Thursday, December 09, 2010

On Creative Entrepreneurship

I spent the afternoon in an event celebrating the University of Creative Arts' (UCA) Creative Challenge event, the student competition to come up with creative business ideas. It was very well organized, at very cozy meeting rooms on a bar on the Greek Street in Soho, with great food and drinks to go with it. Besides, the event was lightened up by a brilliant presentation by Mike Southon of FT and Beermat Entrepreneur (See his profile here). His inspiring presentation of 45 minutes, built around the story of Beatles, arguably the best creative team/ business in history, was aided by clips, stories and intelligent contextualization by Mike. Overall, a great afternoon of ideas, just what I needed to lift my spirits amid a rather miserable run.

Apart from the entertainment, this was useful time spent, considering that I am trying to give some shape to rather abstract ideas of 'digital enterprise' that we are working on. Of late, I have been displaying some disillusionment about the myths surrounding entrepreneurship. My break with conventional company career came in 1998, when I read a bit too much of Fast Company and Red Herring (now extinct), and believed in the 'Change the world' story of technology entrepreneurship. However, while I have achieved quite a few things in the next 12 years, my experiments with entrepreneurship gave me mixed results so far: Last few years, in particular, have been quite disappointing. So, I needed indeed all the inspiration I can get to start thinking about enterprise again, and today's event was a significant turning point of sorts.

To be honest, I diverted myself quite a bit from the original goal of being a technology entrepreneur. My first venture in 1999 was about creating e-learning content and a network of delivery centers across India (to offer blended learning courses) was a bit ahead of time [a kind euphemism for unrealistic], but till date, remained with me unchanged. Even today, when I talk about the World College, degree programmes delivered across the world with the help of technology and on-ground partners, I am still talking about the same concept at a different scale. I surely need the conviction that the time has now come; but this was running low after a few rather disastrous associations that I entered into in the last twelve months.

I guess the point to take from Mike's presentation is that it is about getting the right people, and this is exactly where I may have gone wrong in the ventures I mentioned. I needed investment and got associated with 'money men', who has no love for the idea and want to be in it for money alone. In a way, I have understood the problem and withdrawn from most such associations, and instead, in the current project, focused primarily on getting a high performance, culturally cohesive team together first.

The other point to take home from today's session is the collective observation from various university staff about the creative people's disregard for entrepreneurship. I can see the point: In creative circles, making money is distinctly uncool. However, this allows me to connect to my original inspiration to take the offbeat career path - independence and a chance to make a difference, rather than making money - which was part of the dotcom lore. I see entrepreneurs as artists, creating possibilities that are not there on the sole force of their conviction and skills. I am sure there are the dragon's den bunch, which, according to Mike Southon, is about the unprepared meeting the unpleasant, which makes money the central thing about entrepreneurship (making money as the chief object) and develop a stereotype that you have to a complete bastard to be successful. The relief of being with people whose lot thinks that is distinctly uncool is indescribable.

I think artists as entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs as artists all the time. I think it is about solving problems and spreading the message, whatever you do it for. Money is incidental: It comes because you do what you do. The problem is that the rogue tradesman is taking over the world and making us believe that anything we do should be for money, but that is indeed wrong, because lots of people do lots of things which has nothing to do with money. Like writing blogs, if I may start with. But I can give many more examples, like teaching, reading, painting, travelling, conversing, helping, and can say that people do non-economic things more than they work for pure self interest, and it is a myth that everything must be done for money alone. So, if the creative students are rejecting entrepreneurship, they are rejecting the entrepreneurship stereotypes; the job for the universities and entrepreneurship schools will be to offer an alternative idea.

Which is precisely the school we set up should do: Unlock the creativity in entrepreneurship. This makes me think about the beauty of my original dream, which looks naive with the hindsight of ten years, but incredibly bold if I go close up, and I guess it is about discovering that one idea and dedicating a whole life towards it which makes entrepreneurship a so much more worthwhile career than being a company man. This centrality of beauty, commitment to the idea of a better world, should form the core value of our offering: It will indeed run commercially, but I don't see why that may interfere with such a simple objective.

So, I am recharged. This reflection helped to get my ideas back on track, and made me feel like a few years younger, with the full force of my yesteryear's naive wild eyed dreams, and the fact that this is the core value of entrepreneurship anyway.

1 comment:

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

A conversation on Linkedin on this post is worth quoting:

On 12/09/10 8:24 PM, Bhawna Vij wrote:
--------------------
Dear Supriyo,

Went through your Post on "creative entrepreneurship" just moments back. You have certainly put somethings in the right perspective w.r.t. the creative students. The fact is that most design schools stress on individual exploration and other high order thinking processes and the linkage with commerce is hardly given any credence. As a result, most students who excel commercially have their own personal calibre to depend on or a set of unique circumstances that set them apart. I only can talk about the India scene and wonder what kinds of methods or skills are required for this transition from creation to enterprise or rather form a synergy of the two. Yes, it sounds fantastic that the problem solving process can be carried forward from the creation to the enterprise. But can good designers be good managers of their enterprise? Or does is take more than a creative instinct.?...thats the big question.

Great Post again. Given me some thinking material for the day.

Regards,

Bhawna

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Dear Bhavna,

Thanks for writing.

I must admit that the workshop I wrote about was dominated by such concerns. Some of the participants also observed that while some sections of the Creative 'types', particularly the Web Designers and Fashion Designers are usually more savvy commercially, Art and Design types sometime feel shy about asking their bills to be paid.

I admit that this must be largely true, as the point you raise is. But, I wanted to talk about the unifying factors, the joy of creating and the ability to see beyond the given, that should make enterprise a natural path for the creatives.

The other thing I thought about, but did not write, is that one of the key problems that many professionals face is that they fail to see the world around us is in a holistic way. That's the way the lore of professionalism has been developed: Sachin Tendulakar is expected to see a Cricket Ball coming to him even in a speeding bus. Life is indeed more complex, and good Fashion Designing alone does not make a good proposition, let alone a good business. However unlikely partner they are, an Accountant can be of enormous help to a talented designer. Mike Southon talked about 'Finding a Foil': Someone with complimentary skills. This may be necessary and critically important.

More later. Let's keep in touch.

Supriyo

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