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7.4.6. Classification: Rapid Classification


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 7. How The Brain Works > 7.4. Classification: Making Sense of the World > 7.4.6. Classification: Rapid Classification

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We tend to have a desperate need to classify everything we experience. When I meet you, one of the first tasks I set myself is to push you into one of the boxes I keep for classifying people. Within seconds you will be in a box marked something like ‘arrogant-and-aloof’ or ‘mother-earth-type’. Once you are in the box, if you try to get out, I will work hard to push you back in.

Although such classification systems enable us to simplify the massive level of complexity that we face in the world, our need to classify everything we experience can prevent us from seeing things in different ways. As Einstein said, “A great thought begins by seeing something differently.”

The speed with which we classify our experiences will depend to some extend on our needs for control and certainty, as discussed in Chapter 7. When something is unclassified, it is uncertain and potentially threatening, so we move away from the uncertainty and into the nearest classification. If this is wrong, our deep need not to appear wrong (another block to creativity) makes us reluctant to change the classification, dooming us to a lifetime of misunderstanding.

Creative people tend to be slow to classify and are relatively comfortable with uncertainty. When they stand at the junction of such a decision, they look carefully down each classification road or even out into the undergrowth, exploring possibilities of descriptions off the beaten path. They may also put off the decision, exploring each path in turn or coming back later to peer and ponder.

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