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Why Start-ups Shouldn’t Grow up

Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after he grows up.” Many creative people tend to return to the conceptual world of childhood as catalysts for either their work or their ideas. Our ability to be creative, to explore and learn new things are characteristics we may lose over time, says Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. “Children are designed by evolution to be extremely good learners—to be able to learn about anything that’s interesting and important in the world around them,” she says. “When you look at their brains, they’re extremely flexible, so they can change what they think based on new evidence very quickly and easily.”

And start-ups are like children. They want to create. Start-ups are very curious, that's their drive. They want to discover what's behind it, which product or services can change the world. But they work hard and constantly. Richard Luecke, author of Managing Creativity and Innovation, describes the characteristics of a start-up as creative, innovative, risk-taking and explorative. Start-ups try things on and try things out. They improvise, taking on new roles, imagining what would happen if they possessed new capabilities or behaved differently. Start-ups throw away what doesn’t work and build on what does. They can play alone or compete against someone else; they can collaborate with another to beat a larger enemy. They take the risk that may lose a game or a battle, but there is always the chance to start again. This sounds quite similar to children’s play.

But as well as a child becomes adult, a start-up also becomes adult. Instead of being attracted to and exploring anything new and exciting in our environments, adults begin to focus only on those things that are relevant to them. They become close-minded and oblivious to the possibilities that surround us. The mind becomes so set and so organized that we seem to lose the ability to create new ideas or even to recognize ideas developed by others. This is what Picasso meant when he described the problem as how to remain an artist after we grow up. Likewise, the day-to-day concerns of managers of established firms are opposed to those required business new business managers. Entrepreneurs usually care more about innovation and market acceptance while risk is taken into account, instead managers of established firms usually care about predictability, operating efficiency, profit margins and control.

Researchers at North Dakota State University think they may have found an answer. Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson, who carried out a US study into adult creativity have discovered that the more an adult acts and thinks like a child, the more imaginative he or she becomes. “Thinking like a child is entirely possible for adults,” says Robinson. “And we found that doing so is beneficial for certain types of creative activities.” Consequently, established firms may also act like start-ups or start-ups should not grow up at all. Successful businesses do not only respond to their current customer or organizational requirements, but they are able to link a more advanced understanding of a subject with the kinds of questions, problems, issues and sensibilities that most characterize a wonder-filled child. Start-ups, like children, are willing to ask the obvious questions. They develop ideas, products or services that allow them to meet this future demand more rapidly and effectively than their competitors. Start-ups are creative and develop more innovative products and services than those that dominate the market. So companies, become a child again!

Frederik Kraft, guest contributor

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