This Is a Test

Do you have the creativity to be an entrepreneur?
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This story appears in the October 2002 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

I've never been a fan of multiple choice tests. Generally what happens is, I narrow it down to two possible answers, and after a few minutes, both start to sound equally valid. It's like staring at a word like "lawnmower" for five minutes straight--pretty soon it doesn't even sound like a real word anymore. In the end--and after a good round of squinting irritably at my choices--I usually end up just guessing at the correct answer, not really knowing whether or not I'm right.

This is why I've always loved essay exams. Give me a topic to write about, and I will run with it. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I've even successfully written essays exams on books I didn't actually read. (Hopefully none of my former professors is reading this.) Of course, this is only possible with things that don't have black-and-white answers. But that's what makes essay exams so great: There usually isn't just one correct answer.

It's something to think about if you're a business owner, because you will run into many different problems and questions as you start and grow your business. How will you approach those problems? Will you choose from among four or five available solutions, or will you use your creativity to dream up a solution better than any previously imagined?

I would encourage the latter. Being creative in your problem-solving encourages you to hone your talents, and it keeps you from becoming set in your ways. Think about it: If you always only use the "multiple choice" approach to problem-solving, you will have no reason to innovate, and you will have no way to prove yourself as an entrepreneur. Conversely, if you approach every situation as an "essay exam," you will give yourself the freedom to prove your talents beyond anyone's expectations.

That's not to say that formulaic approaches never have a place in business. It's wise to create a business plan and keep accurate records, for example. But don't get so caught up in formulas that you forget about creativity. You owe it to your business to leave your No. 2 pencil at the door and pick up that paintbrush with each new business day.

Edition: July 2017

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