Smart Creative

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to read a book per week in 2015.  So far, so good, with the help of Kindle audio and a recent road trip north. I don’t plan on posting each book, but will share a few excerpts readers may enjoy.

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg is full of colorful lessons for entrepreneurs and investors. We don’t own the stock today, but would welcome the opportunity to partner with Google’s “smart creatives” at the right price. Relative to the traditional “knowledge worker” Googlers represent a different type of employee. In the author’s words:

“They are not confined to specific tasks. They are not limited in their access to the company’s information and computing power. They are not averse to taking risks, nor are they punished or held back in any way when those risky initiatives fail. They are not hemmed in by role definitions or organizational structures; in fact, they are encouraged to exercise their own ideas. They don’t keep quiet when they disagree with something. They get bored easily and shift jobs a lot. They are multidimensional, usually combining technical depth with business savvy and creative flair. In other words, they are not knowledge workers, at least not in the traditional sense.

“They are a new kind of animal, a type we call a “smart creative,” and they are the key to achieving success in the Internet Century. The defining characteristic of today’s successful companies is the ability to continually deliver great products. And the only way to do that is to attract smart creatives and create an environment where they can succeed at scale. And who, exactly, is this smart creative? A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade, and plenty of hands-on experience. In our industry, that means she is most likely a computer scientist, or at least understands the tenets and structure of the systems behind the magic you see on your screens every day. But in other industries she may be a doctor, designer, scientist, filmmaker, engineer, chef, or mathematician.

  • She is an expert in doing. She doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes.
  • She is analytically smart. She is comfortable with data and can use it to make decisions. She also understands its fallacies and is wary of endless analysis. Let data decide, she believes, but don’t let it take over.
  • She is business smart. She sees a direct line from technical expertise to product excellence to business success, and understands the value of all three.
  • She is competitive smart. Her stock-in-trade starts with innovation, but it also includes a lot of work. She is driven to be great, and that doesn’t happen 9-to-5.
  • She is user smart. No matter the industry, she understands her product from the user or consumer’s perspective better than almost anyone. We call her a “power user,” not just casual but almost obsessive in her interest. She is the automotive designer who spends her weekends fixing up that ’69 GTO, the architect who can’t stop redesigning her house.
  • She is her own focus group, alpha tester, and guinea pig. A smart creative is a fire-hose of new ideas that are genuinely new. Her perspective is different from yours or ours. It’s even occasionally different from her own perspective, for a smart creative can play the perspective chameleon when she needs to.
  • She is curious creative. She is always questioning, never satisfied with the status quo, seeing problems to solve everywhere and thinking that she is just the person to solve them. She can be overbearing.
  • She is risky creative. She is not afraid to fail, because she believes that in failure there is usually something valuable she can salvage. Either that, or she is just so damn confident she knows that even in the event that she does fail, she can pick herself up and get it right the next time around.
  • She is self-directed creative. She doesn’t wait to be told what to do and sometimes ignores direction if she doesn’t agree with it. She takes action based on her own initiative, which is considerable.
  • She is open creative. She freely collaborates, and judges ideas and analyses on their merits and not their provenance. If she were into needlepoint, she would sew a pillow that said, “If I give you a penny, then you’re a penny richer and I’m a penny poorer, but if I give you an idea, then you will have a new idea but I’ll have it too.” Then she would figure out a way to make the pillow fly around the room and shoot lasers.
  • She is thorough creative. She is always on and can recite the details, not because she studies and memorizes, but because she knows them. They are her details.
  • She is communicative creative. She is funny and expresses herself with flair and even charisma, either one-to-one or one-to-many.

“Not every smart creative has all of these characteristics, in fact very few of them do. But they all must possess business savvy, technical knowledge, creative energy, and a hands-on approach to getting things done. Those are the fundamentals.

“Perhaps the best thing about smart creatives is that they are everywhere. We have worked with plenty of smart creatives who boast computer science degrees from elite universities, but plenty more who don’t. In fact, smart creatives can be found in every city, in every school, in every class and demographic, and in most businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations: the ambitious ones of all ages who are eager (and able) to use the tools of technology to do a lot more. Their common characteristic is that they work hard and are willing to question the status quo and attack things differently.”

We aren’t computer scientists. We aren’t building self-driving cars or launching balloons into space to deliver internet to the world. But we do know quite a few smart creatives that work hard to question the status quo right here in Lenoir (in addition to those actually working at the Google Data Center). And we’re always looking for more.