It’s ridiculously easy to become an information junkie these days. The Internet puts an astonishing array of facts and figures at our fingertips. If you’re starting a business, hundreds of Web sites will happily flood you with more information; whether it has anything to do with your enterprise is another matter.

There’s no question that information is an essential part of creating a successful business, but it’s only one part of the equation. That seems obvious to me, but when I look at the popularity of how-to formulas, whether in books or seminars, I realize that many people are missing the pieces that really make a business stand out. What I’m talking about isn’t information at all: it’s the raw material of creativity.

Recently I was thinking about some of the entrepreneurs who have inspired me. Without exception, they’re all people who haven’t followed a formula, people who have put their own imprint on a business and done so in a way that’s totally unique. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course.

In 1937, Fortune magazine wrote a profile of the folks behind Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. Here’s what the author discovered about the family whose business bore their name:

Herbert Marcus and his sister Carrie Neiman, and his three sons in the business, have sublimated and channeled every ounce of their considerable selves into four floors of beautiful merchandise. The reason is not that they lack other interests…it’s the other way around. They are exciting business people because in one sense they aren’t business people at all; and they live the store, not by lacking outside interests, but by transferring them all inside. With his mobile Jewish expression, Herbert Marcus quotes Plato or Flaubert at you, displays a Canaletto in his dining room and dreams of owning a Renoir. But his real creative and artistic self is released on Neiman-Marcus. Similarly his sense of drama is expended there, his sense of prophecy, his powers of psychology, his strong moral sense. It isn’t a matter of being 100% on the job (though all of them always are), but rather of being dedicated to some austere and lofty mission.

Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsch frequently reminded his staff that entrepreneurs are artists and business is their canvas. Like a conventional artist, feeding your imagination with ideas, images and inspiration from a multitude of sources keeps your creative muscles limber.Sometimes the journey to building a great business starts in a museum.

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I’ve been singing the praises of Laser Monks for years. Now the NY Times chimes in. Love those monk/entrepreneurs.