I’m a lawyer: admittedly, not the most creative of professions.
Lawyerin’ tends to be about obeying community standards (i.e., what everyone else is doing). It obsesses over adherence to precedent (i.e., what was done yesterday). It seeks above all else to avoid risk.
When you combine these traits, if you’re not careful, you usually end up doing exactly what everyone else did yesterday. Unless it involves risk. In which case you do nothing.
That’s pretty far from the soul of creativity. Creativity is way more about doing what nobody else has done yet…even (especially??) if it involves substantial risk.
So, like I said…I didn’t exactly choose the most creative profession.
This is made apparent to me when I look at what the other people in my life do for their livings. I have two siblings who have written for and produced eight or so successful television comedies. One of them stars in his own show and on this award-winning website. My sister was in this Academy Award winning movie. My three-year-old son’s godfather is an award-winning novelist who sometimes co-writes NYT bestselling trilogies with famous directors and some other times, gets his own book get made into major motion pictures. Like the two currently in development at major studios. Or like this one:
I have other good friends who’ve written and produced and executive-produced and set-designed and won Emmys for long-running network dramas, much-acclaimed rock documentaries, nationwide broadcasts of big-league sporting events, and Super Bowl ad campaigns. Years ago, when my roommate Chris died suddenly, one friend wrote and recorded this song about the what it must be like to shoulder the burden of such a loss. The song’s album hit double-platinum sales the following year.
Clever, creative, effective, and hugely decent people, one and all.
Perhaps because of these relationships, every time I watch television, or a movie, or read a book, only half my brain is thinking about the action unfolding in front of me. In the other half, a persistent voice asks: Who is this character based on? Who wrote that line…that’s an odd way to say that? How much was the exchange revised before it settled into its present form? Which came first, the music or the lyrics? Why did they arrange the furniture that way? Hmmm…somebody had to pick out that tie…I wonder why they picked that tie…
For whatever reason, that voice in my brain obsesses more about the creative process than the created work.
Which is why Brad Feld is making my brain feel bad about itself right now.
For those few of you who don’t know Brad, he’s the hyperkinetic, well-regarded, and excedingly well-read venture capitalist from Boulder-based Foundry Group. [Minor confession: Foundry invested in Brightleaf. Brad doesn't sit on our board, but he does sit near a guy who sits on our board. So while Brad can't directly and unilaterally fire me for bad blogging, I'm probably always about one 1050 Walnut Street intraoffice 'Trading Places" dollar bet from the door].
Brad sits on the boards of nine or ten portfolio companies. I’m willing to bet that the CEOs of each of those companies would rate him as an eleven on the “active” and “engaged” scales. He lectures frequently and lobbies ardently on behalf of the start-up ecosystem in the U.S. He blogs about as often than I eat and tweets slightly less often than I breathe. Unlike my eating and breathing though, 100,000 or so people care about what he blogs and tweets. He runs about eleventy bajillion miles a week.
He also writes books. Lots of books.
A few months ago, Brad released Burning Entrepreneur: How to Launch, Fund, and Set Your Start-up on Fire. Last year, he and partner Jason Mendelson wrote the much-acclaimed Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. The year before that, Brad collaborated with TechStars founder David Cohen to pen Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.
Now, according to my Amazon alert, Brad’s new book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, is done and ready for pre-order. I read an advanced draft last month. If you’re interested at all in how startups really grow, you should order a copy right now.
Startup Communities details the external conditions new companies need to grow and cross-pollinate and spawn more new companies. While its lessons draw heavily on the success of the Boulder venture scene, the book really covers emerging company ecosystems anywhere and in any field from software to organic food. As with all of Brad’s books, Startup Communities is written in an accessible style that distills theory and evidence and anecdote into clear and practical advice. Particularly vivid is Brad’s retelling of how several members of the Boulder startup community, stranded in New York on 9.11.01, connected with each other and made their way home.
But as much as I enjoyed reading it, Startup Communities definitely magnified my obsessive focusing on the creative process rather than the created work. With each page, that persistent voice in my brain would ask stuff like: “What the? How is this possible? Where does Brad find time to write books this frequently while still doing the other thousand things he does each day? Does he have clones? If so, are those clones somehow immune to the strictures of the time-space continuum? Does one of the clones get stuck doing the laundry for the other ones? Is the cloning technology part of Foundry’s current portfolio? Hmmm. I bet that’s what Cheezburger is really up to…it’s just the sort of thing they’d do…”
And so on.
But when the voice went to sleep and let me focus on Startup Communities itself, here’s what I learned: the book’s one constant, reverberating lesson is that startup communities really, really, really are communities: their vitality and velocity are driven more by their internal interconnectedness than by their size or their proximity to a major university.
In that regard, with richness of connection and speed of interaction being predmoninant, startup communities work very much the way human brains do. And given the pace at which it operates, the big brain on Brad is right now making mine feel bad…again. I better get to work.
So go read Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. It should inspire you. And if not, it’ll at least make your brain feel better about itself.
Learn more here: http://startuprev.com