Creative Entrepreneurship’s Loneliness Problem
“Success comes when people act together; failure tends to happen when we act alone.” — Deepak Chopra
The new economy has resulted in a pervasive shift from large corporations to the dynamism of individual entrepreneurs. Working without restriction, individuals can bring the tenacity and vitality required to succeed in business. However, the type of independence that enables entrepreneurial success can be the same element that hinders it: today, individual business owners often lack the formal mechanisms for feedback and collaboration that larger companies offer. After all, the management world recognizes the value of collaboration — “team work” has been touted as one of the most important hiring criteria for large companies in the last few decades.
When confronted with a conceptual challenge, most creative entrepreneurs are animated by the opportunity to venture into new territories, following the very instinct that led them to entrepreneurship in the first place. The prizes are potentially numerous — the ego boost, the excitement of conquering new territory, and the glory of winning.
But these challenges can also be a minefield. For instance, there is the risk of repetition and lack of perspective that comes with entrepreneurship. The typical entrepreneurial process for facing new challenges –hunkering down, researching, and pulling from whatever available resources there may be available — may actually limit critical thinking and exposure. And the more isolated the creator, the more likely results can suffer from being conceived in an echo chamber (where the creator falls in love with his or her own pitch). Harnessing the perspectives and intellect of others, and benefiting from their experience is an opportunity that is frequently missed. Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant explains: “If you ever took a debate class, you were taught to identify the weaknesses in your argument and address them out loud. But we forget to do this when we pitch our ideas: we worry that they’re fragile and we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot”
What if entrepreneurs could keep their independence while having access to a network of peers that possess the richness of experience and wisdom required to take a discussion one step farther? Compared to the inefficient talent concentration and processes of larger companies, this type of ecosystem –one built on trust and expertise — can have immeasurable value to individual entrepreneurs.
Today more than ever, business expertise comes from sources outside the formal boundaries of the traditional company. An approach increasingly followed by successful leaders is to advance their business by growing a network of trusted peers that they can tap into when faced with new challenges. This kind of community takes time to build, but the rewards are boundless. Active members of such communities become connectors, trusted experts, and collaborators at the heart of commercial activity.
People like Simon Mainwaring, Founder of We First, believe in the need to “develop and disseminate an entirely new paradigm and practice of collaboration;” one that “supersedes the traditional silos that have divided governments, philanthropies, and private enterprises for decades, and replaces this with networks of partnerships working together.” While that might seem like a pie-in-the-sky outcome, it can be put into practice at every scale.
One of the great potential beneficiaries of this approach is the commercial and residential real estate industry. Real estate depends on small players –like architects, contractors, attorneys, interior designers, photographers, and publicists, to name a few — that can creatively push the envelope. But while all together these sub-sectors represent the creative force of the market, individually, they share the same common challenges of creative entrepreneurs as previously described. That does not have to be so. With these observations in mind, I formed a professional network for the real estate and design industry called Brick & Wonder, which fosters collaborations among its members.
Brick & Wonder provides members with peer advice on how to run their businesses, covering topics ranging from operations and marketing to the ins-and-outs of Human Resources. The core function of the platform is to refer and source professionals for active projects.
Recently, a boutique furniture brand, Radnor, needed a space to launch their Radnor home collection. Not being tied to the traditional showroom concept, Radnor’s owner was on the lookout for a captivating place to launch and sell their furniture over an extended period of time. Brick & Wonder matched Radnor’s founder Susan Clarke with a publicist for Corcoran Sunshine, the developer of The Bryant: a luxury residential tower by famed British architect, David Chipperfield, that overlooks Manhattan’s Bryant Park. The publicist and sales team was looking for a way to activate their model apartment at The Bryant, and Radnor presented a compelling solution.
The initial contact turned into a yearlong collaboration, with countless benefits that continue to unfold. Possessing only individual images of their signature Radnor Made Collection, Radnor was able to photograph their furniture at The Bryant, and present a contextual residential experience to buyers — ultimately doubling their sales within a year. Reflexively, Corcoran Sunshine used the apartment and photographs to market the building and create a compelling model unit to drive sales. During one buyer sales tour, Radnor was introduced to a client who requested their help furnishing her new apartment at the building. While Radnor saved on rent and gained a prestigious address for the brand, Corcoran Sunshine saved on styling, design fees and furniture purchases, all while successfully yielding apartment sales for the building and furniture sales for Radnor.
The relationship was a win-win for both parties, and the start of an enduring partnership: today, Radnor has expanded into a three-bedroom apartment at The Bryant, and Corcoran Sunshine has requested first rights to all future Radnor campaigns. As for Brick & Wonder: the platform is the first avenue Radnor goes to when sourcing products and services they need for active projects and business development efforts. Offering immediate qualification for individuals and companies and in the industry, Brick & Wonder has facilitated many such partnerships within its network, whose members are hand-selected practitioners that demonstrate exceptional talent in their lines of work and are willing to be active in the community.
Engaged effectively, this and other curated professional networks can be the key to ending entrepreneurs’ loneliness problem, combining the benefits of independent thinking, creativity, and wisdom with the power of cooperative collaboration. The key to success in the future relies on the project ecosystems we can all create.
DREW LANG — Working for 20 years as developer and architect, Drew Lang is the founder of Brick & Wonder and principal at Lang Architecture — a multi-disciplinary studio that promotes conscious modern living.