Every time my UPS driver delivers another case of Making a Living Without a Job books, I am reminded that this idea almost didn’t happen. In fact, I was downright clueless about how big an idea it was.
Several months after I moved to Minneapolis, I discovered Open U, our local independent adult ed program. I thought this might be a good place to try out some ideas I had for seminars so I sent them a proposal. Making a Living was one of those ideas, but I didn’t think it was the biggest. Although I’d met a number of people in my new hometown who seemed intrigued by my joyfully jobless lifestyle, I suspected it was too radical to be popular. Maybe I’d do a session or two, I thought.
Thousands of seminar participants and tens of thousands of readers later, I am still astonished at how excited I get every time I walk into a meeting room to talk about my favorite subject. Helping others become self-employed has been a continuous source of joy and satisfaction for me.
So here’s a little secret about ideas: we can’t possibly know ahead of time which of our ideas are the real winners. The only way to find out is by putting them out into the world and seeing what happens.
Sometimes ideas arrive too early for the marketplace. Sometimes we discover when we try something out that it’s not as much fun as we thought it would be. Sometimes we don’t get the response we’d wanted, but still love the idea so much that we start looking for better ways of delivering it. It’s all a fascinating experiment.
We can’t know until we get into the game. It’s as simple as that. As Paul Hawken points out, “Owning a business and working for one are as different as chalk and cheese.” Surmising, fretting and musing about being an entrepreneur may be an interesting mental exercise, but it’s only by doing what an entrepreneur does that you can know what it’s really like.
I’m not the first person to discover this, of course. One of my favorite entrepreneurial role models was the late Dame Anita Roddick. Here’s what she had to say about her journey:
There are no rules or formulas for success. You just have to live it and do it. Knowing this gives us enormous freedom to experiment toward what we want. Believe me, it’s a crazy, complicated journey. It’s trial and error. It’s opportunism. It’s quite literally, “Let’s try lots of this stuff and see how it works.”
My thinking was forged in the 1960s and in those days I would rather have slit my wrists than work in a corporation. So we had no organizational chart, no one-year, five-year plan. What we did have was management by our common values.
Entrepreneurs want to create a livelihood from an idea that has obsessed them. Money will grease the wheels, but becoming a millionaire is not the aim of the true entrepreneur. In fact, most entrepreneurs I know don’t give a damn about the accumulation of money. What gets their juices going is seeing how far an idea can go.
And I only know one way for that to happen.
The brilliant Chris Brogan talks about Overnight Success and Excuses. Check it out.