Some say “The devil is in the details,” meaning solutions break down when you examine them closely enough. Some say “God is in the details,” meaning opportunities for discovery and creativity come from digging into the details. Both are true, but the latter is more interesting.
I posted something along these lines a few weeks ago, Six quotes on digging deep. In that post I quote Richard Feynman
… nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough …
I thought about this again last night when I ran across a post by Andrew Gelman entitled God is in every leaf of every tree. He has a similar quote from Feynman.
No problem is too small or too trivial if we really do something about it.
From there he links to a post where he describes what he calls the paradox of importance. Sometimes we can do our most creative work on the least important problems. The important problems often demand quick solutions, so we fall back on familiar methods.
Everything in this post applies equally well to creativity in other fields: graphic design, music composition, literature, etc. However, Gelman is talking about creativity specifically in the context of statistics. Statistics is a prime example of something that appears dull from the outside but becomes fascinating in the details. A course in statistics can be mind-numbingly dull when the emphasis is on rote application of black-box procedures. Looking inside the boxes is more interesting, and designing the boxes is most interesting.
Related post: Simple legacy