Panel on Innovation and Opportunities in US Agriculture

I’ll be at the National Chamber Foundation Wednesday, December 19, for a one-day event on “Agriculture: Growing Innovation & Opportunities.” Keynote speakers include US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Chamber of Commerce President  Tom Donohue, and Cargill CEO Gregory Page. I’m moderating a panel with industry and government representatives on innovation and US producers’ responses to growth opportunities. Agriculture in the US, as elsewhere in the developed world, faces a conundrum: Innovation and entrepreneurship are closely linked to uncertainty, experimentation, and what Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction,” the constant churn of products and firms rising and falling through competition. But agricultural policy is largely designed to maintain the status quo — e.g., “protecting the family farm.” Can these objectives be reconciled? We’ll see what the panelists have to say.

Creativity: Burst of Inspiration or Careful Research and Revision?

Keith Sawyer reminds us that much of what we think we know about artistic creativity is wrong:

You’ve probably heard lots of stories about famous creators who supposedly created an entire work in a fit of inspiration, generating something so perfect that they never modified it. Mozart is said to have composed in bursts of inspiration (you can see it in the movie Amadeus); the Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge has the same reputation. And guess what? These stories are just as false as the myths about Jackson Pollock.

  • Music historians have known since the 1960s that “Mozart’s creative process was controlled by a consistently practical approach to the business aspects of music” and that “his manuscripts show evidence of careful editing, revision, and hard work” (Explaining Creativity page 339).
  • Coleridge experts have known since the 1920s that he fabricated his own stories about writing poems in a fit of inspiration. The famous poem “Kubla Khan,” for example–which Coleridge claims to have written in a drug-induced haze–went through many revisions that still exist. Among his Romantic-era colleagues, Coleridge was so famous for making up false stories about inspiration, they would often tease him about it (Explaining Creativity page 322).

No great work ever emerges fully formed from the mind. People become known as “exceptional creators” not because of the power of their inspiration, but because of the intensity and dedication of their work process; because of their ability to stay focused through multiple revisions; and because of their ability to negotiate a zigzag path from the first glimmer of an idea to the final full-fledged work.

The same applies to entrepreneurial creativity. This relates to the challenges posed by the bricolage and effectuation approaches to the opportunity-discovery model that has dominated the entrepreneurship research literature. Ideas for projects, activities, and new firms may occur to us in a flash of insight, but they do not constitute “entrepreneurship” until the hard work of acquiring, deploying, and reconfiguring resources takes place.

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