The Creative Spirit

My grandfather Jim Marten has been a guiding light and mentor for me my entire life. At 86 years old, his thoughts and observations are more powerful and profound than ever, as he draws similarities in how I'm living my life as a creative and how he designed his entrepreneurial journey over 60 years ago! I'm sharing this with you because like me, you are on a journey to create significant value in the world 🌍, so let this piece be a reinforcement that you are on the right path! 🙏

The Creative Spirit

Jim Marten

"Life is a pure flame, And we live by an invisible sun within it."

Thomas Browne [1658]

I have lived the last 65 years of my adult life amongst entrepreneurial creative people in academic research (biomolecular structure), medical business development from start-up to final exit (as IPOs or mergers), and finally this last 20 years as part of the Fourth Floor Artists Cooperative in Rockland.  This has afforded me the opportunity to observe the patterns of behavior of these unique communities as they cope with sudden change, disorder, and risk.

Most of us have ways of believing the world makes sense and that there is a solid foundation or hidden meaning which allows for the rational interpretation of chance events.  Creators believe that you build your life from the absurd, random nature of events in circumstances not of your own making by acting decisively without regard for the consequences.

At some point in their lives, creators, in moments of crisis, fear, and losing their nerve, ask themselves, in one form or another, the question posed by the Jewish philosopher Hillel in his treatise “Ethics of the Fathers”:

“If I am not for my own self, who is for me; and being for my own self, what am I?”

The painter Francis Bacon described the creative experience thus:

“Creativity is a struggle to control ideas and means.  There is a time when these forces almost overwhelm, the point at which victory and defeat are in balance, the moment of failure or breakthrough.”

This experience is shared by business entrepreneurs running out of time and money, and researchers who find after years of work that their experimental results do not support their hypotheses.  Each one asks in their own way, “Am I able to summon the strength of will to prevail, or is this the end of my quest?”

Nevertheless, walking a tightrope without a safety net can, with certain people, provide surges of energy to overcome obstacles.  By rejecting the prudent, cautious, sensible approach, creators find there is an element of freedom inherent in careless action, living vividly in the present, and that moving forward is preferable to some well thought out long-term strategy.

Working with limited time and money to make and execute risky propositions requires using finesse with almost all interactions with others.  The ability to simultaneously pursue various notions, switch from one perspective to another, and select good ideas from bad ones by astute observation are instinctive skills.

The generation of ideas well outside the norm is an enjoyable and occasionally joyous exercise for its own sake, with periods of intense effort interspersed with playfulness, naiveté, and iconoclastic behavior which can lead to an explosive and emotional outcome.

Working focused whilst remaining light-hearted removes the stress which inhibits inventiveness and the temptation to play safe.  Steve Jobs urged others to “stay hungry and stay foolish.”

Often these periods of intense focus and stress are followed by idleness, withdrawal, and entering into what can only be described as a meditative state.  The creative personality often exhibits both extrovert and introvert characteristics.  The propensity for risk and innovation and the ability to recover from failure is a feature of this dual identity.

Contrast this to the behavior pursued by large established organizations with ample time, money, technical, consultant, and legal resources.  This allows for the evolution of well thought out and cooperative plans.  Government, industrial, and commercial concerns and some academic institutions behave in this way, believing that given time, their long-term plans will ultimately bring about the conclusions desired and be relevant well into the future.

Great emphasis is placed on managing public perception.  Individuals in these organizations are expected to keep their antagonisms, insecurities, and ambitions shielded for the most important attribute is harmony and cooperation.

Substantial long-term benefits accrue to employees, and being calm and careful not to make critical mistakes is paramount for advancement in large organizations.

In negotiating the resolution of patent infringement disputes, technical licenses, distribution agreements, and financial arrangements, the advantage appears to be with the larger entities for they have time and legal and financial advisors on hand, whereas the entrepreneur usually is alone and must make business, legal, and financial decisions on the spot without support, and at the same time consider tax implications.

For the lone negotiator, it is often a matter of life and death which ironically frees up the creative mind used to undertaking multiple tasks simultaneously, to outwit the apparently superior opponent.

One large, highly disciplined, hierarchical organization that does not easily fit into this pattern is the military.  Long-term planned expectations are always disrupted by actual events, and must be changed rapidly by the chaotic scenarios after the first shots are fired.  Combatants with little time to ponder become, by necessity, entrepreneurs, especially at the source of battle.  This is possibly why the military is finding it easier to cope with this age of disruption compared to more tightly controlled organizations.

Moreover, the gulf of misunderstanding by large corporate media and the political and business establishments is understandable when confronted with an entrepreneur schooled in the rough and tumble conflict of New York property development and the Wall Street gatekeepers of capital allocation.

Creators work out in the open and have to contend with outside critical scrutiny and self-evaluation and doubt without any protective barriers.  They are constantly in touch with their feelings, but the possibility of the rapid onset of defeat is never foreseen until too late.

The use of solitude, alone or with a close associate, on say, long walks where the most productive hours are spent allowing the mind to roam freely amongst diverse and unrelated subjects and events.  This can conclude in a cascade of intense feelings and dissatisfaction with the status quo and where ideas and possibilities can lead to the resolution of long-standing problems.

This practice of unconscious, non-deliberate thought can occur when doing repetitive work such as driving a car along well-known routes, gardening or swimming, where only a portion of the mind is occupied, leaving room for thoughts loosened from their familiar associations to entertain fantasies outside the boundaries of current reality.

The use of creative, carefree, detached thought is necessarily a solitary one, free from the normal distractions of social media, telephone, radio, television, and all the debris which clutters up modern life.  This practice can be learned, but is inherent in creative people.

The pursuit of innovation gives the creator a sense of fulfillment, of common purpose, and a shared joy that is the ultimate and unique characteristic of being human as is the satisfaction of doing something difficult that gives pleasure to others, free of yourself and a part of the ongoing process of continuous change.  The journey is often more joyful than arriving at the destination.

 Dylan and Jim, December 2016 in Charleston

Dylan and Jim, December 2016 in Charleston