How Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky Nurtures His Creativity

Brian Chesky.
Brian Chesky. Photo: Courtesy Company.

He sketches, he designs, he reads–all with the aim of connecting divergent ideas.

Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO, didn’t get a business degree; instead, he studied industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design. Despite his title for the past 15 years, and today running a public company with 6,000 global employees, he still thinks of himself as a designer.

“On paper I’m a business person, but I don’t think of myself that way because that’s not how I approach problems,” Chesky told Inc.’s What I Know podcast. “So I think that constantly exercising your creativity is really important.”

To explain how he and other business leaders can actually stretch their creative muscles, he quotes Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” For Chesky, a key part of the artistic spirit is creativity and curiosity. “I think the challenge as an adult is to remain curious,” Chesky says. “In entrepreneurship and design, you have to be curious, because you always have to keep your mind open to the next big idea, to the next big innovation.”

To him, being creative involves being able to connect two divergent ideas or concepts. And to foster that ability, Chesky tries to carve out time to sketch, draw, or design several times a week. He does ink-on-paper sketches of San Francisco architecture or figures. He also reads regularly, even intentionally seeking out books and other materials that seemingly have nothing to do with business. “I try to learn something new every day. Could be anything!” Chesky says.

Lately, he’s picked up the art of Bonsai design. That may seem impractical for a CEO, but Chesky doesn’t view it as a waste of time. “You can’t predict how these things that seem ridiculously irrelevant might be relevant to your life,” he says.

To hear my bonus interview with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, click on the player above. To hear my full interview, find What I Know on Apple Podcasts.