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Leading for Creativity Advantage in Entrepreneurial Startups

The creativity of your organization must be a strategic imperative for success in the 21st century.  Unless you’re a Millennial, we all must appreciate the fact that we matriculated through a business world that was optimized for the Industrial Age.  Leadership philosophies, managerial processes, attitudes towards inclusion and process that we were taught are completely incongruent with the nature of business today.  Fortunately, the first calibration entrepreneurs need to make in order to embrace the new paradigm is close to home…it lies within one’s self.  

Seth Godin released his 30,000 word manifesto on transforming the school system earlier this week entitled, “Stop Stealing Dreams” Stop Stealing Dreams.  In it, Seth points out the fact that the public school system was created and optimised to support the need for workers and consumers during the height of the Industrial Age.  It does what it was designed to do, but that design no longer aligns with what companies now need in order to create and sustain competitive advantage.  The same is true in business.  The approach to leadership, strategic planning, and organisational develop that was optimised for the Industrial Age no longer fits the source of contemporary value creation; human creativity.

While Seth speaks for the need to transform our educational system, the same position can be taken (and often is on the blog) towards the structure, leadership, and processes that mainstream businesses still cling to twelve years into the new century.  Information technology helped masked the underlying shift for several decades, but technology, in and of itself, is reaching the point of diminishing returns.  We need simply to look to the numerous research studies and surveys to see how the transactional leadership approach of the past has created the worst employee disengagement crisis since serfdom.  Disengaged associates are not creative associates, and creative associates are the fuel for success going forward.

At point 22 (there are 132 points in the manifesto), Seth points to the concept that we are in the Age of Connections.  To quote Mr. Godin, “The industrial revolution wasn’t about inventing manufacturing, it was about amplifying it to the point where it changed everything. And the connection revolution doesn’t invent connection, of course, but it amplifies it to become the dominant force in our economy.  Connecting people to one another. Connecting seekers to data. Connecting businesses to each other. Connecting tribes of similarly minded individuals into larger, more effective organizations. Connecting machines to each other and creating value as a result.  In the connection revolution, value is not created by increasing the productivity of those manufacturing a good or a service. Value is created by connecting buyers to sellers, producers to consumers, and the passionate to each other.”

I can see where Mr. Godin is going, but I think we need to take this a bit deeper to reveal the source of value creation.  The most important connections are within the human mind.  How we, as human beings, can make connections between disparate points of knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to create entirely new opportunities.  Without this neurological spark of creative insight the external connections are just more noise in an already cacophonous landscape.

Leading for creativity advantage demands that the soil be tended and cared for in order for intellectual property to germinate.  This starts with the leader’s level of consciousness, with their insights and understanding of how to connect, engage, and inspire those around them.  In order to do this with resonance, the leader must first connect, engage, and inspire their authentic self.  Transformation cannot occur without transparency.  The answers to our adaptive challenges aren’t out there floating in the technological ether, they’re in here, within our own capacity to create new neural pathways and actually change the way we see, think about and react to the world.  This does entail some self-reflective work, and typically doesn’t emerge of its own accord.

Seth also speaks about fear and passion.  He points to how schools leverage fear to control large student bodies and how this disengages the young people from pursuing their passions and dreams.  It’s a good point, and one that is also prevalent with transactional leaders in business (light on the carrot…heavy on the stick).  Command and control doesn’t propagate creative thinking.  It creates risk-aversion and passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace.  The research of Dr. Jaak Panksepp demonstrates that fear is part of our Core Mammalian Emotional System.  Our ancient survival hardwiring that is shared by all mammals.  The flip side of fear, however, is seeking.  Cultivate an environment of fear and you’ll get a predictable, emotional response; disengagement.  Cultivate an environment of seeking and you’ll also get a predictable, emotional response; engagement.  Engagement is the pre-requisite for creativity.  Enabling seeking holds the space for the discovery of passion.

Passion involves the brain and the embodied neural networks of the enteric nervous system (the gut) and the heart. When we engage in our sense of authentic self, when we consciously choose self-awareness and empathy over conditioned behavior, we align our entire neural network and enter into a state of biochemical coherence (R. McCraty, M. Atkinson, “Psychophysiological Coherence”. In: Children D, McCraty R, Wilson BC, eds. Emotional Sovereignty. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, forthcoming).  Coherence promulgates what researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as flow.  When we enter into flow we are at our highest point of creativity and performance.  We’re firing on all cylinders!

Google is a great example of how a once entrepreneurial startup got this right.  Not only do they promote seeking (20% of their engineers’ time at work must be spent on a project of individual interest that is independent from the company), but they also promote two other Core Mammalian Emotions; playfulness (ping pong tables around the office) and caring (all the little perks on their campuses).  Can anyone argue with Google’s results?

This is the strategic imperative for entrepreneurial firms that emerge from the creation of intellectual property…to lead, plan, and organize the business in such a way as to maximize creative flow with associates.  Research from Applied Behavioral Economics clearly demonstrates how we feel about companies is as important, if not more important than what we think about said companies.  The leadership lessons for entrepreneurs working in the 21st century lie within our very own nature.  The path forward begins with walking a path inward.

About Dave Solomon

Dave Solomon is a serial entrepreneur influenced by Terry Murray, one of the greatest business mentors of 21 century. This Blog is an initiative to recollect the lessons of Mr. Murray and help aspiring entrepreneurs become transformational entrepreneurs

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