The Art in Innovation

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a conference for entrepreneurs called Big Omaha. The conference was founded by these two Silicon Prairie natives, Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson. It was my first time to this upstart conference, which has been around for only a few short years. I was simply blown away by every detail. The speakers this year where outstanding, as the conference now draws some of the best and brightest innovators in the country. This year the conference featured entrepreneurs and investors such as Dan Martell, Leila Janah, and Neil Blumenthal. I enjoyed every minute of these speakers, as well as many others. For two days they regaled us with stories of success, failure, and high stakes risk taking.

Of course this year had more than just big ticket speakers. As this conference has quickly made a name for itself as the most ambitious conference on entrepreneurship in the nation, local and federal government have started to pay attention. At Big Omaha this year we heard from government funded Start Up America, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, and The United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. With big entrepreneurs and government officials, the conference was sure to be a success.

After two great days of learning, reading, note taking, and countless hours of “idea conversations”, I sat back this morning for a bit to reflect on my takeaways from the conference. I decided to again review the presentation from fashion and lifestyle designer Mark Ecko. The presentation he gave was on a creative level that I had never seen.  At first I really couldn’t understand where he was going with it, but I knew I was incredibly intrigued by what he had to say. Whether or not I fully understood his musings, I was fascinated by them. It was while reviewing this presentation that I stumbled upon my greatest learning from the conference.

Innovation is art.

I studied art in college for my undergraduate degree and I have spent most of my life in the company of artists and creatives. If there is one type of personality and “stereotype” I know, its artists. As I reviewed notes and thought back through the discussion panels and conversations I had at the conference, I realized that this was the truth that was binding the whole thing together. When I talk to entrepreneurs and hear them present, I hear artists. As innovators and entrepreneurs, we are creating more than just a product and even a cause. What we are working on is personal. We are creating art. Trying to get an innovator to walk away from a great idea is like trying to get a painter to leave a great work incomplete. Success or failure, it needs to get worked out.

In the end, I think what links innovation and entrepreneurship so close to art and creativity is that those who are successful at either do it for sake of creating, and nothing else. It takes to much work to be successful at innovation to do it for any other reason. These people don’t do it for the money, or the fame, or sometimes even the social cause they support. They innovate and create because its what they have to do. Its who they are.

Innovators and entrepreneurs are artists. It’s important for organizational leaders to learn to value creatives and innovators, and view innovative work as a form of art. I think it would help us all understand it a bit more.

More photos of Big Omaha 2011.

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