Successful tech entrepreneurs seem to have a surprising “secret” to their accomplishments - studying art, music, and hands-on creative activities (such as wood or metal working).
A study published in the journal Economic Development Quarterly (1) found that participation in artistic activities boosts the chance of entrepreneurial success in technical fields.
Researchers followed a group of Michigan State University honors college graduates from 1990 to 1994 who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).
Graduates who were successful entrepreneurs — those who went on to found companies or produce patents — were significantly more likely to have had participation in art, music and hands-on creative activities than those who did not.
And its not just entrepreneurs who benefit from the arts; a strong link was found with STEM graduates overall. In fact the STEM practitioners in this study were 62% more likely to have had classes in visual arts than the general population, 59% more likely to have been taught music, 39% more likely to have had dance instruction, and 38% more likely to have taken acting lessons.
So how does their music, arts, and hands-on creative experience help these engineers and scientists in the real world? It seems artistic thinking is crucial to their work.
The study asked participants to identify the types of tools they used for problem solving and found, “as one would expect of science and engineering professionals, the vast majority reported using logic while doing their work…[but] an overwhelming majority also reported using ‘artistic’ styles of thinking: 95.3% reported using exploratory play as a method of problem solving; 80% reported using either intuition, imagination, or both; and about 80% reported using analogies. In other words, these successful STEM professionals use ‘artistic’ types of thinking at work just as often as they use stereotypical ‘scientific’ modes of thinking.”
In summary, researchers determined that “participation in various arts and crafts positively correlates with the production of patentable inventions and the founding of new companies, and can differentiate the entrepreneurs from less innovative individuals, even among a group of highly successful individuals such as Honors College STEM professionals.”
(1) Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Innovation
LaMore et al., Economic Development Quarterly, August 2013, 27 (3), p. 221
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