Tag Archives: Creativity

Startups: The High of Creation, the Wizard of Oz

(Note: this is a rare guest post, the third in the right-year history of this blog. It was originally published in Medium as Why We Startup: the High of Creation and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Megan Berry, head of product @RebelMouse, my daughter. I’m reposting because it captures the thrill, and the work, of developing software.) 

Startup Magic

I first did magic when I was eleven. I made a lemon dance across a screen. It looked effortless but it took me countless hours. I debated the lemon’s smile; I finagled the dancing animation; I almost quit, but I did it. I put it on my site and watched it dance.

The (not currently) dancing lemon
The (not currently) dancing lemon

Just like the Wizard of Oz I had discovered the truth: magic requires a lot of hard work and a curtain. And there is no high like successfully pulling off magic.
So why do we throw our lives into startups, working long hours, fighting through daily failures and (mostly) not being paid enough? I don’t think it’s for some future payoff. Instead, we’re addicts seeking that next high.

You might think this high comes from having an idea. Certainly, there is joy in an idea. It can energize, inspire and push you to do great things. But it is fragile and could fall apart with one wrong word or bad day. The true startup addict knows that ideas are too fleeting for the high you’re really chasing.
The high comes from creating something out of nothing. Because, after all, what is more magic than that?

Magic in Programming

So, together, we work hard behind our curtain. We nurture our ideas into a plan. We start building, brick by brick. We change our plan. We build more. Halfway through we look at what we’re building and are sure everything is going wrong. We panic and then push harder. The last 10% seems to take as long as the previous 90%. Finally, we release. Our idea is live. It is all worth it.

All too soon the high is gone and we must start again. Looking for our next tweak, our next idea. Searching for our next creation high. Won’t you join us? We might even let you look behind the curtain.



Laughter, Creativity, and Data to Prove What You Guessed

Here’s another Friday video offering. I admit that when I saw the title Boost Creativity with Humor, featuring this video by Stanford business school prof Jennifer Aaker, I was expecting funny. The Disney World story it opens with made me chuckle, but the video itself isn’t. But if you want studies to show that funny is good for creativity, health, and, well, humans … this is it. It has nice details.

Just in case you need to prove it.

In case you want to see the original, it’s at How to Use Humor to Boost Creativity on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website.

Why Did I Start A Business? Not Why You Think

I was talking to a group of students recently and I was asked to comment on what makes an entrepreneur. The student who asked the question wrapped it in the mythology of the entrepreneur driven by the idea, stubbornly, tirelessly proving its value to the world. She wanted me to tell about me wanting to build something big.

But I had to admit that my case was different. I was running away from boredom, not building castles.sandcastle

When I left a good job at Creative Strategies and started on my own, in truth it was not because of something I wanted to build, not because of a creative vision, but rather because I thought I could make enough money to keep my family whole and do what I wanted. I wanted interesting work, and I wanted to choose my work. I wanted to actually do the writing and research, not supervise others. It was important to me that what I spend hours doing was something fun — I always found writing and planning and working numbers fun — even though I didn’t have the idea that would create the empire.

Or maybe you like this shorter version: I was married, had kids, so we needed the money; and nobody else would pay me what I needed to make.

And the idea of a software product, that creative vision? Yes, that happened, but that came about 10 years later.

(Image: sandyfeet/Flickr cc)

5 Tips On the Art of Saying No in Business

Strategy is focus, which is about saying no. Management, particularly in the world of entrepreneurship and small business, boils down to knowing when and how to say no. On the surface, from the outside, that probably seems simple. NoBut try it and it gets a lot more complex.

For example, how do you say no to a new idea without stifling the flow of other new ideas? How do you say no to a bright young enthusiastic person without dampening that enthusiasm? Saying no can be as hard as nails.

Still, you really have to be able to say no to manage a company. And not just to not-so-good ideas, but — and here’s where it really hurts — sometimes even to good ideas that just won’t fit into the space allotted. You need to say no to some things to have any shot at strategic focus. It blends in nicely with the principle of displacement, which is basically that everything you do rules out other things that you don’t do. And you can’t do everything.

I have no delusions about being good at saying no. But maybe that’s why I’m sensitive to the problem.  I do have some tips, developed through the years, that might help you.

1.  Recognize the problem.

It starts with recognizing the problem. Yes, you have to say no; but realize that every no answer reduces the chance of another idea or suggestion coming forward. Be very mindful of the problem. You’ve got a strike against you. Be aware of it.

You’ve got some explaining to do.

2.  Blame the company, and the situation, not the idea itself.

It wasn’t a bad idea, it’s that this company needs to do something differently right now because of these company-related reasons. Actually it’s a great idea and it’s really disappointing that we don’t have the resources to jump on it now. We’re stuck in this valley and we need to get up on that hill so we can start working on great ideas like this one.

3.  Blame displacement.

So, given displacement, it’s not that your idea isn’t great; it’s that we can’t jump on it without pulling off of some of the things we’re already doing. What do you think? Which of our priorities can we adjust? Where do we cut time, money, effort, and resources from something else so we can get them for this new thing. Where do you think those other things are off base?

4. Reward the idea and suggestion.

You can fight the sting of a rejected idea by rewarding the person even without adopting the idea. “Even though we can’t move forward with that, I love the creativity and that you made the suggestion,” you say, “so take somebody out to dinner with the company card.” Or give some other immediate reward, a small bonus, extra time off, whatever works in your context.

5. Keep an idea archive for the future.

Find somewhere in your organization to keep a file on new ideas and suggestions. Just putting them into the file reduces the sting of having said no. And sometimes that file becomes a source for solutions to future problems. It’s a quick way to give value to the ideas that didn’t fit, and reinforce the organization’s respect for ideas and suggestions, even without implementing them.