Last Thursday night, as we went through a lesson on Entrepreneurship Economics with our new group of accelerator boot-camp participants, we came to the point where we always get to talk about destruction. In fact, we talk about destruction twice in that lesson. Every aspiring entrepreneur in my view needs to have a good sense about it and the role it plays in their development.
I presented my opinion, as I always do, that we are all born creative, and as children we all display entrepreneurial ability in many ways. When presented with a challenge, a child will go through way more iterations than a grown up finding ways to overcome it. I have seen my two-year-old nephew – Felipe – stack blocks trying to reach a certain height or to form a structure preconceived in his mind, only to have them tumble down after reaching a certain wobble point. I have seen him express a mixture of surprise and amazement at the collapse, followed by a calm determination to try and put the blocks back together again, and again, and again and again. You can probably come up with many similar sightings, where the younger the child, the more apt to try, fail, and retry he or she is. And then, we grow up. Something happens along the way that makes some of us engage less in this type of behavior. It does not happen to everyone, but I believe it happens to a lot of us. For those not careful, something happens along the way from childhood to adulthood that destroys or hampers their creativity.
Is it that the flow of creative ideas dries out, evaporated by the intense incandescence of a million flashes of distracting information to which we are constantly exposed, voluntarily and involuntarily? Is it that we opt for the safety that secure, replicable, transactional interactions offer us in our daily life, given the little time left to look at hidden opportunities the world presents around us precisely because of all the distractions? On Thursday, we saw a short video that explained how an accurate insight into the sources of human unhappiness is at the heart of successful entrepreneurship. Is it that we have simply lost our capacity to develop insight, to look around us and analyze the sources of human distress to look for solutions that we could capitalize on? Is it simply that we have lost our drive to make the time to invest in these insight development activities? You can only judge yourself and how you spend your time.
The second mention of destruction came when we pointed out that, as Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter explained in 1942, the essential fact about capitalism is creative destruction. As I showed the slides with some of his famous quotes, one of our accelerator participants noticed how coincidentally, that night happened to be the 135th anniversary of his birth. After my initial reaction: “We should sing happy birthday to him!”, I thought to myself how obvious the non-stop mechanism of product and process innovation by which the new replaces the old – what he meant by “creative destruction” – seems to us today. Was it not that obvious to most people at the time he explained it? Perhaps it is the acceleration of this process of innovation during the 20th century, and the continued exponential growth it has traced in the 21st, that is making us devote way too much time to adapt and keep the pace – leaving us no time to stop the incessant distractions and nurture our creative insight! It’s funny and it’s sad at the same time, it’s like physically going into hyperactive mode to accomplish a million things and ending up drowning in our own sweat!
Perhaps the best nugget that Schumpeter left us is that “Success depends on intuition, on seeing what afterwards proves true but cannot be established at the moment”. Considering the mind-numbing pace of product innovation, your ability to peek around the corner and picture the future others don’t yet see is what will make you successful, according to him. The only way we are going to be able to do this is by actively nurturing our creativity. We need to stamp out the suppressors of creativity: fear of failure, laziness, and yes, obedience. We need to nurture our mind and our life with play, failure, and experimentation – just like 2 year old Felipe.