Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “When virtue has slept, it will arise again all the fresher.” (Human, All Too Human -1879)
Last month I was drawn up short by a headline to a one paragraph story in the Harvard Business Review on-line. The headline read, “Do Depraved Thoughts Make You More Creative?“ (8:30 AM, 10/1/13) The answer, at least for Protestants like me, seems to be absolutely yes. Depraved creature that I am, the headline certainly got my attention.
The headline refers to a study conducted by Emily Kim and her team at the University of Illinois. Ms. Kim, et.al., discovered that subjects, particularly Protestants, produced more creative work when they were (a) induced to feel unacceptable desires and primed with words evoking so-called depravity, and (b) induced to feel out of the norm sexual desires. It was the forbidden or suppressed nature of the emotion that gave the emotion its creative power. (Sublimation, Culture, and Creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Oct 2013)
This blog is putatively focused on what creates meaning, ethics, happiness, and practical business efficacy for entrepreneurs. So where does depravity fit into this?
Well, just this. If you seek to become a creative business innovator it’s good to shake things up periodically. Just for the hell of it. A jolt of the counterintuitive (perhaps another word for depravity), can summon the innovative, the fresh, the disruptive, the freeing, the new.
We all naturally gravitate towards playing it safe. The real danger of playing it safe is subtle. This danger doesn’t make headlines. Yet excessive business caution is like a slow leak in a tire. You become aware of it only when you realize that you’re stuck and wondering how the hell did it happen.
I’ve shared a story about this in the past, but it bears repeating here. I was an actor for many years, a profession I ultimately failed at. But it is a profession that lends itself to many good stories. Here’s one.
A friend of mine, Paul, was playing the role of “Jamie Tyrone,” the older son in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Rip Torn. Rehearsals had gone very well for my friend, but, with two weeks left in the rehearsal process, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open. His quandary was what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked him what he would do with this actor’s conundrum. Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought it over for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Fuck it up.”
Exactly. If it ain’t broke, break it. That may sound depraved indeed, if not mentally unbalanced, but there is a sound business reason for disciplined and constant strategic change in any healthy enterprise. Even to the point of seeming arbitrariness. Sometimes a dollop of depravity may be just what the doctor ordered. Great creative entrepreneurs may often need to walk gingerly on the border of what their colleagues, wives, and friends may consider the insane.
On the other hand, Carl Jung said, “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.”