Is Thinking Like an Artist The Key To Success for Entrepreneurs?

As an entrepreneur myself, not only is that definition dry, and boring, but most importantly it’s only somewhat accurate. Sure, I manage and organize my business, sure running my business takes initiative and involves risk — and while this may answer the nuts and bolts of what it entails to be an entrepreneur — it doesn’t answer “why?”

What is it about people who inhabit the entrepreneurial tribe that they are willing to take initiative, and to take risk with an idea — when often that’s the last thing most people would want to do? When I speak to friends who are not entrepreneurs, I am sure they think I just want to make it big, and in the process become financially successful. But if you are reading this, and you are an entrepreneur yourself, then you will almost certainly agree that money or fame almost never factor into wanting to become an entrepreneur.

Then why?

I don’t think you ‘want’ to be an entrepreneur at all — you ‘need’ to be. This need is driven by an idea, a vision. Finding creative ways then to express those ideas, that vision — if you know it or not — makes you an entrepreneurial artist. Poet Amy Lowell wrote that art is “the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in.” Being an entrepreneur then is about expressing yourself fully, its about stamping your own uniqueness on the world you live in.

As entrepreneurial artists we are different. Just like artists we live in ambiguity, and we enjoy not knowing. Not knowing is the raw material we need to inspire us to go out and to seek ways to manifest our ideas. As Painter Pablo Picasso confessed to a friend, “I don’t know in advance what I am going to put on canvas any more than I decide beforehand what colours I am going to use…Each time I undertake to paint a picture I have a sensation of leaping into space. I never know whether I will fall on my feet. It is only later that I begin to estimate more exactly the effect of my work.”

In the same light, entrepreneurs we are driven by an idea, a vision. We often don’t know how we are going to achieve it, but we are willing to trust the sensation that arises within in us, and, just like Picasso, leap into the unknown, risking it all. Entrepreneurs know that at the potential edge of failure lies creativity and innovation. It is only at the edge that one can achieve success. I cannot tell you how many times I have, as an entrepreneur — spurred on by a vision — thrown myself completely into an idea, yet not knowing how it was going to turn out. At the same time I was doing this, I had people around me (often the non-entrepreneurs) saying, “Don’t do it”. But they don’t understand, to not do it, would be to disavow my creative spirit. Not having all the answers, but going for it anyway, because something deep inside you says, “You have too”-is what entrepreneurs do. As the Latin American novelist Isabel Allende noted, “Somehow inside me — I can say this after having written five books — I know that I know where I am going. I know that I know the end of the book even though I don’t know it. It’s so difficult to explain.”

If, as entrepreneurs, we see ourselves as artists first, then we don’t need a roadmap for success. Rather we just need to trust our art, our creativity — in other words our passionate embrace of our ideas, our vision. Composer Igor Stravinsky knew this all to well when he explained that his work began with an “intuitive grasp of an unknown entity already possessed but not yet intelligible”. Elizabeth Gilbert in, Big Magic suggests that the “universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” When as an entrepreneur you set lose your creative ideas on the world, you do so with the trust that the buried jewels in the universe will find its way into existence. All my successful ideas as an entrepreneur have been as Josef Albers, German-born American artist and educator, suggests the bringing into existence the “discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect”. The outcome as Max Bill, Swiss architect, artist, painter, notes is the “expression of the human spirit” where abstract ideas that previously existed “only in the mind are made visible in a concrete form.”

If you are an entrepreneur you may not think of yourself as an artist. But as Seth Godin notes in Linchpin, “Art isn’t only a painting…An artists is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artists takes it personally.” I know my ideas are challenging the status quo. That’s what makes being an entrepreneur so exhilarating. As an entrepreneur it is undeniable that what you bring to life is creative, passionate, and personal. We all as entrepreneurs want what we ‘create’ as Godin notes to “resonates with the viewer [our clients], not only with [us as] the creator.”

It is now easier than ever to become an entrepreneur. But to be successful in my opinion, to resonate with the right people, you need to trust your creative spirit, challenge the status quo, and ignore the nay sayers. Don’t approach your business as a business to make profit, but rather as a canvas to fully express yourself, and your ideas. As Elizabeth Gilbert in, Big Magic further reminds us “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” The money will come!


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