Saturday, September 02, 2006

Entrepreneurs, Artists and Students

Intriguing conversation in the past few days with a colleague on creativity and entrepreneurship. Creativity is definitely a part of the entrepreneurial equation, but I haven't found it to be the solitary type of creativity I associate with the artistic process. Instead it is a social process of creation... brainstorming, reading, interacting, reflecting, talking with friends... a combination of individual and group effort.

In business schools we often ask students to do team exercises, such as writing business plans. In most cases, students are thrown together early in the semester, figure out a project idea and do the assignment. My experience is that this happens in the corporate world as well, in the marketing departments, or new product development departments of the less innovative companies. An idea gets some traction, and usually people are "assigned" to work on the project.

That is so different from what I see in the true entrepreneurial venture. Here the combination of the inventor and the idea exert a magnetism... others start to help. Some are attracted, some repulsed. Bonds of trust exist from previous ventures, or start to form anew. The idea and the team begin to take shape. From this cloud of energy, things that matter begin to condense.

Jim Collins observes that Great Companies practice "First Who, Then What" when starting initiatives. Yet in these classes, where we often discuss this concept, we do not truly take this advice to heart. In entrepreneurial ventures, the Who and the What are more tightly bound, I think. The Who can't imagine not doing the What, and the What disappears without that Who (or group of Who) driving it. (out of context, that is a fairly Seussian sentence, isn't it?)

How do we replicate this for students? In some cases, I have students that have ideas, and come to my class planning to develop these ideas into businesses. Some successfully pull together a team and move forward, and these are often the best projects. Probably because that Who has been thinking a lot about What, cares more about it, and screens prospective team members because they care about it. It isn't just an assignment for them. Others "give up" (rightly or wrongly) and join another team. The Who or the What is too weak to survive in this exercise. Sometimes, the student keeps working, outside of class, refining the What... perhaps to emerge again, down the road.

The basic point is not to confuse the social creativity that leads to entrepreneurship with the more solitary creativity that leads to great sonatas, painting, or novels. And, that Entrepreneurship Classes should not be confused with entrepreneurship. A class can inform a student about the entrepreneurial process, and give them the practice of pulling together all the pieces of planning an exercise, just as an art student can draw Michelangelo's sculptures or copy Cezanne's landscapes. But it is only when the student takes off from that experience, that they are creating. It is only when they start the business that they are becoming entrepreneurs.

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