attempts to find e-mail by clicking through folders, or by using ad hoc methods—scrolling through the inbox, clicking on a header to sort by (for example) the sender, or using the search function. Whittaker found that clicking through a folder tree took almost a minute, while simply searching took just 17 seconds. People who relied on folders took longer to find what they were looking for, but their hunts for the right e-mail were no more or less successful. In other words, if you just dump all your e-mail into a folder called “archive,” you will find your e-mails more quickly than if you hide them in a tidy structure of folders.

Okay, so taking the time to organize your email may not be as useful as we thought. Computers, after all, are designed as tools to help us work better and faster, so it makes sense that the simple search function would outperform us. But physical filing and keeping our work space neat makes us more productive right?

Once again, maybe not.

Quite a bit of research has been done on people's working environments and it would seem that those with big piles of paper and/or clutter on their desks may be just as effective (and sometimes more so) than those pedantic ‘fillers.’

This is not to argue that a big pile of paper is the best possible filing system. But despite appearances, it’s very far from being a random assortment. A messy desk isn’t nearly as chaotic as it at first seems. There’s a natural tendency toward a very pragmatic system of organization based simply on the fact that the useful stuff keeps on getting picked up and left on the top of the pile.

David Kirsh, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego studies the differences between the working habits of the tidy types (he calls them ‘neats’) and the messy types (he calls them ‘scruffies’). Let’s look at what he found.

…how do people orient themselves after arriving at the office or finishing a phone call? Kirsh finds that “neats” orient themselves with to-do lists and calendars, while “scruffies” orient themselves using physical cues—the report that they were working on is lying on the desk, as is a letter that needs a reply, and receipts that must be submitted for expenses. A messy desk is full of such cues. A tidy desk conveys no information at all, and it must be bolstered with the prompt of a to-do list. Both systems can work, so we should hesitate before judging other people based on their messy desks.

So if both systems work, are there times when it’s actually more advantageous to embrace messiness?

Here Harford hits upon an interesting hypothesis: Messiness may enhance certain types of creativity. In fact, creativity itself may systematically benefit from a certain amount of disorder.

When things are too neat and tidy, it’s easy for boredom to set in and creativity to suffer. We feel stifled.

A messy environment offers disruptions that seem to act as a catalyst for new ideas and creations. If you think about it, we try to avoid these same disruptions when we focus on being more “organized.” But, if you sometimes embrace a little mess, you may be opening yourself up to more creative serendipity:

Messy disruptions will be most powerful when combined with creative skill. The disruption puts an artist, scientist, or engineer in unpromising territory—a deep valley rather than a familiar hilltop. But then expertise kicks in and finds ways to move upward again: the climb finishes at a new peak, perhaps lower than the old one, but perhaps unexpectedly higher.

Think about an “inefficiently” designed office plan that looks wasteful on the surface: What's lost in efficiency (say, putting two departments that need to talk to each other in separated areas) can be more than made up for in serendipitous encounters.

Brian Eno, considered one of the most influential and innovative figures in music over the last five decades describes it like this:

The enemy of creative work is boredom, actually,” he says. “And the friend is alertness. Now I think what makes you alert is to be faced with a situation that is beyond your control so you have to be watching it very carefully to see how it unfolds, to be able to stay on top of it. That kind of alertness is exciting.”

Eno created an amazing system for pushing people into ‘alertness.’ He came up with something he called “Oblique Strategies” cards. He would show up at the recording studio with a handful of cards and bring them out whenever it seemed that the group needed a nudge.

Each had a different instruction, often a gnomic one. Whenever the studio sessions were running aground, Eno would draw a card at random and relay its strange orders.

Be the first not to do what has never not been done before
Emphasize the flaws
Only a part, not the whole
Twist the spine
Look at the order in which you do things
Change instrument roles

Can you imagine asking the guitarist of a group to sit behind the drums on a track? These were the type of suggestions that Eno is famous for and it seems to be serving him well; at age sixty-eight he has a new album coming out in January of 2017 and some variation of his cards have been available for purchase since first appearing for public consumption in 1975.

We all won’t be able to embrace a card from Eno’s deck. Some people do well in tidy environments/situations and some do well in messy ones — it's probably contingent on what you're trying to achieve. (We wouldn't go so far as recommending a CEO be disorganized.)

Reading through the book it would seem that the key is, like most things, to give it a try. A little “intentional messiness” could go a long way towards helping you climb out of a rut. And, if you are the tidy type through and through, it’s important not to try and force that on others — you just might be taking away a good thing.

If you like the ideas in Messy, check out Harford's other book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, or check out another important book on things that gain from disorder, Antifragile.

The art of forecasting

An interesting excerpt from Tim Harford's review of The Signal and the Noise on Bayes’ theorem and improving prediction:

Thomas Bayes, an 18th-century minister and mathematician, nonconformist in both roles. Bayes’ theorem, published posthumously, tells us how to combine our pre-existing view of the world with new information in a rational way.

Silver explains Bayes’ theorem with a dark example: the attacks on the World Trade Center. When the first plane hit the tower, horrified observers instinctively updated the possibility of a terrorist attack that day from “barely thinkable” to “distinctly possible”, although at that stage an accident could not be discounted. Bayes’ theorem shows that when the second plane hit, the chance of terrorism could be updated again, from “distinctly possible” to “all but certain”.

There is no need for a mathematical analysis to tell us that, but Silver argues convincingly that Bayes’ theorem is an important reality check on our efforts to forecast the future. How, for instance, should we reconcile a large body of theory and evidence predicting global warming with the fact that there has been no warming trend over the last decade or so? Sceptics react with glee, while true believers dismiss the new information.

A better response is to use Bayes’ theorem: the lack of recent warming is evidence against recent global warming predictions, but it is weak evidence. This is because there is enough variability in global temperatures to make such an outcome unsurprising. The new information should reduce our confidence in our models of global warming – but only a little.

The same approach can be used in anything from an economic forecast to a hand of poker, and while Bayes’ theorem can be a formal affair, Bayesian reasoning also works as a rule of thumb. We tend to either dismiss new evidence, or embrace it as though nothing else matters. Bayesians try to weigh both the old hypothesis and the new evidence in a sensible way.

Still curious? Harford concludes: “Despite its flaws, The Signal and the Noise is a book worth reading.”

Best Psychology Books Of The Year – 2011

Christian Jarrett created a list of the best psychology books in 2011 for the BPS Research Digest:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer.

The Sunday Times describes Foer's story of how he became American Memory Champion as “the most entertaining science book of the year”.

The Indy says Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined will generate more discussion than any other science book this year, adding: “His explanations for the apparent paradox of how brutality and even genocide in the modern world coexist with a trend towards diminished violence are entirely convincing.” Also listed by the New York Times and Marginal Revolution.

Not strictly psychology, but the Times has chosen Tim Harford's Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (see my notes) as among the year's best science books. His “engaging” book “looks at how science and statistics can be used to predict commercial successes and industrial disasters and to inform public policy.”

For the Guardian, both Jeanette Winterson and Hanif Kureishi chose Darian Leader's What is Madness? as among their favourite books of the year. Kureishi calls the book “magisterial” and describes how Leader “explains that the ‘irrational' delusions and hallucinations of the mad are their attempts at sense.” Winterson says it's a “thought-provoking book about how we diagnose and differentiate our many kinds of insanities.”

Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel by S. J. Watson is chosen by Waterstones as among their favourite paperbacks of 2011: “Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine's life”.

The New York Times highlights Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: “a lucid and profound vision of flawed human reason in a book full of intellectual surprises and self-help value.”

Mind's book of the year was won by Bobby Baker for Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me. “A collection of 158 drawings Baker created between 1997 and 2008, the diary provides us with an astonishing insight into her struggle to overcome mental and physical ill-health.”

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, is chosen by Amazon.com's editors as among the best non-fiction titles this year. “In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.”

Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World by Guy Deutscher was shortlisted for this year's Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books (read the first chapter).

Other suggestions:

Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir by Robert Jay Lifton:
“Lifton has probed into some of the darkest episodes of human history, bearing his unique form of psychological witness to the sources and consequences of collective violence and trauma, as well as to our astonishing capacity for resilience.”

Altruism in Humans by C. Daniel Batson:
“Altruism in Humans takes a hard-science look at the possibility that we humans have the capacity to care for others for their sakes rather than simply for our own.”

An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine by Sigmund Freud, William Halsted:
“the astonishing account of the years-long cocaine use of Sigmund Freud, young, ambitious neurologist, and William Halsted, the equally young, pathfinding surgeon. Markel writes of the physical and emotional damage caused by the then-heralded wonder drug, and how each man ultimately changed the world in spite of it—or because of it. One became the father of psychoanalysis; the other, of modern surgery.”

Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy Wilson:
“Redirect demonstrates the remarkable power small changes can have on the ways we see ourselves and the world around us, and how we can use this in our everyday lives.”

The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James Pennebaker:
“our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints. ”

What Should We Do with Our Brain? (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) by Catherine Malabou:
“Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances.”

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett:
“Barrett begins with an overview of human cognitive adaptations and how these color our views of other species, brains, and minds. Considering when it is worth having a big brain–or indeed having a brain at all–she investigates exactly what brains are good at. Showing that the brain's evolutionary function guides action in the world, she looks at how physical structure contributes to cognitive processes, and she demonstrates how these processes employ materials and resources in specific environments.”

Notes from Tim Harford’s book Adapt

Here are some of the notes I took while reading Tim Harford's Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure

  • Biologists have a word for the way in which solutions emerge from failure: evolution. … Disconcertingly, given our instinctive belief that complex problems require expertly designed solutions, it is completely unplanned. Astounding complexity emerges in response to a simple process: try out a few variants on what you already have, weed out the failures, copy the success – and repeat forever. Variation, and selection, again and again.
  • The process of evolution strikes a balance between discovering the new and exploiting the familiar very well.
  • If companies could really plan successfully – as most of us naturally assume that they can, despite what Tetlock tells us about the limitations of expert judgement – then the extinction signature of companies would look totally different to that of species. In reality, the signatures could hardly be more similar. … Ormerod's discovery strongly implies that effective planning is rare in the modern economy.
  • Nobody would buy a car that didn't turn or go backwards, so it is unclear why we think of these as desirable qualities in Prime Ministers.
  • Whether we like it or not, trial and error is a tremendously powerful process for solving problems in a complex world, while expert leadership is not.
  • …most real-world problems are more complex than we think. They have a human dimension, a local dimension, and are likely to change as circumstances change. … the method for dealing with this could be summarized in three principles: first, seek out new ideas and try new things; second, when trying something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable; third, seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along. (variation, survivability, and selection)
  • Variation is difficult because of two natural tendencies in organizations. One is grandiosity: politicians and corporate bosses both like large projects – anything from the reorganization of a country's entire healthcare system to a gigantic merger – because they win attention and show that a leader is a person who gets things done. This violates the first Palchinsky principle, because errors are common and big projects leave little room to adapt. The other tendency emerges because we rarely like the idea of standards that are inconsistent and uneven from place to place (although Tim doesn't point it out, this is a manifestation of ideological bias).
  • We all want our public services to be like Coca-Cola: all identical, all good. And they can't be.
  • There is a limit to how much honest feedback most leaders really want to hear; and because we know this, most of us sugar-coat our opinions whenever we speak to a powerful person. In a deep hierarchy, that process is repeated many times, until the truth is utterly concealed inside a thick layer of sweet-talk. There is some evidence that the more ambitious a person is, the more he will choose to be a yes-man and with good reason because yes-men tend to be rewarded.
  • Actually telling the unvarnished truth is unlikely to be the best strategy in a bureaucratic hierarchy.
  • Traditional organizations are badly equipped to benefit from a decentralized process of trial and error.
  • (our typical view) How should the leader make good decisions? That's easy. First he should take advantage of the fact that he's in a position to see the big picture. The more technology he devotes to this task, the better he can see how everything fits together, enabling him to coordinate what's happening on the ground, be it in the check-out, the factory floor, or the front line. The leader should be surrounded by a supportive team with a shared vision of where the organization is going. And to ensure that the strategy is carried out effectively, reporting lines should be clear. Information should flow to the top and be analyzed, and instructions should flow back down in response – otherwise nothing but muddle and chaos lie ahead. But while this is how we instinctively think about how leadership works and organizations should operate, it's a dangerously misleading view. The problem is that no leader can make the right decision every time.
  • As a Prussian general once put it, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy'. What matters is how quickly the leader is able to adapt.
  • If even the best leaders make mistakes, a good organization will need to have some way to correct those mistakes. Let's recall the features that make our idealized hierarchy an attractive machine for carrying out correct decisions: the refinement of information to produce a ‘big picture'; the power of a team all pulling in the same direction; and the clear responsibilities producing a proper flow of information up and down the chain of command. Every one of these assets can become a liability if the task of the organization is to learn from mistakes. The big picture becomes a self-deluding propaganda poster, the unified team retreats into groupthink, and the chain of command, becomes a hierarchy of wastebaskets, perfectly evolved to prevent feedback from reaching the top. What works in reality is a far more unsightly chaotic and rebellious organization.
  • …the story we tell ourselves about how change happens: that the solution to any problem is a new leader with a new strategy, whether it's the new coach of a football team, the new CEO of a failing business, or a new president. The truth, both in Iraq, and more widely, is more subtle and interesting.
  • Hayek, (the economist) back in 1945, argued that the dilemma should be resolved by thinking about information. Decisions taken at the centre can be more coordinated, limit wasteful duplication, and may be able to lower average costs because they can spread fixed resources (anything from a marketing department to an aircraft carrier) across a bigger base. But the decisions taken at the fringes of an organization are quick and the local information will probably be much better, even if the big picture is not clear. Hayek believed that most people overestimated the value of centralized knowledge, and tended to overlook ‘knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.'
  • The traditional purpose of centralisation is to make sure every business unit is coordinated and nobody is duplicating anyone else's effort. That might work for a business like Wal-Mart, businesses with such control over their supply chains and shop floors that experiments with the new products or marketing ideas can be delegated to a computer. But a centralized organization doesn't work so well when confronted with a diverse, fast-moving range of markets. … to get the most out of that flexibility requires well-trained, adaptable workers with authority to make their own decisions, which is precisely the kind of workforce successful firms seek out or train when they upgrade their machinery or their software. In the organization of the future, the decisions that matter won't be taken in some high-tech war-room, but on the front line.
  • This idea of allowing several ideas to develop in parallel runs counter to our instincts: we naturally tend to ask, “what is the best option?” and concentrate on that. But given that life is so unpredictable, what seemed initially like an inferior option may turn out to be exactly what we need. It's sensible in many areas in life to leave room for exploring parallel possibilities…
  • It is far more productive to design better systems than to hope for better people.

If you've read this far and you're thinking, wow, that's some interesting stuff.  Then you should buy the book here.

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If you want to read more nuggets of wisdom, see Why We Get FatOn LeadershipThe Ambiguities of Experience and You Are Not As Ethical As You Think.

Why is managing the creative process so difficult?

The ever-brilliant Malcolm Gladwell, in the New Yorker article, offers:

The psychologist Dean Simonton argues that this fecundity is often at the heart of what distinguishes the truly gifted. The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn't necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. A genius is a genius, Simonton maintains, because he can put together such a staggering number of insights, ideas, theories, random observations, and unexpected connections that he almost inevitably ends up with something great. “Quality,” Simonton writes, is “a probabilistic function of quantity.”

Simonton's point is that there is nothing neat and efficient about creativity. “The more successes there are,” he says, “the more failures there are as well”—meaning that the person who had far more ideas than the rest of us will have far more bad ideas than the rest of us, too. This is why managing the creative process is so difficult.

This jives with what Tim Harford says in Adapt. And as to why creative people often have problems inside large corporations, Gladwell writes:

Someone was always trying to turn his tap off. but someone had to turn his tap off: the interests of the innovator aren't perfectly aligned with the interests of the corporation. Strakweather saw ideas on their own merits. Xerox was a multinational corporation, with shareholders, a huge sales force, and a vast corporate customer face, and it needed to consider every new idea within the context of what it already had.