Entrepreneurs seeking great new pitches for "Shark Tank" might try a little reefer madness, according to new research. But whether investors pile on is another matter.
Marijuana use can promote higher levels of business creativity, helping innovators come up with wildly original notions for new products and services, according to a new study in the Journal of Business Venturing.
But there's a drawback — sometimes these stunning new business ideas simply aren't feasible.
Take, for example, the weightless, gravity-free virtual reality workout dreamed up by one pot-smoking entrepreneur who took part in the new study.
"That was really original. We didn't see that kind of idea more than once," said lead researcher Ben Warnick, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship with the Washington State University Vancouver - Carson College of Business. "But it's not immediately apparent how it might be executed or what kind of value would be there, in contrast with some people's ideas, where they're very pragmatic on their face."
For the study, Warnick's team asked 254 entrepreneurs to come up individually with as many new ideas as possible for a theoretical business based on virtual reality technology.
Popular culture often links marijuana with creativity, and some highly successful entrepreneurs have claimed that pot helped spur some of their best ideas, Warnick said.
"Steve Jobs [Apple's co-founder], for example, said using cannabis really helped him feel relaxed and creative, helped him be more creative, so we thought we'd put that to the test," Warnick said.
Roughly half the study participants regularly indulged in marijuana, using pot more than four times a week and nearly 20 times a month on average. Such chronic cannabis use has been shown to have lasting effects, increasing a person's impulsiveness and free-thinking tendencies for up to a month, Warnick said.
After the brainstorming session, each entrepreneur identified one idea as the best concept they dreamed up. A panel of experts then rated the idea's originality and feasibility, without any knowledge of who did and didn't use marijuana.
"We found that people who regularly use cannabis come up with ideas that are more original but less feasible compared to people who do not use cannabis, but that these effects depend on motivation and experience," Warnick said.
Pot users who had founded at least one business came up with original ideas that tended to be more feasible, even if they didn't set the world on fire, the research showed.
On the other hand, relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs who were very passionate about coming up with new business ideas were most likely to dream up highly original but pie-in-the-sky notions, Warnick said.
Psychiatrist and substance abuse treatment expert Dr. Scott Krakower reviewed the study and called it "groundbreaking" and "instrumental in demonstrating the role [cannabis use] may play in feasibility with certain ideas."
"It is critical for entrepreneurs to not only creatively think of an idea, but also to understand the value behind this idea and how practical it can be," said Krakower, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
Researcher Warnick said marijuana generally helps originality but it hurts feasibility.
"For an idea to be creative in a business context, you kind of need both," he said. "Originality without feasibility isn't going to go very far, and feasibility without originality is just another mundane business idea."
Overall, it might be best to just let your freak flag fly if you're a pot-using entrepreneur, Warnick said.
"When you're coming up with new ideas, it can be really beneficial to not filter yourself, to not worry about feasibility — at least, not at first," he said. "Scholars who look at creativity say that should come first, that you should think big and come up with really creative ideas that are original, and then worry about whether it's going to work later on. You don't want to prematurely filter out an idea before it gets a chance to really blossom or flourish."
Krakower said it might be helpful to team sober people with marijuana users in brainstorming sessions and concept planning, so that highly creative but more feasible ideas, will float to the top of the pile.