Hugh MacLeod, the matchbook cartoon artist, had a great post in January on “Random Thoughts on Being an Entrepreneur” that I am going to cherry pick for a few that I thought were excellent. I have preserved his original numbering (putting the thought in the cartoon at 0).
0. If you can express your soul, the rest ceases to matter.
A sense of fulfilling your purpose is more fulfilling than any amount of greed. Martin Seligman is quoted in Edge on “Eudaemonia, The Good Life”
“eudaemonia, the good life, which is what Thomas Jefferson and Aristotle meant by the pursuit of happiness. […] Aristotle is talking about what Mike Csikszentmihalyi works on, and that is, when one has a good conversation, when one contemplates well. When one is in eudaemonia, time stops. You feel completely at home. Self-consciousness is blocked. You’re one with the music. The good life consists of the roots that lead to flow. It consists of first knowing what your signature strengths are and then recrafting your life to use them more–recrafting your work, your romance, your friendships, your leisure, and your parenting to deploy the things you’re best at. […] [W]hat you get is flow, and the more you deploy your highest strengths the more flow you get in life.”
4. Once you become an entrepreneur, you find the company of non-entrepreneurs a lot harder to be around. You’ve seen things they haven’t; the wavelengths alter, it’s that simple.
It’s a little harsh, but I do think there is an entrepreneurial frame of reference that looks at many problems as opportunities and embraces prudent risk taking over the “safe path.” I do think the opposite is true, you find the company of entrepreneurs energizing.
6. Word of mouth is the best advertising medium of all. The best word of mouth comes from disrupting markets.
So many talk of “viral marketing” as if it can be added to a product as a coating or a post-development “quality injection step” in the same way that sitcom soundtracks are “sweetened” with laughter. Word of mouth is intrinsic to the customer’s relationship with the product in the context of existing options in the market.
14. Smart, young, artistic people are always asking me which is a better career path, “Creativity” or “Money.” I always answer that it doesn’t matter. What matters is “Effective” or “Ineffective.”
By this I think he means finding out what you are good at. As John Kennedy said in his remarks to student participants in the White House seminar in government, August 27, 1963 “the ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”
23. Running a startup is full of extreme ups and downs. Which is why so many successful and happy entrepreneurs I know lead such normal, stable, unglamorous, “boring”, family-centered lives. Somehow they need the latter in order to balance out the former. Extra-curricular drama looks great in the tabloids, but that’s all it’s ultimately good for.
We look for founders in stable relationships. The emotional roller coaster that is almost unavoidable when you are bootstrapping means you need to be connected to planet Earth, and that’s through friends and family who will keep you grounded. Larry Niven, in the short story Flash Crowd, observed that “For each human being there is an optimum ratio between change and stasis. Too little change, he grows bored. Too little stability, he panics and loses his ability to adapt. One who marries six times in ten years won’t change jobs. One who moves often to serve his company will maintain a stable marriage. A woman chained to one home and family may redecorate frantically or take a lover or go to many costume parties.” A startup injects enough chaos into your life on a regular, and irregular, basis that you need a strong support system to be able to survive it.
25. Bill Gates may have a million times more money than me, but he isn’t going to live a million times longer than me, watch a million times more sunsets than me, make love to a million times more women than me, drink a million times more fine wines than me, listen to a million times more Beethoven String Quartets than me, nor sire a million times more children than me. Human beings don’t scale.
Bill Gates realized in his mid-40’s that no matter how much he accumulates, there are no pockets in a shroud, and established the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. That’s a second lesson entrepreneurs can learn from his example.
Update July 21, 2009: I just realized that I have done two distinct blog posts using the same blog post by Hugh MacLeod as a point of departure. See also “Hugh MacLeod’s Thoughts on Being an Entrepreneur” I have added a “2” to the title of this post. I guess A. A. Milne was right “One of the advantages of being disorderly is that you are constantly making exciting discoveries.”