Author Bill Bryson talks about being on a train and thinking about fellow travel writer Paul Theroux who wrote about fascinating conversations he has with strangers. This perplexes Bryson because he finds it difficult to strike up conversations with traveling Brits.

That got me thinking about a conversation I had with an enthusiastic traveler who wondered how I managed to open a dialogue with someone I’d just met.

Since my Do Talk To Strangers Policy is a vital component of traveling—and being entrepreneurial—I started to consider how I actually go about it. I realized that some of it is purely intuitive.

For instance, when a stranger plunks down next to me on an airplane, I take a breath, take a look and see if I’m moved to start a conversation. Most of the time I get it right. Once in a while, I know from my opening question that my seat mate is inclined toward solitude and I stop there.

Whether you’re standing in line at the post office (a place where I’ve met some fascinating folks) or waiting for a train, here are a few ideas to help you uncovering the interesting people around you.

° Make it a game. Decide ahead of time that you want to find an interesting story or inspiring stranger. I’ve been on long flights that seemed to pass in a moment because I had landed next to a great storyteller.

I consider that a fine compensation for the annoyances that are now part of contemporary travel.

° Don’t wait. Instigate. Be willing to be the one who makes the first move. A friendly smile is a good way to test the water. If it’s not reciprocated, move on.

° Look for common ground. I often open a conversation with a compliment or observation about something the stranger is wearing or carrying or something that’s happening around us.

When I hopped into a London taxi that was covered in promotional material for the Rolling Stones, I suspected that I had a fascinating chat ahead of me. And I did. I learned that my driver was the only cab in the city promoting the Stones, that he earned an extra £750 a year by putting advertising on his cab.

He also told me he’d once advertised for the South African Tourist Board and got a free trip to that country as a bonus. He was hoping he might get tickets to a Stones concert this time around.

° Be politely curious. Our reluctance to talk to strangers may be caused by thinking it’s about us. Wrong. It’s about them. Yes, you might be subjected to a tedious story now and then, but it’s worth the risk.

One of my most memorable conversations was with a young man who was a linguistic professor who spoke seven languages. when I learned that, I asked him the best way to learn a language. “Be a kid,” he said. I laughed and asked, “What’s the second best?”

The answer to that question—and many more—kept us chatting from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. I learned a lot and enjoyed his willingness to share his linguistic passion.

° Anticipate the best. Remember that it’s true that everyone knows something that you don’t. Discovering what that unknown fact or idea or passion may be can enrich your life. Sometimes a stranger leads you to a missing piece of your own puzzle.
Knowing that keeps me talking to strangers who unknowingly enrich my life.

And like everything else, it gets easier with practice.

What skill can put you at ease in social situations, make your business memorable and  keep your curiosity on high alert?

You probably grew up with it and are still drawn to it.  It is, quite simply,  a universal connector that helps us understand each other and ourselves, makes us desire things, gives us a sense of possibility.

This magical tool is storytelling and it belongs in every entrepreneur’s toolkit.

So what does it take to be a great storyteller? The fundamentals are pretty simple.

° Curiosity. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, who not only wrote innovative ad copy, but also trained many successful copywriters, wrote, “I have never known anyone who bounced out of bed in the morning, delighted and astonished by the world in which he found himself, who was not a success. A vibrantly alive curiosity and a perceptive awareness will put you right up there with the best of them. This intense interest in people and things—this sense of wonder—can be acquired.”

Without curiosity, you’ll miss all the good stories happening around you that might be put to work on your behalf.

° Attention. TV  journalist Steve Hartman created a popular feature on CBS called “Everyone Has a Story.” He looked for his subject by throwing a dart at a map and then headed to wherever the dart landed. Once there, Hartman began calling people at random from the phone book until he found someone who agreed to talk to him.

Some of Hartman’s stories were funny, some were poignant, some were buried deep, but he never came away empty-handed.

Hartman’s premise is that stories exist everywhere, but only storytellers seem to be paying attention. Follow their lead. Listen for inspiration. Listen for evidence. Listen for material.

When someone says, “Your teleclass was so exciting that I was awake until 3 AM with all these new ideas,” weave it into your marketing.

° Edit.  Editing is critical in all forms of storytelling. The difference between a boring and an enthralling storyteller is in the editing. We all know people who start telling a story and then wander off to side stories about the characters or unrelated events or random thoughts.

So what does an editor really do? According to Sarah Tieck, the job of an editor is to ruthlessly look for what’s relevant and then eliminate the rest.

In many ways, editing uses the same skills as are needed to identify priorities in the goal-setting process. It’s also a bit easier to do in writing than in speaking where you don’t have the benefit of reviewing your words.

°  Bring it alive.  Don’t you just marvel at all the ways chef Jamie Oliver describes food? That’s what a great storyteller does. Passion and a good vocabulary are the fuel.

Except for Prairie Home Companion, there’s not much storytelling in radio anymore. If you listen to Garrison Keillor—a master storyteller—you’ll hear how he adds just enough detail so we can imagine the scene.

In marketing, part of the storyteller’s job is to help the audience of potential customers imagine how your products or services will be useful to them.

Storytelling can do that more vividly than just listing benefits.

°  Watch your audience. Bores do not notice their listeners fidgeting in their seats or gazing around the room looking for an escape. Alas, the self-absorbed among us are oblivious to this.

There’s a woman I know who is the personification of this. She’s not particularly creative and I suspect even Steven Hartman would have a hard time finding a story to tell about her, but that doesn’t stop her from talking about the only subject she cares about: herself.  She doesn’t notice that people can barely stay awake during her  monologues.

A good storyteller, on the other hand, understands body language and looks for clues. After all, storytelling always involves at least two people: the teller and the listener. Both are important. Connecting with your audience is a basic function.

In Funky Business, the authors make this observation: “True leaders are CSO’s – Chief Storytelling Officers. They provide the focus, inspiration and meaning that the organization has been crying out for…. Funky leaders give rise to and spread stories.”

Polishing your storytelling skills can be as good for your business as it is for your social life. Even better, it’s a fun and creative way to approach your marketing and promotion.

The other day I was hanging out with my grandchildren when Zachy, who’s not yet 4, decided to turn his younger brother’s cradle into a helicopter. He tipped it on end and struggled to cover it with blankets.

The contraption was wonky and kept slipping across the wooden floor. Zachy was undeterred.

I suggested he abandon the project, but he kept at it. “I’m making an awesome helicopter,” he explained.

I’ve known Zachy long enough to know that determination is one of his trademarks. Once he has a vision, he follows through. He is unimpressed by adult wisdom and advice. It’s obvious that he would rather struggle than settle.

Zachy reminded me that innovation can be messy and uncomfortable, but when we’re curious that doesn’t matter much.

I also realize that without curiosity it’s hard to make things happen or to make much of a difference.

Seth Godin’s book Tribes has much to say about the importance of recovering our curiosity. “I don’t think it’s a matter of saying a magic word; boom and then suddenly something happens and you’re curious,” he writes.

“It’s more about a five- or ten- or fifteen-year process where you start finding your voice, and finally you begin to realize that the safest thing you can do feels risky and the riskiest thing you can do is play it safe.

“Once recognized, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away. Ever. And perhaps it’s such curiosity that will lead us to distinguish our own greatness from the mediocrity that stares us in the face.”

This weekend I’m headed to Denver to teach at Colorado Free University, one of the longest-running curiosity incubators in the country. I’ve been wondering if the people area realize how fortunate they are to have such a treasure in their midst.

While I’m looking forward to meeting the people who are curious about how to establish themselves as an expert or make a living without a job, I’m especially excited to see who shows up in my new program, Become a Great Idea Detective.

I could have called it, I’m Curious. Now What? because it’s loaded with tools for exploring and expanding ideas. Besides that, hanging out with curious people is at the top of my list of favorite activities.

“It’s taken me three decades to unlearn the impulse to be practical,” confessed writer Sarah Ban Breathnach. “Just imagine what you might have accomplished if only you’d been encouraged to honor your creative reveries as spiritual gifts.”

Happily, it’s never too late. If you’re curious.

On the day that my daughter left for college, she tucked a card in my dresser drawer that said, “Thanks for being such a great mother, a great friend, a great teacher and student.”

I’d like to think that the most important thing I taught Jennie was to keep being a student. And she has.

Just before New Year’s Day a few year back, she called to tell me about a trip she’d made to the bookstore where she’d found several treasures. “My project this year is to learn lots of new things,” she announced.

One of her purchases had been a desk calendar of scientific questions since she felt her knowledge was lacking in that area. As she constantly reminds me, doing things that appear out of character can be a powerful catalyst for learning.

Her bookstore visit opened the way for a discussion of our individual visions for the new year. After discussing a few specific goals, I said, “And my theme for the year is Stretch. To make sure that I don’t forget that’s what my life is about right now, I’ve taken up daily yoga practice as a literal reminder.”

“That’s a good one,” she agreed.

Since we’re coming to the end of the year, Jennie and I have been talking about the things we plan to explore when 2012 rolls around. She’s planning to revisit things she’s loved in the past.

I’m still narrowing down my theme for the year, but know it will be one that feeds my curiosity.

“Seems to me if I were the Maker of the Universe,” mused advertising whiz Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, “the people who would vex me the most would be the ones who went unseeing and unwanting through this fascinating world.”

They’re the ones who vex me most, too. On the other hand, the ones who inspire me most are those who keep stretching themselves day in and day out.

Ask such a person, “What’s new?” and they always have a fascinating answer.

Staying curious is not only something that’s available to anyone, it doesn’t cost a dime. Where it leads, depends on how willing we are to give up limited thinking and follow the callings that are unique to each of us.

In the coming new year, discover the truth of Gregg Levoy’s tantalizing promise: “When people begin to follow their calls, they way opens up, even after they’ve kept the gods drumming their fingers for decades, pacing around the front hall while they take forever in the boudoir getting ready.

“Opportunities wash up on shore; people take an interest; out of the corner of your eye, you spy synchronicities; the right book or the right person crosses your path. Sometimes even money follows. Perhaps it’s nothing more mysterious than the universe supporting growth and life loving itself.”

Nice vision, isn’t it?

If we allow ourselves to become complacent—or, even worse, cynical—we destroy any possibility of having such a rich and adventurous life. We block our stretch.

So pick a theme. Plan some fascinating projects. Listen and follow your calls. Use it or lose it.

If you don’t there’s much to be lost. “A life devoted to trifles,” warned Hannah More, “not only takes away the inclination, but the capacity, for higher pursuits.”


It would come as no surprise, I’m sure, to learn that I’m particularly sensitive to any mention of gardening as a companion to the creative process. Here are three very different stories that caught my attention this week.

When I was headed to Trader Joe’s last weekend, I heard a story on NPR about Trout Gulch Farm and couldn’t wait to get home and find out more about this place started by young filmmaker Isaiah Saxon.

According to the story on NPR, “With the help of filmmaking buddies Sean Hellfritsch and Daren Rabinovitch, Saxon has transformed 10 hilly acres surrounding his mother’s house in Aptos, California into Trout Gulch, a kind of rural hacker space where they build their own houses, grow organic vegetables, milk goats and produce state-of-the-art digital animation.”

Saxon explains how his group of 21st-century pioneers takes a do-it-yourself approach to just about everything. You can find out more about how these fellows are building their Hobbit village and building a successful business at the same time at Trout Gulch.

Four years ago, author Barbara Kingsolver had another bestseller with her nonfiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written in conjunction with her husband and daughter.

The book chronicles the experiences of Kingsolver and her family who decided to spend a year eating only food they raised themselves or that was grown in their neighborhood.

As a result, Kingsolver found herself becoming the spokesperson for the locavore movement—and inspired countless others to start producing more of their own food.

The experience also inspired a small surge in the number of farmer’s markets around the country, plus a new enterprise started by Kingsolver’s spouse.

Her husband Steven Hopp reports, “My most notable commitment to local food has been to put the ideas I’ve learned into practice in our own little community. In 2008, I created a community business devoted to developing and promoting a local economy.

“The Meadowview Farmers’ Guild  is a two-part business, a restaurant devoted to local foods and a general store supplied with local hand-made goods from more than120 different individuals. The Harvest Table Restaurant is a casual fine dining restaurant devoted to sourcing its food as locally as possible.”

You can find out more about activities inspired by the book by visiting

My favorite story of the week, however, comes from writer Elizabeth Gilbert who shared her experience on finding her lost curiosity by abandoning her writing and taking to the garden.

Read Gilbert’s short essay here: What to Do if You Can’t Find Your Passion.




Passion isn’t something one gets––it’s something one merely allows.

Suzanne Falter-Barns

When I start talking about discovering your passion in my seminars, I notice that some people begin to look uncomfortable. I can almost hear their thoughts: “Passion? Do I have a passion? I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but that didn’t turn into much.”

Sometimes people come right out and say, “I have no idea what my passion is.” Obviously, they’re doomed.

What’s going on here may be a matter of semantics, of having a definition of passion that is limited to things that we think of as creative pursuits or relaxing pastimes. When it comes to dreambuilding, however, passion encompasses an enormous range of possibilities.

Passion is Bigger Than We Think

While it’s true than many  businesses get started because a person is wild about antiquarian books or fixing luxury cars or designing houses, just as many come from having a passion for the activity of running a business.

They’re the ones who love taking a new idea and bringing it to life. The product or service is secondary. It’s business itself that excites them. Richard Branson, whose Virgin enterprises began with selling records and now includes an airline, banks and numerous other divisions, is such a person.

Whether or not you can identify a specific product or service that you consider your passion, I’d like to suggest that there may be dozens of other passions that you possess that are going to be crucial to your entrepreneurial success. Here are a five to consider:

Independence–the desire to be in charge, to take responsibility, to make decisions is a huge catalyst for many an entrepreneur. Being in control of your time, writing your own rule book, and doing things in your own way  isn’t an act of selfishness. It’s the healthy desire for self-reliance.

Individuality–wanting to explore fully what makes us unique. This is increasingly difficult to do in a world that seems bent on conformity. “Nobody can be exactly like me,” said Tallulah Bankhead. “Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”

Reveling in our uniqueness and making it an integral part of our business can be an on-going exercise in creativity.

Personal growth–giving ourselves a  lifelong project of self-discovery is enticing for many who come to the conclusion that self-employment does just that. As Paul Hawken points out, “Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are.” Amen.

Serving others–knowing that our efforts make life better for other people can be a powerful motivation. As my handyman student Al says, “I have always wanted to help people and I’m doing that now and have never felt so appreciated as I do from my customers. And then they pay me on top of that!”

Curiosity and adventure–as many entrepreneurs have learned, you don’t have to trek through Nepal to have adventure in your life. The nature of building an evolving business is that it always has new discoveries to make.

“Just when you think you’ve arrived,” says singer Melissa Manchester, “you find there’s another mountain to climb.”  Curious adventurers understand that.

In a world where people like to talk about things they just might do someday, the Joyfully Jobless consider where his or her passion lies and then gets busy living it. Passion shows up bearing marching orders, after all.

Philosophers have often reminded us that what we are is more important than what we have. Passionate entrepreneurs live that every day.


I nearly went into a swoon yesterday when I read Frank Hyman’s New York Times piece called I’m Making a Living From My Hobbies. It’s a delightful example of putting multiple passions to work. Check it out and notice, also, what he says about investing in himself.

Nearly all of us who arrived on this planet after World War II grew up in the Culture of the Single Lifetime Career. From early on, we were encouraged to pick a path and follow it.

Once we had made the choice, we discovered that getting off that path was not only difficult—it incurred scorn and criticism from others. Besides the enormous discontent that such thinking has produced, it’s also crippled our adventurous spirits.

R. Buckminster Fuller was one of the greatest thinkers of the past century and someone who refused to give in to such singular notions. In his fascinating book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, he writes, “Society assumes that specialization is natural, inevitable and desirable.

“Yet in observing a little child, we find it is interested in everything and spontaneously apprehends, comprehends and coordinates an ever-expanding inventory of experiences. If the total scheme of nature required man to be a specialist she would have made him so by having him born with one eye with a microscope attached to it.”

Isn’t that a great image? Think about an older person that you know, one you would describe as youthful. What’s the distinguishing characteristic of this lively elder? I’m guessing that curiosity about anything and everything is what stands out.

It’s the same quality that makes for successful entrepreneurship. We need to be curious about our own industry, of course, but we need to be equally curious about things that seem to have no direct bearing on what we’re up to.

After all, the world is full of people who are crazy about things we know nothing about  and discovering what they love can make our lives richer.

One Thanksgiving, I had dinner with a group of relatives I didn’t know very well. The sister of the hostess sat next to me at dinner and the moment she sat down announced, “I want to have my own business.”

I asked her if she knew what she wanted to do and she lit right up. “I love doing beadwork. I come home from my job and go right to my project room and bead all night,” she told me.

The moment dinner was over, she whipped out her beads and spent the afternoon making jewelry.

A few minutes later, my cousin Ray came over to visit with me. Ray has been a farmer his entire life raising corn and soybeans. A few years ago, he turned several acres of his farm into vineyards

In his second year of production, his crop outperformed all expectations. He was so excited about this new aspect of his business and had a list of ideas for building it. I couldn’t wait to return in the summer to see his vines.

Even though I may never take up beading or growing grapes myself, being with these passionate folks opened a creative valve and I spent my long drive home stopping to write down ideas for my own business.

Exploring is more than just amusement. There’s no doubt in my mind that you, I and our fellow humans are in possession of Renaissance souls just waiting to be discovered.

It’s only by following our hunches, by trying a wide range of things, by listening to others share their passions and by moving outside the familiar that we can unwrap the gifts that are waiting our recognition.

You don’t have to go halfway around the world in order to be a genuine explorer. You just need to open your heart and mind to testing and tasting the unfamiliar.

And when you catch yourself thinking or saying, “I would never…” reverse that thought and give what you’d never do a try.  You might discover that you adore traveling alone or giving a speech. Or you might discover that once was enough. Either way, you’ll have gained a new insight into what brings you the greatest joy.


The upcoming Joyfully Jobless Jamboree on October 15 & 16 is going to be a fantastic opportunity to explore more. We’re thinking of it as Woodstock for the selfl-employed. Spending time in a beautiful setting surrounded by lively, creative self-bossers is certain to inspire you to take your business higher and farther.

This is the perfect place to explore, connect and create. Early Bird deadlines are rapidly approaching so don’t wait any longer to get registered.