Becoming an entrepreneur…through enlightenment

February 26, 2014, 5:00 PM UTC selects the most compelling short essays, anecdotes, and author interviews from “250 Words,” a site developed by Simon & Schuster to explore the best new business books–wherever they may be published.

For this installment, 250 Words’ Sam McNerney sits down with Faisal Hoque, former GE executive, serial entrepreneur and co-author of the new book Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability (McGraw-Hill Education). Combining the wisdom of 2,500-year-old Eastern philosophies with insights from Leonardo da Vinci, Hoque reveals how businesses can succeed in the long run. Sam talks to the author about mindfulness, “deep level” diversity, and what it really means to be creative.

McNerney: At the beginning of Everything Connects you write that, “Being prosocial…is one of the most probusiness things you can do…being holistic and humanistic is key to doing great work.” Could you explain what you mean?

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Hoque: First we need to understand what the ends of business are, what constitutes great work. I’m not the first to say that we live in an era of disruption—co-author Drake Baer and I talk in the book about how Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter predicted it—but since we live in a time where whole industries are displaced by other industries, staying ahead requires not just making the same thing a little bit cheaper, but making an entirely different product that delivers better value (Blockbuster vs. Netflix for example). Peter Drucker also talked about the long view regarding disruption, and that the implicit and explicit responsibility of business is to make a social impact. Thus, we can begin to understand why being prosocial, holistic, and humanistic makes so much sense: it is through the security that these approaches provide that teams can finally create dangerous ideas. Being prosocial creates an emotional connection to the marketplace.

You weave Eastern philosophies into a book on innovation and creativity. At first, this relationship seems unlikely, but it turns out that mindfulness can help us see past long-held tendencies and patterns that might prevent us from making novel insights. What does it mean to be “mindful?”  

Being mindful is to know what you’re doing. While that sounds easy, it’s actually a conversation we need to have with our deepest selves and the situations we find ourselves in: being mindful of your breath is knowing that you’re breathing; being mindful of your words is knowing what you’re saying. Crucially, another component of mindfulness is to not unquestioningly accept whatever “wisdom” has been passed down to you—Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, said to test his teachings like gold in the marketplace. Innovation and disruption is about upsetting inherited norms. Mindfulness, as explained in the book, trains us to spot those unproductive inheritances.

You write about Lauren Rivera’s research on how employers tend to define merit myopically, which prevents them from hiring diverse talent. What can we do to avoid homophily—“love of the same”—when we look for candidates and build teams?   

We can search for deep level diversity rather than demographic diversity. You may have a mosaic of ethnicities and sexual orientations among your team, but if they all grew up in the same three zip codes and attended the same six schools, then you don’t actually have diversity—you have brochure-ready homogony. To avoid that, we can recruit people from a true variety of backgrounds with a variety of talents. Designers tend to think like designers, programmers like programmers, salespeople like salespeople. Rather than keeping these disciplines separate, there is a range of ways to bring them together. 

You talk a lot of what you and your co-author term clusters—visioning clusters, ecological clusters, implementation clusters. Could you explain clusters and how people should work within them?

A cluster is a team that stays together for the length of a given project. They are beneficial because they fit the situations businesses find themselves in: dealing with massive problems in short amounts of time across a variety of contexts. So rather than setting up an organizational structure where people work together ad infinitum—and all the stagnation that promotes—clusters allow people to rotate as their skills are most needed.

Author Faisal Hoque.

You advocate that we should “cultivate our curiosity.” How would you respond to someone who says, “I’m not a creative type?”

First, I’d ask them to acknowledge that the binary between ‘creative’ and ‘analytical’ is false: any kind of solution is creative. Look at the history of the word. Taken in its Middle English meaning, to create is to form out of nothing. Any time we come up with a solution—be it via spreadsheet, presentation, or experiment—we are creating.

Could you explain Daniel Kahneman’s suggestion about mapping our decision-making process and other methods for making informed decisions about strategy?

Kahneman’s recommendation is to map out the inputs of a decision, including the way we felt about a decision. This is crucial because we’re often oblivious about all the forces that inform a given decision: people are more pensive in the winter months, more creative when it’s dark outside, more assertive when they take a broad posture. Our behaviors are mysteries even to ourselves. Mapping all of these inputs allows us to gather data on how we really make decisions, so we may be less unintentionally shortsighted in the future.

Besides Everything Connects, do you have book suggestions for aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders?

While it’s not a “business” book, Daring Greatly by the sociologist Brené Brown is stirring. It’s all about vulnerability and how that promotes boldness. Adam Grant recently wrote an incredible book about the pro-business outcomes of prosocial behavior called Give and Take. Lastly, two books that can help you to take the long view we so espouse in Everything Connects are Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s Sādhanā: The Realization of Life, and Clay Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? Both live up to their titles.