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Entrepreneurial vs. Creative

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Jul 3, 2007 12:26:00 PM

Often I hear recruiters and managers talk about wanting to hire more "entrepreneurial and creative talent," or perhaps how to attract more "creative and entrepreneurial" people. These terms are used together so frequently that they've become somewhat synonymous, but the qualities, and the people that embody them, can actually be quite different.

I was thinking about this while reading Jason Corsello's recent post on the new challenges Google is facing in attracting and retaining top talent. Jason ends his post saying, "Every company these days seems to want to be like Google. They can start by acting like them..." For many people, "acting like Google" means providing benefits like free meals and laundry service.

While creative people might take a passing interest in a variety of things, my experience is that what they want more than anything is to be left alone to create. While they have the same human appreciation for praise and seeing their work used to successful ends, simply being able to do what they love is enough for them to keep going. While better health insurance might mean something to one creative person, a free onsite laundry service could mean a lot more because it eliminates a constant distraction. 

Give the artist a stack of forms to fill out and he might gripe about how these take time away from painting, but so long as the budget requests get approved eventually, it probably won't be a major problem. But give an entrepreneur the same stack of forms, and she'll just as likely carry them to the CEO's office and raise a ruckus about the process itself. The artist is content in his studio, while the entrepreneur sees the whole company as her oyster. Entrepreneurial people often end up working for themselves because they simply can't tolerate the blinding and obstinate stupidity that every established business seems to accumulate.

Do entrepreneurs care about fringe benefits? Yes and no. Given equal opportunities they will have an effect, but the more entrepreneurial a person is, the more focused they will be on the core opportunity. At the margin, people who join very early-stage startups often do so for nothing but equity, and founders will often sink money in for years before seeing a penny, and some lose their shirts in the process.

One of the more interesting examples of the differences between these two types is something I see whenever I talk to old friends from my brief stint as a newspaper reporter. The business is dying and they know it, but at the same time they talk about it as though it were happening to someone else. Their job, as they see it, is to write good news stories, and "the business side of news" is something they see as someone else's problem.

Ultimately I think large companies can process creative employees somewhat more effectively if only because they can be more easily tagged and shelved. The challenge is keeping them fed a steady diet of the work they like. Entrepreneurial employees, on the other hand, are more inclined to challenge things outside their portfolio, and become unhappy when forced to work around what they see as self-inflicted failures.