Creating vs Optimising

About a year ago I read the post System Optimizers vs System Creators on Rohan’s excellent blog.

The post’s title sparked a thought: Can you divide people into groups of Optimisers and Creators?

Considering the people I know, these categories reflect an actual divide. I can place most people I know in one of these two categories. Not many people, if any at all, fall in the middle.

Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are creators, and the rest are optimisers.

Creators produce new stuff (like products, services, or artefacts), and often breaks old stuff in the process of creation.

Optimisers refine and polish stuff, and find new ways to continue using the old stuff, or they make the old stuff still work under new conditions.

You can also apply the concept on a higher level than the individual person.

In creating a new business, you choose to either optimise an existing product/service on the market, or to break new ground by creating something that is radically different to what the market already offers.

Optimising an existing product or service, by refining the details, lowering the price, adding features, introducing it to new customer categories, etc., is a way to broaden the market for that product or service.

By creating something completely new, which is different from products/services already on the market, you either create a whole new market, or replace/disrupt the market for existing products. For example, automating a manual task may completely replace the market for manual labour performing that particular task.

Creating a whole new market is difficult, and sometimes close to impossible. When it happens, it is often linked to a (more or less random) breakthrough in technology, like invention of penicillin.

The situation where a new product replace the market for existing products is more common. A great example is the iPhone that when introduced immediately replaced three product categories: The feature phones, the music player and the pocket computers. (Do you recall those Palm and HP organisers every business person dragged around to meetings?)

I’ve been on both sides of this divide.

Through years of consulting projects I’ve been exposed to numerous organisations working on optimising the old way of doing things in a world that is changing around them.

In my (other) company Cardiolund we are using signal processing algorithms to replace a scarce expensive resource (namely, the cardiologist’s precious time) with a plentiful and cheap resource (automated computer analysis). To me, this feels like creating something new.