Once upon a time, I saw business as The Enemy.
As an aspiring young writer and poet, my worst nightmare was becoming a corporate zombie, sleep-walking to work in a faceless office block.
I wonder what my younger self would have made of this passage from Richard Branson’s book Business Stripped Bare?
Business is creative. It’s like painting. You start with a blank canvas. You can paint anything – anything – and there, right there, is your first problem. For every good painting you might turn out, there are a zillion bad paintings just aching to drip off your brush. You pick a colour. The next colour you choose has to work with the first colour. The third colour has to work with the first and the second…
People who bad-mouth businessmen and women in general are missing the point. People in business who succeed have swallowed their fear and have set out to create something special, something to make a difference to people’s lives.
I’d probably have read these words first with open-mouthed disbelief, then a touch of cynicism: Who is he kidding?
I’d have been fairly quick to dismiss Branson as a deluded businessman without a real understanding of creativity.
But if I’d come across these maxims from Derek Sivers, they would probably have given me a longer pause for thought.
- Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself.
- Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.
- When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.
Partly, I’d have been intrigued by Sivers’ unusual take on business. But I’d also have given him more of a hearing than Branson, because Derek, like me, started out as an artist. He was a musician who started his business, CDBaby, by accident.
He never meant to found a company – he just wanted to sell his own CDs online, back in the nineties, before there was an easy way of doing it.
He figured it out with a home-made shopping cart and a merchant bank account. Which led to him selling his friends’ CDs… which led to him selling his friends’ friends’ CDs… which eventually snowballed into a $22 million dollar company.
Funny how things turn out.
And funnily enough, while I’m still very much in love with poetry, I now have a lot of time for the argument Branson and Sivers are making.
There are several ways you could make a case for business as a genuinely creative field.
An obvious one would be to look at the myriad new products and services created by companies each year.
Another one would be to look at the creative industries – TV, movies, publishing, music, computer games and so on – and point out how much money they generate from ideas.
Another one would be to consider the rise of the creative economy, in which creativity is increasingly a source of competitive advantage in all kinds of industries, not just the artistic or cultural ones.
But the argument that resonates most strongly for me is the one implicitly put forward by Branson and Sivers, when they describe their businesses in terms of the joy of creation.
When they write of their pleasure in making something, of composing it like a picture, or designing it like a utopia, they sound remarkably similar to artists.
There are plenty of differences between artists and entrepreneurs, but maybe this pleasure in creating is something they have in common.
And perhaps another thing is the desire to touch people’s lives and make a difference – maybe even make their dreams come true.
What do you think?
Can business be as creative as the arts?
Do you think it’s the same kind of creativity as in the arts, or something different?
I’ll shortly be opening the doors to a new group of students for The Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap – an in-depth course shows you how to build a creative micro-business that’s rewarding in every sense.
If you’d like to be first in line when the doors open – and to read the multimedia Guide to Creative Entrepreneurship that introduces the course – you can sign up here.