There are some of us who are a bit more restless than most. Who are searching for something new and better. Who feel deeply that there is something inside ourselves that we long to bring into this world. Who are willing to step into the unknown, take a risk and create something.
These are the people who are building businesses, creating apps, writing books, composing songs, or fostering social change.
I know these folks because I have the good fortune of working with them. Of co-creating with them. Of being one of them.
In a world where rapid change disrupts the status quo with alarming frequency, those that can envision and then bring something new into being have a unique set of characteristics. Some may be inherent and some may be learned. Yet, in my observation of over 40 years of creating and working with creatives, some of what differentiates successful creatives from those who merely dream (and not do) can be boiled down to four things they do consistently that others don’t.
Let me first say that my definition of success for an entrepreneur or artist or creative may be different than you think. It is wonderful when that new business gets traction and makes lots of money or when the artist is catapulted into stardom or when the author is on the bestseller list. Nice, but not necessary to be successful.
The measure of success for entrepreneurs and creatives is the act of creation itself. That there is an enterprise where there was not before. That despite doubt or insecurity or too many tugs on our time, the book is written, the song is recorded, and the client is served. The act of envisioning, creating, and putting oneself out there is the success, regardless of the reception it gets from the larger (and somewhat fickle) world.
With that framing, here are four characteristics that I see in successful entrepreneurs and creatives:
They are intensely and unrelentingly CURIOUS.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it is rocket fuel for creatives. We read voraciously (just ask any entrepreneur). We explore. We seek inspiration in learning new things and going to new places and being with people who cause us to think in new ways. How our curiosity gets fed may vary by person, but insatiable curiosity is evident for any creative I’ve known.
As my colleague and business partner, Katie McNamee, says, “I am multi-passionate.” We travel, we explore, we read, we devour new information. And somehow, in mysterious ways, all that input shapes new thinking and interesting output.
They have the DISCIPLINE to create.
Make no doubt about it, creating a company or a symphony is a long, arduous journey. Popular culture likes to believe that it is the magical spark of inspiration that is the hardest or more elusive and then it is downhill from there. Not the case! Most creatives I know have thousands of ideas – the hard work is bringing the idea with the most promise to life. It is arduous. It is grunt work. It is unrewarded effort for an unknown reward.
As such, entrepreneurs and creatives create systems to move through the creative process. They plan their days in advance and their days have a structure that ensures the work gets done. They know when they are most productive and guard that time fiercely. They persist, even on the days when they are not “feeling it” and would rather be anywhere than sitting down and doing the work.
They NURTURE their mind, body, and soul.
Entrepreneurs and creatives know deeply that our best work does not happen we are stressed, tired and over-extended. While we love the story of the entrepreneur that slept under the desk and ate Ramen noodles, when you study those who stand the test of time and are successful over time, you find a pattern of caring for the self and taking care not to burn out.
You will find that creatives do a variety of fairly common actions. They journal. They meditate with regularity. They exercise and take care of their bodies. They take time off for sleep and rest. For they know that our most creative state of mind is needed – and we are not able to access those higher states of mental acuity when depleted, stressed or weary.
They are COURAGEOUS.
Putting our work out into the world is an act of courage. Not the physical type of courage, but the act of getting over the internal fear of publicly displaying that thing that we have poured so much of ourselves into. It is an act of vulnerability. Of releasing our work into the world, not quite perfected or tested. It elicits the fear of rejection. The fear of ridicule. The fear of failure. And surprisingly, the fear of success.
This is the place at which many creatives fail. The manuscript is safely stored on the hard drive. The business idea is nothing more than a plan. The prototype never makes it to production.
Yet successful entrepreneurs and creatives are willing to fail in order to succeed. It may not be the first time they put themselves or their work out there, but perhaps the second or the third or the thirty-third.
But they are curious – so they keep seeking. They are disciplined – so they keep working. They take care of themselves – so they have the energy to persist. And they are courageous enough to try again.
So, I’m curious. Think of the entrepreneurs and creatives you know. What characteristics do you see?