Why Start-up Culture Is Bad for Creativity
Something is happening to the start-up culture—and I'm not sure I like what it's doing to me.
For a couple of years now, one of the core start-up mantras has been "release early and release often"—or, even more pithy, "fail fast."
There's nothing wrong with this idea on the face of it. But combine it with the romanticized notion of working day and night narrowly focused on your start-up, and you have an entrepreneurial culture that's fast-paced on a whole new level.
Most days, this is exciting and it is what's required to keep up with the pace of innovation in the tech community. But more and more, I'm starting to think that the constant pressure to go-go-go may be killing more organizations than it's helping.
Where 'Aha' Moments Really Come From
I've been reading Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. In the book, Lehrer explores everything from neuroscience to anthropology to uncover the mystical nuances behind those "aha" moments. How do entrepreneurs break through creativity blocks and come up with brilliant ideas and solutions? Contrary to the prevailing start-up culture, creativity doesn't usually come easy or fast.
Think about the most creative companies: Apple doesn't iterate on the fly. The company has learned over the years to follow its vision and release something right, not rushed. Ben Silbermann, founder of Pinterest, often recounts the six months of tweaking he did to the home page that would eventually grab so many users' attention. Most great ideas are months (even years) in the making, and they tend to come along when the pressure is off.
According to Lehrer, we need the right mix of focus and freedom from pressure to be at our most creative. We need to gather all of the information we possibly can, then let our brain relax enough to access the bits that tie it all together to form the answer.
Where's the Breathing Room?
I don't think the current start-up climate is conducive to breathing room. It's about perform, perform, perform and release, release, release. Sleeping under your desk and being obsessive is valued.
A start-up CEO does a million jobs: PR, business development, design (Illustrator is my second most used application next to my browser), investor relations, recruiting, marketing, and more. The most important job, however, is to provide vision. But if you are pulled in several different directions, that vision is impaired.
I posted "All I need is room to breathe" on my Facebook wall the other day. Every start-up founder I know liked the post. I love fast-paced environments just like most entrepreneurs, but I make too many bad decisions just because I need to. I perform well under pressure. I wonder what I could do with more breathing room.