That's a desired skill that stands out in great startup people: Founders, management, leaders, and employees. I also find it outstanding in the venture community: Angels, venture capitalists, bloggers, media reporters, lawyers and finance staff.
On the less positive side, creative people are also a challenge to manage (often "a pain in the neck" and worse).
I am often questioned about creative startup people, so I've decided to discuss them in a series of blogs, who they are, how to spot them and what to do about them. The series should be about ten blogs in length, spread out over the next three weeks.
I decided begin with this question: "How creative are you?"
To help you answer that question, I'll list the traits of a creative person and let you compare yourself. I expect you to be surprised (I was).
My source for the list is a mind stretching book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi entitled Creativity. He is professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, and author of several books including the bestseller, Flow. The quoted item that I use are from Creativity.
Today I'll start with the first trait on the list:
TRAIT NUMBER 1: “Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest."
APPLICATION: Sprint a startup and you will soon die. New enterprises are marathons.
First-time entrepreneurs rush eagerly into creating their startup, but soon they hit the wall and have to face reality or burn out. I have watched several painful times when creative minds reached that breaking point. The crashing point warning arrives during the first year. Those who do not heed the flashing red lights will quickly burn out. The flotsam of the Internet boom to bust was filled with such naïve thinkers. Most did not get back up on the startup horse. They limped off and got a job, leaving startup land , forever.
Founder Aaron combines computer science with telecommunications and pushes the combination to its limits. He is changing the domain of information science. He decided to run his first startup race as a marathon. His health program is deliberate: nourishing power food, fitness center power exercise and adequate power sleep. Energy radiates from him. He greets strangers with a smile. His inventions are way cool. He is energy.
And there are his quiet times. Day-long car rides to visit his grandmother. Leisurely talks at his best friend’s birthday. Burning a CD mix of carefully selected music for a friend.
Founder Elizabeth mixes sciences of mathematics and language to create an exotic digital Sherlock Holmes used to do impossibly good things in a digital criminal world. She is changing the domain of law. Healthy food selections overflow her startup break room. She acts promptly when health issues pop for her. She encourages others to do the same. She has established a working rhythm that recognizes her creative time is best later in the day. She seeks outstandingly talented people with demonstrated personal drive. Her company culture is fueled by people with energy.
time off work, deliberately. Important are some calm weekends chosen for fun breaks during the year at a bed and breakfast getaway. Retreat time yearly is for personal renewal, medical and mental
Andy and Tim merge western game theory with Asian MMORPG technology to build virtual worlds. They are changing the global world of digital entertainment. They exude quiet energy. They never seem to be rushed. They speak with strength but are not loud. They hop from city to city in Asia doing deals, then to the U.S., Europe and back again.They do this month after month. They have energy. And they recently were married and are planning on building families. They enjoy life with their extended families. They take time to be at celebrations of reverence such as three day Asian funeral ceremonies.
Co-founder Pete connects private startup investing with globalization know-how to fuel a fresh generation of world-class enterprises. He is changing the domain of modern venture capital. Pete moves around the globe with energy. He can be found starting his investing day with a half hour fast run on the beach. He is careful of his daily diet wherever he dines. His meeting weekly meeting rhythm reflects his aim to balance global travel and family time. His upbeat welcome and handshake inspire entrepreneurs. His positive, can-do energy stimulates board meetings. He speaks with energy, quietly and firmly. He seems to always have a calm moment to talk to people, and he listens well.
I look for physical energy like that in the founder CEOs I am privileged to coach. When I meet startup people, you'll hear me ask each “What do you do when you are not working?” I listen for several things, including “Often, nothing.” This duality of opposites -- energy and quiet rest -- is not difficult to uncover, nor is it hard to observe the lack of it. The icons of venture capital that I have been privileged to know look for the same. As do the serial entrepreneurs.
I’ve also seen people without such exemplary physical energy and quiet try to be creative and do a startup. They have left the entrepreneurial world after a poor start.
So do you have this set of opposing traits of creative people? Are you fit enough to run a startup marathon? If not, have you thought about how much more creative you would be if you possessed this set of traits? If you had more physical energy? If you were deliberately quiet more often? If not, why?
BOTTOM LINE: Physical energy plus quiet and rest is one set of so-called opposites that are the mark of creative people. “[The] novelty that survives to change a domain is usually the work of someone who can operate at both ends of [these ten] polarities – and that is the kind of person we call ‘creative.’” Creativity, page 76. Understanding this opens your mind to figuring out how to spot creative people for your startup and to understand them better. When you can create a culture attractive to creative people, you will have added a very powerful element to your unfair advantage.