A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Evan Polman of New York University and Kyle Emich of Cornell University made me wonder if it’s more difficult to be a creative entrepreneur than a creative employee. For those of you who didn’t read the study, the punch line is this: In a series of four lab experiments conducted on college students, the authors found “that people are more creative for others than for themselves.”
This is one of those studies that are too indirect to provide specific answers about entrepreneurship. After all, the researchers were conducting experiments on undergraduate students and were examining creativity in exercises that have nothing to do with starting or running a business – drawing pictures of an alien and solving a brain teaser. Therefore, it’s quite possible that the authors’ findings wouldn’t hold for the kind of creativity that real business people employ in running their own or others’ businesses.
On the other hand, the study raises very interesting questions about the creativity of business owners and employees. If the pattern found by the authors – that people are more creative when acting on behalf of others than themselves – extended to business activities, it would have important implications small business management. For instance, the pattern might mean it is easier to be creative when you’re an employee than when you run your own business. It also might mean that business owners should frame their efforts to come up with new and better ideas as something they do on behalf of their employees and customers rather than for themselves.
Obviously, I’m in the realm of speculation here triggered by an interesting, but distantly related article. But since the questions it raises are so interesting, I’m wondering what most of you think of the study’s main finding. Do you think it would hold true for small business owners? And if it did, what do you that the findings would mean for how small business owners should go about being creative? Finally, if you don’t think the main finding would hold, why wouldn’t work in small businesses the same way it worked in the lab?