Categorization Leads To Stagnation

Humans love to sort things. It helps us to decide how we need to deal with what is in front of us.

Whenever we have a new experience, we automatically take that experience and throw it into a category that we already understand. When we come across something which defies the categories we all know – then we get very uncomfortable. We get stuck – we wonder how we take this new insight, information, person, place, or thing and slot it neatly into our known categories.

We have been doing this since before we stood upright – we needed to quickly categorize our surroundings and everything in these surrounding because we had no idea if this new person, place, or thing that we had just come across was going to hurt or kill us or not. So we immediately categorized everything. At the same time, we, and our braver companions, around experimented with everything.

Sometimes, when we saw someone get sick or die from eating food X, we learned not to eat Food X – we put Food X in the “do not eat” category. But what if Food X just needed to be cooked? Or Food X needed to be diluted with Food Y? Categorization kills innovation – if we too swiftly categorize, then we eliminate the possible nuances of something which may make it a success, in comparison to its competitors.

I would stringently argue to try to resist categorization (which is difficult, I know) and take each new learning as something that does not have a category or crosses categories. Categorization may help with the final sorting of ideas and concepts, but in many ways, it stunts innovation. We are so apt to simply throw things into the specific buckets that we know about that we may miss some interesting critical detail, which will differentiate a successful Product A from a successful Product A2.

The same should be said for your career. It is not difficult to become an expert in field A or B if its a field with a controlled amount of study and practice. However, real breakthrough typically only usually occur when you cross or break category – applying elements from one category to another. They used to call these “mashups,” where you would take multiple concepts from different categories and mash them together to come up with different effects. These mashups are compelling because they force a categorization or a creation of a new category in which to capture the original concept.

This creation of a brand new category is where much innovation lies.

However, while new category creation is innovative, you must understand that it is the most challenging path to profitability. When we were young, we sought out the new. As we get older, we typically sort and sort more often. Once humans hit a specific level of experience, most of them lose their interest in the new and are only interested in the tried and true.

This is why you need to resist categorization: it leads to stagnation.


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