The Hiding Hand Principle – The Concept

The hiding hand principle is the idea that when a person decides to take on a project, the ignorance of future obstacles allows the person to rationally choose to undertake the project, and once it is underway the person will utilize his creativity to overcome the obstacles he encounters because it is too late to abandon the project. The term was coined by economist Albert O. Hirschman.

Hirschman described the concept of the hiding hand principle in the second section of his essay “The Principle of the Hiding Hand” where he states:

We may be dealing here with a general principle of action. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.

Or, put differently: since we necessarily underestimate our creativity it is desirable that we underestimate to a roughly similar extent the difficulties of the tasks we face, so as to be tricked by these two offsetting underestimates into undertaking tasks which we can, but otherwise would not dare, tackle. The principle is important enough to deserve a name: since we are apparently on the trail here of some sort of Invisible or Hidden Hand that beneficially hides difficultiesfrom us, I propose “The Hiding Hand.”

Don’t worry – my commentary will soon follow.

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