You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take
– Wayne Gretzkey
Success > Nothing > Failure
For most people the above is true. Success is better than failure, but failure is so bad, that doing nothing is preferable to losing. Sometimes this is true, there are failures that can be quite devastating. People make ill-advised investments or decisions and lose it all.
But for the most part, the cost of failure is a nothing more than a bruised ego and hurt feelings.
The fear of failure can be incredibly crippling. And this fear keeps us stuck and stagnant. Our upbringing and society conditions us and keeps us comfortable in our status quo. We value the safe, the tried and true. Schools actively discourage making mistakes and we go through life thinking we must always have the right answers. Religion keeps us thinking we have to be perfect all the time. The idea of failure and its subsequent fear has evolved over centuries into an intimidating spectre.
And so most times, we do nothing.
For some reason, we think that in doing nothing, we gain nothing and we lose nothing. The fearing of losing trumps any anticipation of winning. And this fear keeps us from starting businesses, from ending or starting new relationships, from taking chances. But if you stand still, you lose still. Because time does not stand still, it is unrelenting in its forward movement second after second. The window of opportunity to take action may only be open for so long.
Here is the simple truth – you will fail. Especially when you are doing something for the first time. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You failed multiple times in learning how to walk. You were a complete blabbering incomprehensible mess when you were a toddler. You didn’t care or give up then and decide that this walking thing wasn’t for you. Nah you kept plowing on. You, with your big ass head and stubby legs. You kept going and now look at you with your badass self walking around and conversing fluently like it ain’t no thing.
Big ups to you!
Now apply it to your life and your dreams too. You will try, you will fail, but most importantly you will learn. And next time you will be a little better, you will suck a little less. If you stick with the process, eventually, you will win.
Success > Failure > Nothing
Success is better than failure, but as bad as failure is, it is still better doing nothing.
So go ahead and try. And fail. And try. And fail…until you succeed.
I will not lose, for even in defeat, there is a valuable lesson learned, so it evens up for me.
– Jay Z
There is a powerful Ted Talk by Tim Ferris on fear setting, where he explores the idea of stoicism, and the practice of fear setting. In this exercise, you explore the worst consequences of failure, against the potential upside of success, against the inevitable results of doing nothing. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It will help you put your fears of failure in perspective and hopefully galvanise you to action.
Photo by Cris DiNoto on Unsplash
The thing about being creative types, philosophers and bohemians in a largely capitalistic world is that we are continually faced with the tension of expressing our art, our soul, our spiritual gift to the world while somehow finding a way to survive. Monetization (making money from our art) or subsidization (having someone else donate) becomes necessary at some point.
True, not everything needs to be monetized and we live in a real world of people and interaction on multiple layers – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Not everything can or should be reduced down to currency. However, if you are looking to monetize your passion, this as an incredibly useful way to look at it.
You have to attach something to the art – a product, a service or an experience.
I learnt this principle from Gary Vaynerchuk, watching one of his gazillion videos. He is talking to this young man who is riffing off about the things he wants to do, the heart behind his brand, and how much he wants to impact people and so on. To do this, he needs to find money to execute. In response, Gary asks if there is something tangible attached to it. If he wants funding, is there an object that can be invested in?
Having feel-good ideas are fun and wonderful. Talking about them and sharing them can be very enriching and fulfilling.
But if you are in business, especially if you are a mission-led business seeking to change the world, or an NGO tackling much needed social work on behalf of humanity, you must respect this principle. You have to clearly understand what your idea is – your goal, your purpose, your mission. And this idea must become tangible as product, service or experience.
You cannot ignore the laws of the market place, unless you plan to loot or steal the money. Think about the places your purpose and people’s desires/needs intersect, and play in that space. Connect your work to value in people’s lives.
As nice as it is to exist in our little creative bubbles indulging in artistic revelry, if we will succeed as artists or creatives, we must relax our romantic ideas of a utterly free rein creative life and link our art (the essence of our creativity and passion) to a tangible thing. Your art, your brand needs a vessel. Put your thing into a container that can be invested in or purchased.
Think about music. Musicians make music, and sell the recordings and merchandise (product), or sell skills (service) or shows (experience). There are multiple ways of creating tangible things that express your idea. Attaching your art to an object allows you to share the art. Now your audience can take with them a tangible piece or object that will bring them back to the heart of your art every time they interact with it in any way.
And that’s win-win all round.
There is only one success. To be able to spend your life in your own way.
– Christopher Morley
We are surrounded by success porn. From Facebook to Snapchat, the digital sphere is littered with quote cards spouting off generic success platitudes and motivation. You know the ones, the images of the suave guy in the impeccable suit and nice watch. Or the flawlessly shot Instagram gym model showing off her perfect abs and toned body.
I like to look at it as what I call ‘priming’. When I sit to design, one of the first things I do is to pull up my favourite sites and browse for inspiration. I spend time looking at beautiful things. It primes and stimulates my mind to think in the same vein as my inspiration and helps me know what my benchmark of quality should be.
That’s what success porn does, or should do. It is a burst of inspiration, a certain smug satisfaction, a ‘hell yeah! high five! let’s get it’ sort of moment. And it’s good. Sometimes you need that spark, that reminder.
The main problem with success porn is that you can get that hit of self righteous dopamine so many times that you begin to feel satisfied without actually doing any work.
It is easy to brainstorm, and research and learn. It makes us feel good, like we are taking actual steps. And granted, it is a first step in the process of getting what you want. But consuming content, no matter how good, whether it be Gary V or Tai Lopez or Grant Cardone or whoever your guru is, is not the same as doing the work.
The path to success is the steady consistent grind, the work, the fears, the tears. It is not as sexy as success porn, but it is the thing that actually produces results. And there are a lot of things unique to your circumstance that you would have to navigate with your own wits and common sense as well as all the tips and knowledge you have gained from your blogs, podcasts and videos.
The second subtler problem with success porn is the narrative that success looks a certain way. Success for millenials in general falls in the same boxes – a great job, a great startup, lots of money, gadgets, travel to exotic places, self care, romantic love and baecations. All of which are absolutely wonderful pleasures.
But the thing with life is…it is life. It is varied, it is complex and it is nuanced. Success has to be something you define for yourself. You don’t need to subscribe to an idea of success. You just have to find what you like, what you believe, what fulfills you and be committed in the pursuit of that. That is what success is.
I used to burnout a lot. I would work almost every waking hour for months at a stretch. In fact, I expected to flame out around June every year. I would start hating everything and everyone – my work, my clients, and my life. Then I would be basically incapacitated for a month and then bounce back. I completely disrespected my personal rhythms.
Interest and Energy are cyclical…Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest, and mental endurance all wax and wane. Plan accordingly.
– Tim Ferris (The 4 hour work week)
Hard work and hustle are important. You do have to push hard. Like Bruce Mau’s incomplete manifesto for growth says –
Stay up late. Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
But you also need to unplug. You need to allow yourself to recover. Which can be very hard if you are a type A personality. Or you are obsessed. I have found myself lost for hours longer than I intended working. And after a long stretch of days with my nose to the grindstone, I find that a little rest wont cut it. I need unplug completely. So I take some days off, hang with friends, and do nothing, read, catch up on all my favourite shows and then I get back to it.
Everyone’s rhythm is different. Some people can work months non-stop without needing a break. I max out after 3-4 days of intense work, then I need at least one day of light work or rest. Every couple weeks or so of this, I would need at least 3-5 days to do a full reset. I find that if I respect this rhythm I can stay very productive over a longer stretch of times. Goodbye to those burn outs that would wipe out for a month at a time.
But beyond banishing burnout, unplugging periodically allows you to gain perspective. Working long and hard keeps you firmly in the thick of the forest, hacking and slashing away. Hitting that reset button allows you to step back and see the forest for the trees. You rise up to the big picture view, analyse your actions and results and recalibrate your efforts when you get back in the game. It also helps you reconnect to your ‘why’. Some times you need to remind yourself why you do what you do to avoid becoming jaded.
Being in that calm space, observing and listening opens you up to receiving answers to problems that have been plaguing you. It is the incubation space that allows all subconscious to work out the kinks and issues you have been wrestling with in the hustle. Unplugging creates the conditions for the famous flash of inspiration that jolts into our mind when we are least expecting it. Suddenly the answer appears, the smart-cut and months of wasted effort are shaved off your journey.
Working hard is necessary, but remember to rest. An unsharpened saw no matter how productive will get blunt over time from overuse.
I heard the above quote from a Tai Lopez podcast sometime in 2015, and it stuck in my mind ever since. It even made it to the little pile of post-its I keep on my desk covered with odd notes and scribbles. It reminded of me something I heard Marc Ecko say back in 2012 – that the phrase ‘Artists and Instigators’ was a more apt way to describe what startups and entrepreneurs do. We get stuck sometimes on the nuts and bolts of creating businesses and launching brands, managing teams, balancing books, developing markets, we miss the essence of what these activities are, or what they should be. Which is making something we believe should exist to communicating an opinion, a point of view.
That is the true allure of being a designer for me. It is the chance to make something, the ability to offer my take / perspective on an idea, a product, a service, a business that wakes me up in the morning eager to get started.
I watched a talk by Sasha Strauss on ‘branding in the normal’ last week, and he so elegantly distilled the essence of what a brand is. As a matter of fact, the idea he put forward is the founding conceptual framework behind all the great institutions of our time – religions, nations, and so. The core of brand is this – there is the idea, and there is the belief around that idea. Religion has the idea that there exists a god or gods. The belief system in relation to this idea, i.e. how we interact with and behave because of this god or gods is what makes different religions appeal to different people. The Virgin Group takes on multiple markets and products but the core ideas are business, products, and services. Their belief is that business should be fun and that customer service is the most important thing a great company can have.
I don’t know what your motives are for getting into business if you are an entrepreneur, but the best businesses and the most creative works of art succeed because they have a point of view. There is something they believe in, and they stop at nothing to birth a world that expresses that. It might be in the way they treat the customer, it might be in the way they do business, but they believe something.
That goes double for the freelancer, the creative, the solopreneur. You got into this because deep down, you want to create a specific kind of life; you want to do something remarkable. You became an entrepreneur, to make something specific happen. There are a multitude of people doing the same thing you do – designing, writing, photography, coaching, etc. What will separate you from everyone else is the same thing that makes you unique. It is your DNA, it is your opinion, its your point of view, it is what you truly believe. Don’t hide away from it; don’t dumb it down to fit in. Embrace that and recreate the world in your image.
As a designer, my most requested service is creating corporate (visual) identities. My clients are usually entrepreneurs in need of a logo, some marketing material, and a website to hit the ground running. And it usually works out well enough. The client gets in touch, they tell me their brief and what they are looking for. I get some information on the client and their business, I design options, we refine until approved and it is all done.
All good and well. But the results tend to be shallow. In many cases, it doesn’t matter, it’s just another business, and most people don’t care too much about aesthetics or presentation, the level of design sophistication in business is not always high this side of the globe. But…
‘Design is the silent ambassador of your brand’. – Paul Rand
So does your design accurately depict your brand? Or is it just adequate? Do you even know what your brand is? Your brand is probably languishing as an untapped or underutilized asset in your arsenal as an entrepreneur. Stop thinking only about the aesthetics and start thinking about what your brand stands for.
When most people hear the word ‘brand’ the first thing that comes to mind is a logo. But a brand is not a logo. The brand is the meaning the logo eventually becomes associated with. The brand is the sum total of the experiences and feelings your audience has towards your business or product, or even you as a person. And this ‘meaning’, this ‘key idea’ is what you should trying to express when you commission design for your business.
The promise of a good brand is this –
with a solid and well exposed brand, your dream clients and stakeholders will know you, they will seek you out, and if you do your job right and deliver on the promise, they will love you and bring more friends.
Can a business really benefit from work-shopping their brand, defining their values and vision and modus operandi? Or is it just simply another way for consultants to milk money from you? You are an entrepreneur on the go and you are more concerned about sales funnels, revenue streams and growth hacking. You are more concerned with being profitable and staying in business.
A good entrepreneur in my mind is always seeking to grow past the startup stage into a fully-fledged sustainable company. Theoretical models – business models, operational models, organizational models and so on, even though they sound very business like and academic, they are useful patterns for thinking about and understanding how businesses work. They allow you to scale from the early stages to a mature business. Your brand identity is one of these systems. Understanding it could transform your business and very well change your life. Investing in the process to develop a solid brand strategy and design comes with many advantages and here are 8 ways it would help you.
- Clarity. As a business owner, it helps you understand your story, and the story of your brand and how it came to be. It helps you understand what you believe in and what you are really in business for. Too many people get into business and get lost, not seeing the forest for trees and not working with purpose.
- Direction. It gives you direction on your goals and how you could achieve them
- Edge. It gives you a unique edge and competitive advantage by playing to your strengths and what makes you tick.
- Empathy. It helps you know understand who your customers are, what their needs are and how to connect with them. It also allows you to let go of unnecessary activities and focus only the tasks that help you deliver your brand promise.
- Stand out. The stronger a brand you have, the more it sticks in the mind of your customer, eventually, you become the only solution they want.
- Tribe. A well-executed brand strategy helps you build a loyal following and develop deep relationships with your audience that allow you to grow and evolve over time, responding to their needs in real time.
- Building. It is terrific for onboarding new employees and motivating partners and stakeholders. If everyone is bound by a unifying compelling vision, you have a winning team and a winning brand.
- Opportunities. Having a solid idea of your brand allows you to discover and exploit opportunities that you may have never been able to see otherwise.
With a clearly defined brand identity and strategy, your business or organization would know what it is, what inspires it, and where it was going. It would have a clear sense of whom it needed to be speaking to and how to manage and execute its communications. It would know what it believes and what makes it unique. It would be more effective and efficient in its business development efforts and delighting customers. It would have the strategic advantage and a roadmap for growth into the future.
And those are all wonderful things.