Malcom Gladwell's Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don't is the latest in a soon to be released book by the author of "Blink" and "Tipping Point". It offers a unique view into the nature of creativity and how it is developed and expressed by different types of people.
In a talk at the ASTD 2008 Conference on June 2, 2008 in San Diego, Gladwell discussed how there are fundamentally two types of creativity. The first as represented by Picasso, is the individual that does their best and most provocative work early in their career. The other, as represented by the artist Cezanne, is creativity that is nurtured over time, with the early works being no where near as interesting as later works. Cezanne type individuals continually improve through trial and error until they discover true greatness. Other examples provided were of Fleetwood Mac, that took 19 albums before the breakthrough "Rumors" album was released.
The issue for us in business is that we all want to recruit Picasso. The need for instant results gives us little time to nurture talent and help individuals whose best work will occur later in their career. It fights the tendency to hire youth instead of experience. In music, artists are given one single to determine if they are going to produce hits. Fleetwood Mac and the patience exhibited by Warner Music doesn't exist today. According to Gladwell, this may be one of the route causes for the decline in the music industry.
What's interesting is that if you look at the appraised value of Picasso's work it actually goes down the later in his career vs. Cezanne where the work from that later stages of his career is worth significantly more.
The implications for business are to recognize the differences between personalities and then plan for both Picasso and Cezanne. It's interesting to think about this in the context of recent postings on Fred Wilson's blog where he discusses whether or not to invest venture capital in companies that are founded by 20 year olds vs. 50 year olds. The implication of this work is that the total return on capital would be faster with Picasso, but for long term investment, Cezanne would deliver more value.
I believe that my best work is yet to come (doesn't everyone think this way, if you don't, change professions). Now excuse me while I go out and hang a Cezanne on my wall for inspiration, from the later stage of course.