When Hurt Gets in the Way of Hope 
By Theo Edmonds
October 31, 2023

by Theo Edmonds, Culture Futurist™ © 2023 Theo Edmonds | All Rights Reserved

Evolving Our Entrepreneurial Archetype for the Real America: Creatives, Contemplatives, and Culture Futurists 

The narrative surrounding startup failure maneuvers through a landscape marked by ambition, innovation, and an unforgiving market reality. At its core, the phenomenon of startup failure serves as a compelling mirror reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit colliding with market exigencies. Statistics provide a vivid yet harsh picture of startup survivability, shedding light on the stark realities that nascent enterprises face in their quest for market traction and financial viability.

It’s often cited that about 90% of startups meet their demise in the first few years. This reality is substantiated by various factors that precipitate the downfall of startups, including but not limited to, cash flow issues, inadequate market research, and leadership missteps. However, it is the lack of a market need for their product or services that is the leading cause of failure. Put another way, they fail most often because they make products no one wants to buy. When this insight is coupled with increasing declines reported in America’s creativity, self-awareness, curiosity, and resilience, it’s hard to find much hope that these entrepreneurial trends will change without intention and intervention. Maybe, though, that is the point if we view human capital as a nameless, faceless cost of doing business.

The market’s unforgiving nature tends to ruthlessly sift through startups, leaving in its wake a trail of lessons learned and, occasionally, the seeds for future entrepreneurial endeavors. It’s within this landscape that the narrative of failure is often embraced as a badge of honor among the entrepreneurial community, a necessary rite of passage en route to perceived eventual success. 

It’s a seductive story. In this story, the entire lives of entrepreneurs, their friends, and their families are reduced to 5-minute “Shark Tank” pitch competitions for investors to assess whose work might benefit them the most and make their money grow. Prima facie, there is no problem here. It’s a game played by willing adults who choose to participate. It’s the American dream at work for all to see.

However, there are unintended consequences to everything. I sometimes wonder if we are actually solving problems or playing an emotional lottery. It’s a legitimate question with real consequences as our societal challenges continue to be more complex. 

Our corporate innovation models may not be immune, either.  Consider this vital conundrum: when does emotional or psychological suffering become an obstacle rather than a catalyst for progress? This was crystallized for me when a Fortune 100 executive once approached me with a dilemma: unarticulated yet palpable grief was casting a shadow over their innovation cycles and eroding the resilience of their teams. The executive confided, “We sense something is amiss, a kind of unprocessed emotional weight, but we don’t possess the language or skills to address it meaningfully.” This conversation served as a watershed moment in my own thinking, spotlighting the necessity for frameworks to address the complex weave of pain as it intertwines with innovation and entrepreneurship.

Wayfinding with Wonder

A collective sense of wonder is in America’s DNA. In historical terms, our dynamic and always emerging conception of democracy, landing a human on the moon and mapping the human genome, jazz greats and Hollywood icons, our entrepreneurial spirit across every aspect of contemporary society, and so much more transformed our collective wonder into making us a global economic leader.

Wayfinding with wonder can offer opportunities for bridging individual resilience with collective wellbeing. Recent advancements in neuroscience and brain imaging technologies unfold a compelling narrative about our in-built adaptability and resilience, not just as isolated beings but as a networked society. This intersection proves crucial in a world where a startup founder nearing burnout and a community riven by divisive issues are two sides of the same coin. Pain, it appears, is not a solitary event but a communal experience, one that artists, poets, and musicians often capture and transform into shared emotional journeys. Such creative outputs aren’t auxiliary to our existence; they’re elemental, serving as keystones for societal health and advancement.

“We all have a purpose to being here. We depend on others to know who they are. To devote themselves to knowing what they are here to give to the great whole of “us.” I can’t give you me if I am trying to be you. This is, perhaps, the biggest threat from AI… it could move all of us further from the wonder blessing of knowing, connecting, and transforming the world by transforming the questions we ask of ourselves. At a time where there is a tinderbox of difference, mixing with our digital removal, physically, from comprehending callousness in our actions…  we potentially lose discernment. The flame that illuminates can quickly become a fire that burns and injures.”  – Theo Edmonds

Ghosts in the Machine

Artificial Intelligence often dresses itself in the guise of human-like intelligence—a phenomenon more rooted in our collective imaginations than technological capability. AI language models are not self-aware entities but systems that operate on statistical patterns found in large swathes of data. This misunderstanding perpetuates itself through pop culture with a slew of fictional narratives about sentient robots, amplifying both our collective fears and fascinations.

Likewise, the idea that AI possesses the spark of human creativity is oversimplified. Though algorithms can generate content that is meaningful to us, they don’t imbue it with cultural or social relevance. The unique facets of human creativity lie in connecting data points to broader cultural narratives and frameworks, something AI, as of now, cannot replicate. 

AI isn’t here to replace human creativity but to augment it, enhancing our tools for creative expression in unprecedented ways. However, this collaboration necessitates a firm grasp of AI’s limitations and strengths. As machine learning evolves in its capacity to engage with us, it’s imperative to scrutinize the reciprocal learning cycles between humans and AI, particularly in the creative domain.

Addressing the grand challenges of our time calls for a shift from individual-centric perspectives to collective intelligence. Drawing upon insights from social ecology, the role of culture emerges as pivotal, affecting well-being and group creativity. Problem construction and the pursuit of innovation thus take on a multi-layered, holistic character.

Data, Intelligence & Wisdom

To reimagine business through AI, organizations often overlook the essential relationship between human skills that result in creativity and machine capabilities. The common narrative that technology alone can drive innovation is limiting and myopic.

When a company incorporates perspectives rooted in cognitive, behavioral, and social brain science, a creativity infrastructure becomes evident. It’s akin to a wonder fingerprint unique to every team and organization.

If measured accurately, this wonder fingerprint serves as a performance indicator for how effective any specific group is at creative problem construction and creative discernment. Importantly, these are the front and back end of any machine learning capability, marking the difference between data, intelligence, and wisdom.

The evolution from data to intelligence and finally to wisdom delineates a hierarchy of understanding and decision-making utility. While often used interchangeably in everyday language, these concepts have unique roles to play across multiple disciplines, including information science, cognitive psychology, and even philosophy. The distinction becomes especially relevant when you consider the possibilities and limitations of AI, as well as the burgeoning need for data-informed decision-making in business, art, and science.

Data is the raw material of information; it is unprocessed, unrefined, and lacks context. Think of data as individual brushstrokes on a canvas; each data point is a factual unit, valuable but incomplete. Data alone seldom gives a comprehensive view of a phenomenon, much like a single note is inadequate to convey a musical composition.

Intelligence, in contrast, represents data that has been processed, organized, and placed into context to make it useful and actionable. When data points are curated and analyzed, they form patterns and trends that translate into intelligence. In an arts-science-business collaboration, intelligence helps in mapping out market trends, evaluating customer preferences, and even understanding neural responses to stimuli. In essence, intelligence enables a business to navigate its landscape more effectively. 

Wisdom takes this hierarchy one step further by adding long-term perspective, ethical considerations, and emotional intelligence. It transcends mere knowledge and involves making sound decisions based on principles and virtues. Wisdom ties together intelligence with insights about human flourishing, self-awareness, and resilience, key elements central to Social Brain Capital – a measurable composite of cognitive and social resources, abilities, and skills that enable inclusive collaboration of a defined group working together to transform their latent creativity into new, measurable enterprise value. Wisdom is the skill that guides creative discernment and ethical decision-making, linking back to the latent creative potential of groups.

In the nexus of art, science, and business, the leap from data to intelligence and eventually to wisdom serves as a transformative journey. It’s not merely about converting raw facts into actionable insights but also about instilling a framework that enriches human lives and society. The harmonization of data, intelligence, and wisdom provides fertile ground for unlocking untapped creative potential, especially when facilitated by human-AI symbiosis underpinned by a focus on Social Brain Capital. This progression offers a holistic strategy for grappling with the complex challenges and opportunities in our ever-evolving world.

Fusing Culture into Entrepreneurship

Culture isn’t just an addendum; it’s a lens through which problems are understood and addressed. By opening up cultural vantage points, we unlock a reservoir of diverse solutions. The alchemy of group dynamics, drawing from diverse cognitive styles and cultural understandings, can generate groundbreaking solutions.

Psychology elucidates how emotional well-being extends its reach into creativity. Emotional richness doesn’t just make us feel good; it diversifies our cognitive approaches and contributes to group innovation. Therefore, a culture that enhances group well-being becomes an incubator for inventive thought and action.

Today’s entrepreneurship isn’t about financial savvy alone; it’s a multidimensional discipline. New entrepreneurial training programs must encompass skills from creative problem-solving and cognitive flexibility to emotional intelligence and ethical deliberation. They must align with models that integrate holistic well-being across all levels of an organization, translating into funding priorities that honor this new entrepreneurial vision.

The emergence of this new entrepreneurial archetype—grounded in creativity, contemplation, and cultural foresight—promises a future where businesses are not just financial ventures but catalysts for societal transformation. We stand on the cusp of redefining the nature of entrepreneurship, steering it toward a landscape where innovation harmonizes with human flourishing.

Getting there, however, requires something more evolved than is currently offered in our training and development systems. It requires entrepreneurial development to be a Venn diagram of training as creatives, contemplatives, and culture futurists.

These are not generalities. These are active skill sets to intentionally mold, infusing our entrepreneurial spirit with a renewed sense of wonder driven by the integration of arts, science, and business. Herein lies our path to expansive human potential.

Theo Edmonds is a Culture Futurist™ & Analytics Innovator | Bridging Creative Industries, Social Brain Capital, and the Future of Wonder. A lifelong artist and poet they are the Co-Founder of Imaginator AcademyIDEAS xLab, and lead the global Creativity Infrastructure Working Group for the Brain Capital Alliance.

By Theo Edmonds
Culture Futurist™ | Creativity Strategist | Conceptual Artist | #WorkplaceWellbeing Researcher | Entrepreneur