With Oscar night right around the corner, the film that seems to have caught everyone's attention this year is The Social Network, the story of restless Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg and how he carried off his coup of web innovation. Depending on who you believe, the film involves as much fiction as fact. On a pure narrative level, though, it raises some fascinating questions about the nature of motivation, creativity, leadership. Did Mark Zuckerberg's vision for Facebook arise from shortcomings in his own social life?
Last month, acclaimed business strategist and Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter addressed some of the film's core issues in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review. In it, she asks, are misery and personal weakness prime motivators for successful entrepreneurs?
In her own words:
Entrepreneurs always have something to prove - the viability of their ideas, for one thing. They must make good on their promises that they can create something new or live up to the claims on their business plans or project proposals. But are they also, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to prove that they can transcend a personal deficit through their venture? And does this increase the motivation to throw themselves fully into the venture? Does psychic compensation fuel the passion to succeed? Is inner misery a motivation?
Surely, negative motivators can be just as persuasive and powerful as positive ones, and drive is a necessary key to launching any venture on the scale of a business. As Moss Kanter continues:
Restless dissatisfaction - that feeling that something isn't quite right - propels entrepreneurship and innovation. Sometimes the motivation is straightforward and doesn't require pop Freudian analysis. Get annoyed about something that isn't working, and invent a gizmo to fix it. See your mother suffer from cancer, and become a scientist seeking a cure. Get angry about the sorry state of urban education, and start an organization to tackle it. Personal stories lie behind many successful social or business ventures.
As Moss Kanter goes on to suggest, this sort of compensation can have real-world applications. Perhaps managers, in motivating staff, should look not only at each individual's strengths, but also at what deficits they hope to overcome.
In this, then, the inwardly driven, improvement-minded entrepreneur shares much with leaders from among the ranks of any philanthropy or social venture. Later on this week, I will continue to explore this concept, profiling small-business innovators who found inspiration in overcoming personal obstacles by turning toward giving.