Ecommerce: A New Art Form
by Rob Spiegel
"Business" and "Creativity" are not two words you always think of together; yet in the new economy, creativity is the very thing that may guarantee business success.
What creative project do you have in the back of your mind? Writing that novel? Putting together a bluegrass band? Painting the sunsets over the Rio Grande? How about starting a business?
When you think of the term creative endeavor, does launching or running a business come to mind? To most creative people, business is the antithesis of creativity. Yet slowly, ever so slowly, the nature of business is changing. The need for innovation in business is gradually overtaking the need for control as the resource that makes the difference between success and failure.
Really? But isn't business essentially about control? Controlling resources and controlling people? Yes, but business is also about innovation and communication, both of which live at the heart of creativity.
There are two reasons why I believe creativity will become increasingly valued in business. Control is certainly critical in business, both resources and people need to be managed carefully. But control is easier to teach than innovation. Given an equal need for both innovation and control, control is the easier skill or talent to find and implement. Thus innovation rises in value because it's more difficult to find and utilize effectively.
Are innovation and control equal needs? They certainly haven't been in the past. Control has been the leading force in business since the beginning of the industrial age. That age has ended however, and we now live in an service-based information world of commerce. This means the resource that needs to be controlled is more likely to be information rather than, say, coal. Information can be managed easily across electronic wiring and storage media. That means important work of business will be creating and disseminating information, and that requires a creative mind.
The other reason I believe creativity will rise in importance in business is that in our information-based economy, the resources required for business are fewer and less costly. If you can run a storefront on the Internet that can reach millions across the globe, you don't need capital to build a store that sits in a city and reaches thousands. The juice it takes to make the Internet company successful is not capital so much as the creative ability to reach and build a customer base over an infrastructure that's effectively free.
Napster was a wonderful example of this. A teenager was able to create a service that was quickly utilized by millions upon millions of users. Of course Napster had a glaring flaw: the company was trading in products created by others, and trading without the consent of those who produced the products. But the heart of the matter is that someone without substantial resources could build a highly-used, well-recognized brand out of little more than a creative idea. Using the same infrastructure, surely someone will come up with another intriguing idea that will capture our imagination and a big audience, and it will probably happen soon. And the next wave of creative Internet entrepreneurs will have learned from the Internet crash and its aftermath.
The Internet isn't dead. It's just stumbling a bit while taking its toddler steps. Internet start-up ideas will continue to attract creative people, simply because the free infrastructure invites innovation and resists control. Control is the deathword to creativity. Creative people have shunned business for that reason alone. Yet in a world where creativity and innovation become the critical elements for success, you bet creative people will begin to see commerce as an avenue of expression.
During the high days of Internet exuberance, I used this column to make the claim that business will be the creative medium of the early 21st century. I still believe it's true, simply because the basic elements still exist a encourage a creative approach to business. The resources to support a new company do not require control so much as creative manipulation. Given this free and open canvas, creative people will rush in, despite the lingering notion that business is somehow anti-creative.