Smart creative — the new role model

Smart creative — the new role model

The core idea described by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg in the book “How Google works” is built around the people called “smart creatives.” They claim that the extraordinary success of a company is possible only if you employ that kind of people and create a perfect environment for them.

The only way to succeed in business in the twenty-first century is to continually create great products, and the only way to do that is to attract smart creatives and put them in an environment where they can succeed at scale.

The description of the “smart creative” looks like a perfect role model for a software engineer. While reading the book, I thought “that people are someone with whom I would like to work.” I bet my coworkers would have the same opinion. The best part is, “smart creatives” are made, not born. Becoming one of them is possible.

Was the concept of smart creatives ignored?

We, the IT people, seem to ignore the concept of “smart creatives.” I googled that term, and the only things I could find on the first three pages of Google results were some poorly written business articles which can be summarized as acknowledging that the “How Google works” book was written and that the characteristics of “smart creatives” were described in it.

I haven’t found a response from programmers. I have not found tons of “Become a smart creative in 3 months” articles. I have seen what we have done with “data scientist.” I seriously expected the same hype. There is nothing.

I haven’t even noticed hateful comments written by programmers who get outraged and start shouting the word “gatekeeper” every time someone expects anything from them. That surprised me even more.

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Smart creatives

The authors described the smart creatives as people who have in-depth technical knowledge, and plenty of hands-on experience. They are comfortable with data and can make data-driven decisions but avoid endless analysis. They understand how their technical work influences the business and know how it affects the customers. They can generate genuinely new ideas.

[They are] always questioning, never satisfied with the status quo, seeing problems to solve everywhere.

According to the authors, smart creatives are not afraid to fail and take actions on their own initiative. Last but not least, those people are fun to work with. They are collaborative and funny.

It sounds like a description of an IT unicorn, isn’t it? The good part is that the authors described all desired traits, but they don’t expect that every person has all of them. I believe (it was not stated in the book) that their goal is to have a team which can do all of the described things.

Not every smart creative has all of those characteristics, in fact very few of them do. But they all must possess business savvy, technical knowledge, creative energy, and a hands-on approach to getting things done. Those are the fundaments.

Not only at Google

The idea of calling such people “smart creatives” did not stick, but recently I came across an article which defines very similar characteristics. Josh Carroll chose to call those people “world-class engineers.” For sure, the name sounds much better, but the expectations look familiar.

The wrong environment

Smart creatives can thrive at companies which have their own products. Such people will get extremely frustrated at outsourcing companies, places where all decisions are made by product owners and architects, and in teams working on products with no real impact.

In my opinion, such people should avoid working at those places at all cost. I believe that smart creatives working at such places suffer because of a constant feeling of an overwhelming Sehnsucht (achievement unlocked ;) I finally used that word, and it fits perfectly ;) )

What to do now?

I would like to invite you to join me on a journey. I am going to dissect the treats of smart creatives and look at them as a collection of skills and habits. I think that every single one of those skills and practices can make anyone a better programmer. Let’s look at “smart creative” not only as a role model but also as a learning path.


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Bartosz Mikulski
Bartosz Mikulski * data scientist / software/data engineer * conference speaker * organizer of School of A.I. meetups in Poznań * co-founder of Software Craftsmanship Poznan & Poznan Scala User Group