The founding paradox of discipline & creativity
there is an insufficiency of Jeff Bezos to go around
Hans Baumhardt | 6 March 2017
In Great by Choice, Jim Collins identifies organisational level behaviours that produce 10x (not 10%) results; fantastic discipline, empirical creativity and something else. Given a range of startup experiences we have been debating which dominant trait makes for a more successful tech startup founder:
Discipline in metrics and process helps iterate through uncertainty to validation, but those behaviours are typically unnatural to the creative innovators who generate new seed ideas. On the other side discipline alone tends to process which can crush creativity. Finding problems for every solution is my natural state, so I always work with an innovator to feed the machine. A couple of experience based examples to illustrate the range:
The disciplined planner. I worked with James (pseudonym) an extremely successful ex-corporate executive who spent most of the time focussed on constructing highly disciplined and elaborate 5 year execution plans under strict change control. Validation testing of the marvellous concept was considered totally unnecessary. Naturally the massive cascade of miracle assumptions, like is there economic demand for the proposition, did not survive contact with the market. Ironically the proposition was some sort of quality diagnostic.
The crazy innovator. Conversely massive fun working with Craig (pseudonym) a tech founder who was genuinely the smartest person in the room, generating a string of stunning concepts that always “nearly made it”. In this case the potential was choked with zero tolerance for any discipline or process to keep it fun, and an inability to let go of the baby.
We carry our prisons with us, and it may be that these are actually boundary examples of a more fundamental unproductive narcissism or something. I really should have studied I/O psychology.
Disciplined creativity seems to be a paradox that does not occur regularly in nature (there is an insufficiency of Jeff Bezos) and a great reason for founders to partner with a balancing capability. Partnering at a co-founder or peer level is important for this creative tension to work, otherwise the dominant authority will always end up ruling and the airplane crashes. Notice how many seed investors and accelerators avoid solo founders.
As an aside in reading around this space, Forward Partners published The solo founder hypothesis arguing that they are fine and then Hiring a co-founder suggesting it is actually quite important. The posts are undated so difficult to infer over what period the views changed or why. The question has been asked.
Whilst effectiveness can be learnt, disciplined creativity is probably easier to synthesise by partnering and teaming.
creativity + discipline = scale
Martin Lukes: Who Moved My BlackBerry? Lucy Kellaway 2006
Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons, Michael Maccoby, HBR 2004
The solo founder hypothesis, Nic Brisbourne ForwardPartners, undated
First published by the author on hjbconsulting.uk