Entrepreneurship & Creativity

Thomas Friedman the columnist in the New York Times is always excellent. In a February piece he noted that if given a blank sheet of paper and told to write down America’s three greatest sources of strength, he would include, “A culture of entrepreneurship”, “An ethic of pluralism” and “The quality of our governing institutions”.

I am always struck by how often the idea of entrepreneurship comes up today. About 65% of all new jobs created since 1995 have come from small enterprises (defined as those with fewer than 500 employees). Entrepreneurship may be broadly defined as, coming up with an idea and then turning this idea into a profitable business. There is also intrapreneurship where large companies try to instill a sense of start-up change in their organization.

But how do you create entrepreneurial skills? For me you don’t go at it directly but kind of approach it from an angle. For instance, the skills you need for a new business include some basic business and management skills but also a dose of interpersonal skills, communication skills and the skill to inspire others to pursue success. I believe a liberal arts education which shapes the whole person is the best avenue to success here.

New business ideas and creativity are not far apart. Adam Grant in the February 3 International New York Times wrote a piece titled, How do you raise a creative child? Grant noted that between 1942 and 1994 a total of 2,000 precocious teenagers were finalists in the super bowl of science, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Very few of these finalists however went on to win top prizes in life such as the Nobel Prize.

The reason according to Grant, is that child prodigies often don’t learn how to be original. They practice until they are perfect but this doesn’t mean they create anything “new”. The truly creative children (and adults) have a natural curiosity that depends on the breadth of their learning not the depth. Albert Einstein noted that, “the Theory of Relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition”. Einstein took violin lessons as a child but didn’t like it. He grew to appreciate music later in life. Bach and Mozart may seem distant from science but creativity often requires an interplay between different disciplines.

I have always loved the comment by a French philosopher, that truly creative minds, “see what everyone else sees but think what no one else has thought”.