The cliche goes that artists are tortured people, off starving in a sad basement somewhere rather than sacrificing the integrity of their work. Maybe some artists behave that way, but not any of the ones that I know. The creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with have actually been the opposite: inventive, driven and focused executors. People who conceive a vision and don’t stop until it’s a reality. Which is why we make exceptional entrepreneurs.
Not to point out the obvious, but artists are experts at dreaming up original projects that haven’t been done before. We routinely take ideas and re-contextualize them to create new meaning, which is exactly what entrepreneurs need to do when developing a game-changing, disruptive company. Think of Guy Liliberté, the street performer and musician who co-founded Cirque du Soleil. He conceived of the first-ever circus without animals, and his company is now the largest theatrical producer in the world (and animal-based circuses are extinct). Whether an artist is mixing musical genres in a way that didn’t exist before, creating an alternate world for their fantasy novel, or painting an imagined landscape, they’re creating something entirely new, which has enormous value in the business world.
Again, creatives seem to have an undeserved reputation for being flaky when, in reality, we get stuff done. We don’t just talk about writing a book, we actually do it. A creative never settles for singing karaoke when we can pen own song, even though it takes more time, more thought, and is often harder to “sell” initially. A creative project of any ilk is usually complex and involves careful planning, not to mention multiple drafts or takes. Sometimes it involves being cooped up in a room with the same five people, singing the same song over and over and over and over again for days until it’s perfect. Artistry requires a patience and perseverance that most people don’t have, and that endurance can just as easily shepherd new products to market, reinvent key processes, or maneuver a start-up through a path littered with roadblocks.
Sometimes an artist creates her initial concept barricaded in her room all alone. But even in those instances, she’ll no doubt collaborate with multiple parties to deliver her art to an audience. Ever sit through the credits at the end of a movie? Yeah, well those are ALL the people who collaborated to create a single piece of art, ironing out competing creative differences until there’s compromise. And we all know that lone wolf business founders are a thing of the past. Now, entrepreneurs routinely cooperate with networks of peers, not to mention our employees, partners, or other members of our value chain.
For a successful artist, talent is only part of the equation. The rest is networking, which involves getting yourself in front of like-minded artists, gatekeepers and influencers, and convincing them that your work is ready for prime time. Hemingway never would’ve been Hemingway if not for France and support of his contemporaries like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and James Joyce, who critiqued his work and introduced him to publishers. Likewise, an entrepreneur has little chance at success without networking with other professionals who can help them solve problems, navigate business impediments and meet new clients and thought leaders.
Creatives are more willing to disappoint and fail, whether that means defying an established norm or disregarding a mentor’s advice. This willingness to assume risk is what creativity is all about: experimentation, curiosity, and learning directly from experience and failure. Most people don’t like taking risks, but any entrepreneur will tell you that winning is built upon a foundation of failures. Every wildly successful person has a story of what their lives looked like before they made it big, and those stories are populated with family members who called them crazy, bankruptcy scares, bootstrapped operations, even couch surfing. Artists and entrepreneurs alike share these histories because creation is never easy.
Perhaps this entrepreneurial bent is why so many artists seem to branch off into a million different directions. We can be restless, in a way. It might drive some people crazy (sorry, mom and dad), but when it comes to building a business, a quick and open mind can end up making something amazing. So don’t fear your creative impulses. They may just be your ticket to the big time.