Behavioral Economics and Creativity

I believe most the readers of the A Lesser Photographer book understood and agreed with the basic message of the book: constraints foster creativity.

Yet, some of the book’s biggest fans don’t follow that message. They know what they should be doing to create better photos (or art in general), but they’d rather justify their latest purchase.

This behavior is common. I’ve received hundreds of emails from readers about how they wholeheartedly agree that imposing limitations on themselves works, except when it comes to the fancy camera they just bought. That camera is special.

It's a total disconnect with logic we agree on.

On the latest episode of NPR's Planet Money, Jacob Goldstein was explaining that this phenomenon is not only known to economists, it was a part of the reason why Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in economics this year. As Goldstein puts it: 

“The discovery was that simply having a thing makes you overvalue that thing.”

I'm not exempt from this phenomenon. 

When I write on paper, I use fancy pens and pencils. I even go to pen shows and listen to the Pen Addict podcast.

I don’t practice my own philosophy when it comes to my writing tools.

I know what I should be doing. I keep this quote around from an interview with writer/director Morgan Evans at Usethis.com to remind me of what constraints looks like for a writer. He only writes with the cheapest, most plentiful (while durable) tools. He puts all the concentration on what's being written, not on how it's being written:

“When I write I use regular yellow legal pads you can get at Staples and Skilcraft government pens. I can't emphasize how wonderful these pens are. They write for a literal mile and are built to give tracheotomies to the President. I'm not kidding. Google it. I write longhand first usually. I always have tons of legal pads all over the place. They're the only thing I can fill up. I'd take a shitty legal pad over a Moleskine any day.”

But my new pen is soooo nice. Right?