Most of us will fail.
Our work will never be finished.
Curiosity, an embrace of risk and ‘unreasonable belief’ define us.
I’m talking about artists. And entrepreneurs.
And more broadly, creatives and founders.
As a founder working in the art world, I see a remarkably strong correlation in the personality types and indicators of success of people in these seemingly opposing fields (art & business).
To me they are clearly the same people. I’m fascinated by the parallels.
Curious about the world
Both groups have a distinct way of thinking, one might say unique ways of seeing. A creative approach to problem solving. A wish to express something meaningful. A curiosity that challenges the status quo. A desire to ‘put a ding in the universe’ as Steve Jobs said.
The best artists have something to say. The best art makes you think or makes you feel. It’s much more than an object on a wall (which is fine too for people who like it) however the most enduring art has meaning and a story.
Similarly, the best founders are solving a genuine problem. Making positive change in the world, storytelling, building communities, changing the way people do things. Doing more than simply building a good, solid business (which is fine too).
A comfortable relationship with ‘failure’
Both groups must experiment to find what really works. With that comes the prospect of constantly getting outside your comfort zone. Embracing the almost certainty of failure.
Some psychologists call this an ‘openness to experience’ — the trait that predicts whether an individual enjoys getting out of their comfort zone and seeking out unfamiliar experiences.
It’s the ability to assess & take risks. Measured risks. With every creative decision, every chisel mark in a marble sculpture that can’t be reversed, and every new product launch or software iteration.
Giacometti, an art idol of mine, said: The more you fail, the more you succeed. It is only when everything is lost and — instead of giving up — you go on, that you experience the momentary prospect of some slight progress. Suddenly you have the feeling — be it an illusion or not — that something new has opened up.
Ideas are less important than execution
Steve Jobs, my go to for founder inspiration (except for his personality) said:
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
Which is most important? Ideas or execution?
Most conventional wisdom in any field would say ideas are plentiful, execution is rare. The personality profiles of both artists and entrepreneurs align here too: what’s required to succeed is a single mindedness, a determined focus, grit, resolve.
My favourite phrase for this is to have ‘unreasonable belief’.
To always find a way. To make. To execute.
That’s what the best artists and the best founders repeatedly do.
People are more important than product.
When you meet the artist, everything changes. For me anyway. The context, the work, the meaning, the story. Often the story becomes as important as the work. Most collectors follow artists (ie the person not the output) and treasure the journey they take as their practice evolves and develops over time.
In the business world, ideas are easy and product/market fit can be hard to find. Typically the smartest investors back the founder(s) & the team rather than the business idea. Paul Graham, cofounder of the game changing startup accelerator Y Combinator, famously said of the AirBnb founders…
We didn’t even like the idea that much… But the founders seemed so full of energy that it was impossible not to like them.
Yesterday I saw a Grad Show at Royal College of Art, London. I love sneaking a preview of the next generation of artists. One artist’s explanatory text spoke of ‘being open to the failure and disruption inherent’.
It could just as easily have come from the mouth of any founder. I wish I’d had that maturity at that stage. For both my art and business journeys.
A note on ‘failure’.
I started this article by saying ‘Most of us will fail’.
That’s by conventional standards. I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of ‘failure’. That there is no such thing as failure, only not succeeding on that occasion.
I think I’ve moved into the group of people that accepts ‘not succeeding on a particular occasion’ as necessary for progress. Indeed I now view a lack of failure with suspicion — that if anyone does not fail from time to time they are not delivering their potential, personal or professional. Too happily staying inside their comfort zone. Not good for anyone with ambition really.