Q&A on “That Founder Feeling”

Q: Hi Chris, I’ve randomly become an occasional reader of your blog, and I’m starting to get addicted. I remember that you were interested in questions…I read your last post about the founder feeling, where you said…

“It also unlocks previously unknown reserves of energy, a “fight or flight” response that fuels the creative effort of shaping and implementing a new business.”

Do you think that the “fight or flight” response fuels creativity? You’ve got it worded to where I can’t be sure whether it is fueling creativity or just effort. I think I’ve read somewhere that creativity is drastically hindered by the “fight or flight” response, but I’d like your opinion.

Thanks for the great writing!
Cheers, Clark Kogan

A: Hi Clark, thanks for the great question (and sorry for the delay in responding – my forwarding rule looks for the prefix “Crash Dev:” on new questions and for some reason it wasn’t present on yours). As I mentioned in that post, my experience with startups is finite, so my pattern for it is based on that limited data set (i.e., your actual mileage may vary). Disclaimer aside, my observation is that the act of starting a company creates such an obsessive mindset in the founder that they literally have a hard time thinking about anything else. This heightened state of awareness is what I was relating to the “fight or flight” response: the acute sense that there are a million things you need to be doing RIGHT NOW to ensure the survival and ultimate success of the fragile little idea you’re trying to grow into a big and successful business.

It may be that this obsessive anxiety and action bias can cloud your thinking or lead to inefficient or unproductive effort (as your question suggests). But I’m a big believer in “background processing” – the idea that your brain is constantly recycling your stored experiences and looking for useful patterns without you even being aware of it. Particularly at the beginning, the founder experience seems to focus this processing effort into a narrower band, concentrated on the issues and opportunities surrounding your idea. Most founders I know talk about their difficulty falling asleep, or getting back to sleep after a wakeful period, because they can’t “turn off” this background processing, with new thoughts and ideas forcing themselves to the surface just as they’re trying to fall asleep (here’s a fresh example from Evan Williams’ blog).

Inefficient as this may be, I do think this period tends to heighten creative output, due to the sheer application of raw processing power focused on the needs of the new business. It can’t be sustained forever, but the anxiety and emotional turmoil of the founding period are a positive and memorable part of the founder experience.