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Spin the Wheel, Don’t Reinvent It

Tue, 15 April 2014

Contributed by bio-bean founder and Shell LiveWIRE alumnus, Arthur Kay
A recent study undertaken by Shell LiveWIRE and Youth Business International, called, 'Unlocking Ambitions, Creating Growth', indicates that the UK is losing out on economic competitiveness by not doing enough to encourage young people to act on ambitions to start and grow a business.

Would-be young entrepreneurs face a number of critical business challenges, but I believe that misconceptions surrounding the concept of ‘creativity’ lie at the heart of this issue. Entrepreneurs are expected to be original, to innovate and, most importantly, to be creative. What does this mean? More than anything, the preconceived notion of what an entrepreneur is and does acts as a barrier to entry in this sphere. Indeed, when compared with other countries, there is a significant, and potentially costly, gap between young people's entrepreneurial potential and their actual entrepreneurial activity. In the UK, one fifth of 18-34 year olds have the entrepreneurial skills to start a business, yet only one in 27 go on to do so.
A definition of creativity I rather like describes it as ‘the process of producing something both original and worthwhile’ – a highly subjective phrasing, which leaves the door open on almost any human eventuality – particularly entrepreneurship. Since ancient times people have held the notion that there's something mysterious, unpredictable, and even divine about where good ideas come from. The Greeks did not have a word for creativity, rather seeing what we see as production, as a process of discovery. A beautiful concept, and one lucidly discussed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her 2009 TED talk.

The idea that creativity is innate in all people, and simply needs coaxing out, is an approach that would-be entrepreneurs can learn from. We have conspired to put creativity on a plinth above almost everything else, and society has branded a select few among us as ‘creatives’. It is often overlooked that, like music, architecture or painting, science, technology and business are also highly creative. Indeed all of these mediums are simply mechanisms through which human ingenuity can be channelled.

Creativity does not require a radical paradigm shift within people, and coming up with a good idea rarely requires what we might call a ‘creative genius’. Indeed, many psychologists today argue that creativity is simply a skill that can, like any other, be taught, practiced and honed. Most acts of human creativity are mundane, from cooking supper for the kids, to composing an email, to formulating a route to meet a friend. We romanticise the pioneering, lone creative, pouring over a sonnet or the brilliant mathematician struggling over an equation. It is, rather, the incremental increase and assimilation of human knowledge, which provides the platform for a person to shout ‘Eureka!’. The exclaimer will be lauded and written about, perhaps become wealthy and certainly wonder at their ingenuity. They, like everyone else, will labour under and further propagate the ‘Eureka Myth’, characterised by famous scenes such as that of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head inspiring him to develop the theory of gravitation.

Whilst it may seem like great ideas just appear out of nowhere, in reality, a huge amount of hard work, serious thinking and periods of subconscious incubation precede them. Indeed, some psychologists now suggest that taking a break from the problem, and focusing on something else entirely, gives the mind some time to release its fixation on the same solutions and let the old pathways fade from memory. Then, when you return to the original problem, your mind is more open to new possibilities, and in the meantime, allowing the resting brain to explore different solutions to complex problems, cultivating lateral thinking and cross-pollination within the brain.

It is this neurological and social cross-pollination that is critical to innovation and creativity. Entrepreneurs understand well that nothing is developed within a vacuum; great ideas always bounce off each other. It is not uncreative to get ideas from other people, in fact that's where most come from. All ideas are inspired by somebody else's idea – you don't have to reinvent the wheel, you just need to give it a new spin. It was Isaac Newton who understood the value of the ‘bounce’ of ideas best, writing in a letter to his rival Robert Hooke: ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. One should not mythologise, and feel a pressure to spontaneously pluck ‘original and worthwhile’ ideas out of thin air, instead, take a leaf out of Pablo Picasso’s book, who shrewdly observed that ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’.

About Arthur Kay (Co-founder and CEO of bio-bean)

Arthur Kay is an award-winning designer and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CEO of bio-bean, a business that recycles coffee grounds into biodiesel and biomass pellets. In 2013 he won the Shell LiveWIRE Innovation Award and, in 2014, a Shell Springboard Regional Final.

You can follow him @bio_bean_uk and @arthurkay_.

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