I read a WSJ article about the rise of young CEOs and the debate over creativity over experience. The writers wrote, “Their ascension is airing a new argument about the value of youth in corporate decision-making. The debate typically pits the benefits of creativity and familiarity with emerging technologies against the need for disciplined decision making and experience dealing with hard times.” A flawed argument.
Pitting creativity against experience does not make sense.
First, every decade brings forth a young leader or two—whether it’s a Wall Street or Silicon Valley darling. Zuckerberg gets the honor for being the youngest leader for a large corporate entity, but he’s not the first to receive this honor, and won’t be the last. In 1996, Adam Werbach, at 23, was named the youngest-ever national president of the Sierra Club. Remember when Netscape and Marc Andreessen’s were in the daily news? How about the days of Jerry Yang and Yahoo?
Youth is not synonymous with creativity.
When a child’s creativity is nurtured, she or she will continue to cultivate this and will remain creative all his life. Even when they are not actively encouraged, those with a creative bent will find ways to express themselves. We see creative people from all ages and walks of life. Some creative individuals didn’t even tap their creative sides until past their 30s and beyond. A few obvious examples: Grandma Moses, William Butter Yeats, Mark Twain, Johann von Goethe, Anton Bruckner, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Wallace Stevens, and Joseph Conrad.
Experience does not mean loss of or absence of creativity.
Successful, seasoned entrepreneurs tap both their experience and creativity to build their lives and their next ventures.
More accurately, it’s not so much experience, but the conforming bureaucratic nature of a corporation that should be pitted against creativity. There are certain structural and attitudinal inherencies that exist in a corporate culture. The more people in an organization, the more processes in place, the more bureaucratic the entity becomes. It’s this bureaucratic element that dampens and even kills creative tendencies. Why bother submitting your innovative, out-of-the box idea when it will require going through multiple management levels to get to the decision-making team? When you’re running a team of five, you’re agile and can change easily. Not so when it’s a bureaucracy of 500 or 5,000. Many creative individuals leave the corporate world because they are stifled by the corporate culture that wants everyone to follow corporate rules and be managed.
What the corporate world needs is to allocate more room for creative individuals to express and offer creative solutions, instead of the usual, “We need to observe company process and guidelines.”
In the big picture, the success of running an entity, whether a non-profit or a public corporation, requires more than just creativity or experience. Successful leaders need both, as well as a long list of other qualities.
© 2013 My-Tien Vo