How creativity works – according to Pilobolus

Pilobolus at work.
Pilobolus at work.

I spent a morning with the amazing dance company Pilobolus at their rehearsal space in Washington CT, and spoke to its chief executive Itamar Kubovy for my latest Financial TImes column. Pilobolus believes that creativity emerges from the constraints imposed by the need to deliver a product. Perhaps uniquely for a dance company, its hierarchy is fluid and every dancer is expected to contribute to the creation of performances.

Creativity under this definition emerges from a collaborative process, from building on routines, constantly improving on and modifying the familiar. What matters most is how the group interacts. Does it collaborate well or poorly? If the latter, what can you do to improve the group dynamic? This is where the creativity process begins.


How to jump-start entrepreneurship

I have a column in the WSJ today about jump-starting US entrepreneurship, and the role being played by the Start-Up America Partnership. It draws on work I’ve done for the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education.

Why Italy still flirts with Berlusconi.

In a Wall Street Journal oped today, I explain why Silvio Berlusconi is back running for Prime Minister of Italy and why he should be taken seriously.

Take it easy, everyone. I'm back!
I’m back!

I interviewed Berlusconi in January for The Atlantic, at the end of a month as a visiting scholar at the wonderful American Academy in Rome. Whatever else you might think of him, as a salesman, Berlusconi is peerless.

Skyfall Selling

I make the case in a Harvard Business Review post that salespeople need to set aside their technology every now and again and return to the old school methods.

When the technology fails you...
When the technology fails you…
...go back to Skyfall
…go back to Skyfall









My last HBR piece was on the most important predictor of sales performance. It has been one of the most popular sales articles of the year on the HBR website.

The Art of Fundraising

Jock Reynolds – from The Boston Globe

The NYTimes today has a profile of Jack Reynolds, the extraordinarily successful director of the Yale Art Gallery. Reynolds explains his own fearlessness about asking for money:

“You need to remember that the number you’re asking for — whether it’s a million or a million-five or 20 million — has nothing to do with you,” he said, smiling. “You’re giving them an opportunity. You need to think: What would give them pleasure? What would make them think they’d done something significant?”

Reynolds is also a great example of “hybrid vigor”, the kind of salesman who blends terrific salesmanship with profound knowledge and experience of his subject. He is not a pure fundraiser or director. He is an artist himself, who has also installed exhibitions, even hung the drywall for them.

Kathy Halbreich, a former director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and now an associate director at the Museum of Modern Art, has known Mr. Reynolds for decades. She said recently that in the museum world “it’s liberating to have someone who thinks like an artist,” and added, “Jock speaks several languages. He’s as apt to convince an artist to make a contribution as a rich alum…He’s like a pied piper. His ability to communicate so well involves his understanding of what it means to make a work of art. It comes from his own pleasures and struggles as an artist. People instinctively want to follow him…He’s believable because he’s a believer. The joy he gets from art is palpable.”

He is fully immersed in the world he works in and is evidently passionate about it. But he’s also able to pull the trigger and ask for money. In The Art of the Sale, I describe the great turn of the century art dealer, Joseph Duveen, as being able to persuade very rich men to buy works as a means of entering a different, more vivid and cultured world. Reynolds evidently does something similar:

The historian David McCullough, who is an art lover, a Yale alumnus and in recent years a friend of Mr. Reynolds’s, said recently: “Jock has squeezed more out of me than I would ever have thought possible. His attitude is: Come on in, the water’s fine. Don’t stand on the sidelines.”

But Mr. Reynolds’s greatest secret may be that he has first dosed himself with his own Kool-Aid and sold himself on his own message. Walking around Yale galleries he sometimes shakes his head in wonder at all their riches and takes evident pleasure in sharing them. He hung the collection of modern and contemporary art himself.

And finally, he’s flat-out likable. This is hugely under-estimated in sales. But people like to do business with people they like. People who improve their day.

John Walsh, director emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, said: “These are not techniques, you know that right away. He’s not faking it. He’s really well prepared. It’s very hard to say no to Jock because you feel he deserves it. You want to make him happy.” He laughed and added, “He’s used this on me many times.”

Interview with Florian Homm – a reformed hedge fund manager

Florian Homm in his “locust” heyday

The day after Thanksgiving, I spoke at length on the telephone with Florian Homm, who used to run a multi-billion dollar hedge fund, before disappearing in 2007. He has since repented of his greed and I explain some of this in this interview in The Financial Times today.

His book is available on Amazon and is chaotic but fascinating and as a financial memoir, utterly unique. 

Economist Debate on the value of MBAs

The Economist hosted a debate this week on the value of MBAs. It pitted the great MBA-basher Henry Mintzberg of McGill, against Paul Danos, the Dean of the Tuck school at Dartmouth.

On Monday, I was asked to contribute a column to the debate. I argued that MBAs are getting harder to justify given how executive careers are becoming ever shorter. I also wondered if companies simply hire MBAs because everyone else does, without actually pausing to think what is they’re actually looking for in an employee.

The whole piece is available here.