Creativity in Business

I recently got hold of a copy of  the book ‘The Monk & The Riddle’ by Randy Komisar, so inspiring.

It comes down to my realization over the years that business isn’t primarily a financial institution.  It’s a creative institution.  Like painting & sculpture, business can be a venue for personal expression & artistry, at its heart more like a canvas than a spreadsheet.  Why?  Because business is about change.  Nothing stands still.   Markets change, products evolve, competitors move into the neighborhood, employees come & go.

Business is one of the last remaining social institutions to help us manage & cope with change.  The Church is in decline in the developed world, ceding leadership to a materialism of unprecedented proportions.  City Hall is subservient to the economic interest of its constituencies.  That leaves business.  Business, however, has a tendency to become tainted with the greed & aggressiveness that at its best it channels into productivity.  Left to its single-minded pseudo-Darwinian devices, it may never deliver the social benefits that the other fading institutions once promised.  But rather than give up on business, I look to it as a way, indirectly, of improving things for many, not just a lucky few.  I accept its limitations & look for opportunities to use it positively.  In the US, the rules of business are like the laws of physics, neither inherently good nor evil, to be applied as you may.  You decide whether your business is constructive or destructive.  I help people understand this & express themselves in what they do, trying to make a difference through business.

need to emphasize visionary leadership over management acumen in the formative stage of a startup.  If you turn a visionary startup into an operating company too early, you throw out its birthright.  It will never be as big, as grand, or as influential as it might otherwise be.  It will be much harder, perhaps impossible, to expand the vision later, when performance is being measured quarter to quarter against operating plans, because then there’s too much at stake.

Randy Komisar

I read a great BBC article this week Creative minds ‘mimic schizophrenia’

Brain scans reveal striking similarities in the thought pathways of highly creative people and those with schizophrenia.  Both groups lack important receptors used to filter and direct thought.  It could be this uninhibited processing that allows creative people to “think outside the box“, say experts from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.  In some people, it leads to mental illness.

But rather than a clear division, experts suspect a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits but few negative symptoms. Creativity is known to be associated with an increased risk of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The thalamus channels thoughts.

Similarly, people who have mental illness in their family have a higher chance of being creative.

Associate Professor Fredrik Ullen believes his findings could help explain why.

He looked at the brain’s dopamine (D2) receptor genes which experts believe govern divergent thought.

He found highly creative people who did well on tests of divergent thought had a lower than expected density of D2 receptors in the thalamus – as do people with schizophrenia.

The thalamus serves as a relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.

“Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus,” said Professor Ullen.  Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It’s like looking at a shattered mirror.  This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss.


I find it interesting that in our culture, creative people can be likened to mentally ill people – obviously they are both outside the box of organized ordinary culture.  Steve Blank also wrote a really interesting post about his theory that many entrepreneurs come from dysfunctional families.

We agreed that all her founding CEOs seemed to have the same set of personality traits – tenacious, passionate, relentless, resilient, agile, and comfortable operating in chaos. I said, “well for me you’d have to add coming from a dysfunctional family.”

If you can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if you can’t bias yourself for action and if you wait around for someone else to tell you what to do, then your investors and competitors will make your decisions for you and you will run out of money and your company will die.

Great founders live for these moments.

My hypothesis is that most children are emotionally damaged by this upbringing.  But a small percentage, whose brain chemistry and wiring is set for resilience, come out of this with a compulsive, relentless and tenacious drive to succeed.  They have learned to function in a permanent state of chaos.  And they have channeled all this into whatever activity they could find outside of their home – sports, business, or …entrepreneurship.

One possible path might be to raise children in an environment where parents are struggling in their own lives and they create an environment where fighting, abusive or drug/alcohol related behavior is the norm.

In this household, nothing would be the same from day to day, the parents would constantly bombard their kids with dogmatic parenting (harsh and inflexible discipline) and they would control them by withholding love, praise and attention. Finally we could make sure no child is allowed to express the “wrong” emotion. Children in these families would grow up thinking that this behavior is normal.

(If this seems unimaginably cruel to you, congratulations, you had a great set of parents.  On the other hand, if the description is making you uncomfortable remembering some of how you were raised – welcome to a fairly wide club.)

Steve Blank

Here’s another way of looking at this, the chemistry that Steve talks about in certain children in dysfunctional families is the creative urge.  It becomes stronger than the environment that these individuals are raised in, it drives them to find solutions and extend their possibilities beyond what they have struggled with day in day out.  So it would follow then that it is not necessary to grow up in such difficult surroundings but more that the creative spirit is strong within individuals who go on to become entrepreneurs & leaders in startups?

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