Less is More

Lesson #1 may sound counter-intuitive.  With most things in life, the harder you try, the better you do.  But, there are exceptions.  Ever TRIED really really hard to fall asleep?  You can't force it - you just have to let sleep happen.  Creativity is not dissimilar.

Creative ideas are there in your head.  They just need to surface.  But, sometimes they surface on their own schedule.  In fact, and here is the counter-intuitive part, sometimes your creativity is heightened when you are totally disconnected from your need to be creative. 

This is not just my opinion.  There have been studies proving that ideas often flow best when people are engaged in non-creative activities.

One research project done in Australia divided 90 psychology students into three groups and asked each group to come up with as many ideas as possible (called an alternative uses test) for a piece of paper.  The number of original ideas was a measure of divergent thinking (important to creativity). 

The first group worked straight on the task for four minutes.  The second group was interrupted after two minutes - given another task that required creative thinking - and then another two minutes back on the sheet of paper challenge.  The third group was interrupted after two minutes - given another task that did not require creative thinking - and then two more minutes on the sheet of paper challenge.

Who had the most creative ideas?  Group three! 

The conclusion from this study (and many others) is that freeing your mind from THE NEED TO BE CREATIVE can sometimes produce a heightened creative state.  You may be taking a shower, worried about which shampoo to use - and then BAM - out of nowhere, a solution to a creative roadblock.

The point is that you CANNOT always force creative thinking.  Create a good environment for creative thought - a routine when you need to be productive and a spot free of distractions - BUT sometimes you need to let your mind roam to unrelated thoughts and activities - AND you may be surprised by what creative thoughts surface.

I have studied the process of creativity for many years.  I have concluded that everyone has a large reservoir of creativity.  Some people may know how to access it better than others.  But,  here is the headline: 

                                  EVERYONE CAN IMPROVE THEIR CREATIVITY. 

I do not believe that some people are creative geniuses and that the rest of us are on Earth to be their admirers. 

I do not believe that Benjamin Franklin had a Eureka moment and discovered electricity when he was flying a kite with a key on it.  Or, that Isaac Newton finally figured out gravity when he got hit on the head with an apple.   Or, that Marie Curie would never have discovered penicillin but for mold growing on a culture.

I believe that in all these cases - and thousands more - the discovery was the result of years of incubation during which Franklin, Newton, and Curie had been thinking about their subjects. 

Great ideas are like a piece of sand in an oyster.  The sand irritates the oyster (Newton - "this damn gravity problem is driving me nuts") so the oyster applies a coating against the sand.  This coating (called nacre) is applied layer after layer, year after year.  And then one day, WOW, a beautiful pearl.  That, in my view, is how great ideas arise.

I am going to use the next 20 weeks of my blog to teach you how to improve your creativity.  I am not interested in world-changing ideas (although that would be OK) but rather to help you develop your own creative talents in your particular field of expertise.  Every one of us can benefit from unlocking our creative juices.  That is what my blog will be about for the next twenty weeks.

We are reviewing the ten most important factors that will determine your success (or not) as an entrepreneur. 

#10.  Luck???

OK, we have come to the last of our ten factors for predicting your success, or not, as an entrepreneur.  And now we are up to an intangible - LUCK.

What role does luck play in the success of an entrepreneur?   Well, let me start by saying that any successful person who does not attribute some part of their success to luck is not being honest with him/herself.  Luck is a broad category of things that can go right or wrong - over which no one has total control.  The fact is that you could be doing everything right, and then WHAM some unforeseen factor (economy goes south, you have a health issue, a loved one needs your help) WHACKS you right between the eyes.

True, the mark of an entrepreneur is an ability to recover from any setback - and most do.  But, there is always that big bang kind of issue that would floor any of us. 

So how do we maximize our chances that luck will be on our side?  We keep doing all the right things, all the time, and while we keep our eyes open to the intangible, we don't change our playbook hoping for good luck or worrying about bad luck.

Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn is supposedly the author of a very famous quote about luck:

"The harder I worked, the luckier I got."

And Abraham Lincoln said:

"I will study and get ready and perhaps my chance will come."  In other words, Abe was preparing for the possibility that things would break his way.  And, if they did, he would be ready!

So, the best you can do - and in fact you should do anyway - is work as hard as you can, prepare for your success, and not think about luck.  It will find you one way or another - and you just need to be ready. 

We are reviewing the ten most important factors that will determine your success (or not) as an entrepreneur. 

#9.   Physical Fitness

The life of an entrepreneur is taxing - mentally, emotionally AND physically.  And, in order to increase the odds of your success, you need to assess the state of your physically conditioning.

The life of an entrepreneur includes long days and sleepless nights.  The entrepreneur often does not have the luxury of giving in to fatigue.  And so, there will be many days when you need to be clear-headed and "in the game" even though you would give your right arm for the chance to lay down for a brief rest.

It is said that "fatigue makes cowards of us all" (generally attributed to football legend, Vince Lombardi).  And I happen to subscribe to that.  When we are physically exhausted, our mind and will suffer as well, and we often take short-cuts - perhaps not cowardice in the traditional sense, but a variation.   And, these short cuts - when taken - can be disastrous if they come at the wrong time in a business development. 

As Lombardi suggests, physical fitness and mental sharpness go hand in hand.  When your body is ready, your mind will come along. 

There are many ways to stay physically fit and, in my view, no one is superior to another.  Just find what works for you and push your body for growth and development.  The result will be that you have greater stamina for the life and challenges of being an entrepreneur.

We are reviewing the ten most important factors that will determine your success (or not) as an entrepreneur. 

#8.   Forget-ability 

I made that word up.  But, here is the point:  as an entrepreneur, you are going to have good days and bad days.  And, to be successful, you are going to need to get up every morning and forget anything bad that happened the day before.  You have to be able to purge the negativity of the day before and enter the new day with optimism, energy, and confidence.

That is not always easy to do of course.  But, it is a critical skill in many professions.  Think about a professional athlete, for example.  Batter comes up with the bases loaded.  Strikes out.  Has to come up again 3 innings later.  If he labors with the negativity of the crucial strike out, he will not perform at his best.  Same thing with a field goal kicker missing a field goal.  A tennis player who double faults. 

Recently I was asked to write about my worst entrepreneurial moment.  Easy for me. 

I was one of the first people in the United States to develop a factory outlet shopping center.  I approached factory outlets and manufacturers who were operating in out-of-the-way locations and convinced them to locate in one building.  And this outlet center was a big success.  So big, in fact, that I had a temporary bout of hubris.

One of the tenants in this building was a very small store selling bedspreads and pillow cases, towels and sheets.  The two owners of this store approached me and asked me to be their third partner and help them build the store into a chain.  But, they were just two small retailers, and I was the founder of a very successful outlet center.  So I politely passed without any investigation of the idea or potential.

Dumb move?   That small chain is now Bed, Bath & Beyond.  And, they are both billionaires.

Have I forgotten about that?  Obviously not but I do my best not to bang my head against the wall every time I am in one of their stores.

We are reviewing the ten most important factors that will determine your success (or not) as an entrepreneur.

#7.  OK with Loneliness 

Some people need lots of people around them.  Others do better when they are alone.

One definition of extrovert is a person who gains energy when around others and loses energy when alone.  The definition of introvert is of course the opposite - a person who gains energy when alone and loses energy when surrounded by many others.

Whether you are an extrovert or introvert*, as an entrepreneur, you are going to have to get comfortable with the fact that - at least in the beginning of your new venture - you are going to be spending a good deal of time alone.  For some people, this situation creates overwhelming loneliness and they do not function at their best.

When you start a new venture, you are the CEO, CFO, COO, CTO and CIO of your company all wrapped into one.  Oh yes, and General Counsel.  In the beginning you have to do it all and you may not be able to afford outside help.  This can be lonely, scary, and frustrating. 

In a big organization, there are people who can help with technical issues, legal questions, ordering supplies, making budgets, etc.  In a start-up, there is often no one but you.

As you become successful, you will be able to hire or pay for others to provide assistance.  But, there is almost definitely going to be a time when you are on your own … OK with that?

*For an excellent book on extroverts and introverts, see QUIET:  The Power of Introverts in aWorld that Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain (Crown, 2012)