Amy WIlkinson on “fundamental approaches to the act of creation”

Wilkinson, AmyThe term “code” with regard to individuals is comparable with the term “secret sauce” with regard to organizations. Just as there are defining characteristics of great organizations, there are defining characteristics of exceptionally creative people.

However different they may be in most other respects, all have mastered what Amy Wilkinson characterizes as “essential” skills. They comprise the “code” to which the title of her book refers: The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs. That said, cracking that code merely identifies the skills. Mastering them is an entirely different kettle of fish. There are seven: Find the Gap, Drive for Daylight, Fly the OODA Loop [observe, orient, decide, and act], Fail Wisely, Network Minds, and Gift Small Goods.

How did Wilkinson arrive at these six? She analyzed 10,000 pages of interviews transcripts and more than 5,000 pieces of archival and documentary evidence. Her research was based on grounded theory method, widely used in qualitative analysis. “The six essential skills are not discrete, stand-alone practices. Each feeds the next, creating synergy and momentum…When a creator brings together all six skills, something magnetic happens. Creators attract allies — employees, customers, investors, and collaborators of all kinds. Customers become evangelists. Employees turn into loyalists. Investors back the company with support that transcends financial returns.”

Curious, I re-read the highlighted passages of my copies of three biographies of Benjamin Franklin — by Edmund Morgan, H.W. Brands, and Walter Isaacson. Franklin fits Wilkinson’s profile as do each of the creators she examines. (Who else does prior to the 20th century? Hmmm….) The creators whom Wilkinson discusses include (in alpha order) Susan Blakely (Pages 34-38), Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia ((3-5, and 66-67), Reid Hoffman (6-7, 82-87, 101-102, and 178-181), Elizabeth Holmes (7-8 and 56-58), Elon Musk (15-17, 29-34, and 118-121), Kevin Plank (1-3 and 71-72), and Peter Thiel (75-77, 80-82, and 84-89). They are certainly a diverse lot. All had compelling visions and agreed with another dreamer, Thomas Edison, that “vision without execution is hallucination.”

While re-reading this book prior to composing my brief commentary, I was again reminded of the fact that all of what are today the Fortune 50 companies — in fact all 500 — began as an acorn or, if you prefer, as a mustard seed. Every single one of them.

In the final chapter, what Amy Wilkinson says about the creators in her book could also be said about Franklin and Edison as well as countless others within the last 100 years: “The cornerstone of creators’ success is their unshakable belief in their own abilities and powerful desire to bring change to the world. It takes optimism, figuring out what needs to be done, then taking action…Creation is at bottom an act of faith, a commitment to a dream of the future. All of us hold within ourselves the potential to become creators, and the expanding universe of entrepreneurship provides infinite pathways for us to explore — if we dare.”

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