Experimentalists vs Conceptualists


It’s something many of us want to improve.

And it is the focus of Freakonomics episode 369, A Good Idea is not Enough.

A challenge for many is taking an idea and turning it into reality.

The ability to take an idea and turn is into reality boils down to two types of innovators, according to David Galenson, a professor at the University of Chicago.

Experimentalists and conceptualists.

Experimentalists have ambitious, yet very vague goals. And because they are vague, they are uncertain about how to achieve their goals. So they work by trial and error. They tinker. They tweak. And methodically make progress. They often don’t make preparatory works and instead just start. In one word, they’re spontaneous.

Conceptualists on the other hand have new ideas. They are theorists. They come to a new discipline and have to learn all the rules. They prepare every last detail. They develop preparatory works ahead of time.

Picasso falls into this second bucket.

At 25, Picasso produced an estimated 400-500 preparatory drawings over the course of one year. All of this was done to produce one painting: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Today, it is still the most number of works produced for one painting in Western history.

In x-rays of the Demoiselles, they have found precise underdrawings of the figures. In the Picasso Museum, there are dozens of sketchbooks of each figure in the painting to ensure everything was planned accordingly.

Neither method is better. Just different styles of execution. Which one are you?