The creative mindset pairs a high need for certainty with a low need for competence

Wednesday, March 15th, 2023

The creative mindset pairs a high need for certainty with a low need for competence:

You find a problem that you really, really want to solve. At the same time, you work on developing a tolerance for not knowing the solution — yet. Both dispositions are necessary to move the creative process forward.


But this need for certainty, which is the engine that drives creativity, can easily propel us in the wrong direction. Say we have a high need for certainty and a high need for competence — for feeling like we know what we’re doing. Then, write Güss and his coauthors, we are likely “to engage in anything that could restore competence quickly, rather than in explorations of a new domain.” If we can’t deal with our temporary lack of competence, the need for certainty will drive us toward safety-seeking behaviors that make us feel competent again, right now in the moment — but that steer us away from creative solutions.


“Even when he worked in a new domain, such as flying, da Vinci could rely on his vast knowledge and skills. He had successfully created numerous inventions, drawings, and paintings and could rely on his successful strategy to divide a big problem into tiny problems that could be mastered. He had not only epistemic competence (i.e., enormous knowledge and skills) but also heuristic competence (i.e., trust and confidence in his own ability to master new situations and problems successfully).”

In other words, a sense of confidence about our global competence (“In general, I’m pretty good at this, and I know how to move toward getting this done”) allows us to tolerate the temporary feelings produced by situational incompetence—permitting us to remain open to new possibilities even as they take their time crystallizing into satisfying solutions.


  1. Bomag says:

    “a high need for certainty with a low need for competence”

    On first blush, maps onto every internet crank with an explanation of the world. And other low-achieving groups.

    Needs to be a component of humility, a willingness to acknowledge evidence and let it guide you forward.

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