Technical Skill as a Component of Creativity by Bruce I. Gudmundsson

Bruce I. Gudmundsson has another great piece on the Blog at The Case Method in Professional Military Education. The topic is Technical Skill as a Component of Creativity which touches on the importance of knowing your stuff and the cross disciplinary affect other fields can have on one another.

Sometimes, a creative solution to a problem requires nothing more than the importation of methods from one field to another. (An example of this is provided by the "invention" of counter-mortar radar in the last year of the Second World War, an innovation that required little more than the re-purposing of radars that had originally been built to locate hostile aircraft.) At other times, innovation is the result of relatively minor alterations to existing tools and techniques, or the combination of existing elements in new ways. (The classic example of the latter, beloved by military theorist John Boyd, is the snowmobile.)

Because of this, there is a positive relationship between the possession of technical skills and creativity. To be more precise, the greater the range of technical skills a person is able to deploy, the greater the chances that he will have something to import, modify, or combine.

Technical skills are most conducive to creativity when they are learned in their historical context. That is, when someone learns particular methods as particular solutions to particular problems set in particular places at particular points in time, he is more likely to be able to use them as the elements of a solution than a person who sees each technique in his repertoire as a generic solution to a generic problem.