We make heroes of entrepreneurial innovators. According to a recent YouGov survey, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is the most admired man on the planet; Alibaba founder Jack Ma placed 10th. A 2016 Wired profile credited augmented-reality pioneer and Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz with nothing less than “invent[ing] a superpower.”
Indeed, the cultural narrative that celebrates entrepreneurial inventiveness often views this creativity as happening in bubbles outside of the mainstream corporate world. The business press ascribes a level of magic to companies created by iconic founders, such as Amazon, Apple, and Pixar, holding them up as special and somehow different from other corporations.
But is it really the spark of genius that distinguishes these organizations? Or does their repeated success in developing wildly popular new products and services have more to do with culture, process, and environment? I believe it’s the latter. And this raises an intriguing question: Is it possible to break through the barriers between those creative companies and the rest of the corporate world, building within conventional businesses the ideal conditions for entrepreneurial thinking?
I believe we can — and the recipe for doing so is found in the maker movement.
The maker movement is a cultural phenomenon that celebrates shared experimentation, iterative learning, and discovery through connected communities that build together, while always emphasizing creativity over criticism.
Stemming the Culture of Criticism
We are all born creative. Then why does criticizing, instead of creating, become the default practice in many corporate cultures? Reacting to the explosion of information in the last few decades, we have increasingly trained ourselves to be consumers of data, giving rise to a culture where we place great value on evaluative and analytical skills. In the workplace, the critic is rewarded — for vigilance, for risk management, for seeing the future, and for avoiding danger and crises — while the creator mindset begins to atrophy.
The rise of scheduled business meetings, which now consume 15% of an organization’s workday, has contributed to this. Formal meetings become performative events, where participants feel the need to say something — anything! — and serving as the critic of someone else’s idea is sometimes the easiest and safest way to offer input.