For the past several evenings, I’ve been curling up with Richard Branson’s latest book, Like a Virgin. This collection of blog posts and interviews is subtitled Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School.

As you might guess, it’s full of stories, philosophies and insights that are often surprising and provocative.

I’ve been fascinated by this renegade entrepreneur for years who’s always done things with a unique flair. For instance, what other enterprise made up of 400 companies has no gigantic world headquarters?

In many ways, Virign’s success has come about by thinking big, but acting small. This morning, I posted a quote from Branson on Facebook and it got a bunch of Likes from my friends.

He said, “I have spent my career staying away from offices and have only ever worked from three places: houseboat, home and hammock.” I find that endearing.

Happily for us, Branson has always been willing to share his experiences and insights. He’s not alone, of course.

There are all sorts of wise entrepreneurial elders who generously share what they’ve learned. Doesn’t it makes sense to become a voluntary student of those who’ve made the journey ahead of us?

Another favorite of mine is Mel Ziegler who says, “I would not think of starting a business unless I was its first customer.”

Ziegler knows a thing or two about being the first customer. He started out as a journalist, but grew increasingly frustrated by his inability to have creative control over his life.

He and his wife Patricia  started their first business because Mel loved to wear bush jackets and khakis, but he couldn’t easily find any. “The closest you could get to something authentic was in the surplus world, particularly British Army Surplus in those days,” says Ziegler. “It was magnificent. We saw the surplus and were kind of excited by it. We just played with it.”

That business was the original Banana Republic, which began life as a mail order company. They didn’t just sell clothes at Banana Republic; they sold clothes in which you were certain to have an adventure.

Patricia drew the catalog and Mel wrote it. “We just created it more as a theatrical experience than a retail experience,” say Ziegler.”Neither of us had retail experience. Neither of us had business experience.”

I still have a couple of those wonderful Banana Republic catalogs which were unique and fun to read.

After they sold that business, a chance encounter on an airplane got the Zieglers involved with starting Republic of Tea. “The only way I know how to create a company is for myself,” he says. “ I don’t really know how to do it any other way. I mean, I created Banana Republic and Republic of Tea for myself. I’m doing this for myself.”

That may sound simple, but it’s quite revolutionary.

The old paradigm (still much in vogue) has entrepreneurs studying demographics and putting together focus groups, hoping to infiltrate the consumer mind.

The artistic entrepreneur does it differently.

The creative entrepreneur knows that it’s possible to start a revolution by taking an old idea and changing the way it’s been done. That’s precisely how Virgin has built itself into a global operation.

Whether you aspire to build a huge business or are thrilled to remain a small operator, when it comes right down to it, being an entrepreneur is nothing more than spending your days sharing what you love with other people.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years,” said Mr. Rogers, “is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing and they love it in front of others.”

Despite numerous stories extolling the profound rewards of taking time away, it’s an idea that is not being as heartily embraced as it might be. In fact, many people find the whole notion downright terrifying.

Because the notion of regular sabbaticals throughout our lifetime has been so ignored in recent times, there’s some confusion over what constitutes a true sabbatical.

My definition of sabbatical is time away with a purpose. The purpose of such a time is not to abandon your life, but to enrich it.

In the original concept, first defined in the Old Testament book of Hebrews, a sabbatical was to be taken by everyone, every seven years. During this year off, fields were to lie fallow, debts were to be forgiven, relationships were to be repaired and introspection was encouraged.

Over time, of course, the notion disappeared and today many people don’t even observe a weekly Sabbath, much less consider an entire year of restoration.

What about a mini-sabbatical? A change of scenery that’s more than a vacation can be a powerful catalyst for new ideas, new directions.

Think you’re a candidate? Whether you’re in a year divisible by seven or not, here are several signs that it is the perfect time to consider a sabbatical of your own:

° You can’t remember the last time you had a new idea you were excited about.

° You’ve reached all of your goals.

° You’ve reached none of your goals.

° Your kids think you’re a nerd and you suspect they’re right.

° You have a nagging suspicion that you’d be really good at something if you only    had time to learn how to do it.

° You get wistful every time a plane flies overhead.

° Nobody ever asks you what’s new.

° A long-term relationship or career has come to an end.

° You’re ready to find a new hometown.

° You’re tired of being an armchair traveler and want to see distant lands for    yourself.

° You feel drawn to donate your time and talents to a humanitarian cause.

° You need time to do research or start a long-term project.

° Your soul is weary.

And if you aren’t ready to change the scenery, why not give yourself a break by discovering the world around you? One very busy entrpreneur, Arianna Huffington, shares her summer vacation that didn’t include boarding a plane.



There seems to be a trend going on in my e-mail these days. I keep getting messages from folks saying they know they want to be self-employed but are totally stumped about what to do.

I understand the frustration. There was a big gap between the moment I realized I wanted to be self-employed and the time I actually knew what I wanted to start.

It wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure things out if I had realized that getting good ideas is nothing more than an exercise in creativity.

One of the best starting points is to ask this simple question: Who has a problem I know how to solve?

You might come up with an initial answer such as, “Lots of people don’t have enough time to do everything they want or need to do.”

Start a list of possible solutions based on what you can offer. It might go something like this:

° I love to run errands and know my way around the city.

° I know how to download music on an iPod.

° I know how to save money on car repairs and groceries.

° I can organize a messy office in no time flat.

° I love putting together itineraries for special interest trips.

° I love helping seniors who aren’t able to do things for themselves.

Once you’ve got a list started, decide which idea sounds like the most fun for you. (Yes, fun comes first.)  Then start thinking about the potential clients for such a service.

Let’s say you choose downloading iPods.

Who could use such a service?  (The answer is “lots of people”!)

The next questions are:

° How can I connect with the folks who need this service?

° How do I price my service?

° Could I get some free publicity for this?

° Would it hold my interest long enough to make it a viable profit center?

° Would it be fun to do even as a short term profit center?

Asking and answering better questions is the way to develop tiny seeds of an idea. Alas, many people handle ideas with excuses and dead end statements such as, “If that was really such a good idea I’m sure someone else would have thought of it.”

Greet your ideas with enthusiastic questions and you’ll find yourself with a promising enterprise waiting to be born. As Hope Wallis pointed out, “Opportunities are like pole beans. You have to keep picking them so more can grow.”



The prolific Martha Stewart once told an interviewer that she had just returned from a trip to Munich and came home with dozens of new ideas. “Everywhere I go,” she said, “I scout for ideas.”

She’s not  the only entrepreneur who finds inspiration when she travels. Would there have been a Starbucks if Howard Schultz hadn’t been smitten with Italian coffee shops?

Shortly after my daughter and her family moved to Austin, TX  I flew in for a visit. Before we went to their house, I got the mini-tour.

When I commented on all the people we saw who were running, walking or bicycling, Jennie said, “This town isn’t about buying stuff; it’s about doing stuff.” I liked it already.

I got even more interested when Hector said, “What I love about this place is all the little independent businesses.”

Those words were barely out of his mouth when we passed a parking lot where there was a shiny Airstream trailer with a giant cupcake on the roof—and a long line of customers. As I was about to discover every time we passed that way during my visit, the long line of people never diminished.

I couldn’t wait to learn more about Hey Cupcake! As soon as it was politely possible to excuse myself, I began investigating this business on the Internet. I found out that Hey Cupcake! is the brainchild of Wes Hurt, a 20-something Texan who says he was born entrepreneurial.

His story reminded me of an article I wrote in Winning Ways newsletter called “Take a Trip, Come Back With a Business”. That’s exactly what Hurt did.

The inspiration came during a trip to New York when he visited the Magnolia Bakery. He says, “I waited in line for 20 minutes or so and was amazed by the enthusiasm and anticipation emanating from everyone in line. That day I started planning what would eventually be Hey Cupcake!”

Hurt’s idea wasn’t exactly an instant success, however. He opened his first cupcake stand on the campus at the University of Texas where about 10,000 students passed by daily. Unfortunately, not enough of them stopped to buy a cupcake.

Hurt was disappointed, but in true entrepreneurial fashion decided to revamp. He changed locations and moved into the Airstream. That did the trick. At their busiest, they now sell about 1,000 cupcakes a day.

I met several more members of the Austin entrepreneurial community when I stopped at a beautifully restored post-Victorian house where David Walker runs a co-working space called Conjunctured. He and his partners have created a place where solo entrepreneurs can come and work in a less isolated environment.

It didn’t take long to learn that Walker is wildly enthusiastic about the Joyfully Jobless life, but this isn’t his only business. He and a group of folks run 302 Designs which produce t-shirts with beautiful designs and inspirational words. He’d just signed a contract with Whole Foods who will be distributing their shirts.

With all that entrepreneurial energy flying around, it was easy to select Austin as a natural locale for the Joyfully Jobless Jamboree.

Almost any place you visit becomes an opportunity to explore local businesses. I often begin my own sightseeing by checking out independent bookstores. On a visit back to Minneapolis, Alice Barry took me to one of my favorites, Wild Rumpus, a splendid children’s bookshop.

When I was writing in my diary tonight, I noticed on this day a couple of years ago, I’d been in Portland, OR where I spent time at Rejuvenation Hardware, a store I could happily live in.

It’s a wonderful way to nurture your own entrepreneurial spirit, even if you have no intention of running a shop yourself. Seeing someone else’s dream brought to life might inspire a new dream of your own.

Awakening entrepreneurial spirit is always on my mind. If you were joining me at the Un-Job Fair in Denver on May 1, you’d be getting this list of tips. If you can’t be with us, enjoy the tips and try them out for yourself.

* Go to the library. Whenever I’m in a slump, a trip to the library never fails to get me unstuck. Every shelf is loaded with possibility.

* Interview self-bossers. Choose the joyfully jobless, not just the self-employed. Let their passion rub off on you.

* Pay attention. Listen to the compliments that come your way. They may hold the key to a profit center. Listen to what people say is missing in the world for more clues.

Play every day. Even if you aren’t yet running a business full-time, do something—no matter how small—to move yourself ahead each and every day.

 * Break your goals into 90-Day Projects.  Doing so will keep you focused and keep you from feeling overwhelmed. It’s a momentum builder.

* Give your projects a theme. A theme helps you focus your mind and sparks creative thoughts. 

 * Pick an entrepreneurial hero or heroine and become an expert on their life. 

* Carry a notebook. You never know when a great idea will strike or when you’ll see something worth remembering. Richard Branson carries one all the time. So should you.

* Read a novel. Not just any old story, however. Read novels that feature entrepreneurs as main characters. Mysteries, especially, feature them. You’ll learn a lot.

* Have regular tune-ups. One seminar does not finish the learning process. Keep going back to the well.

* Immerse, don’t dabble.

* Acquire good tools. Use the best tools you can afford to do the best work you are capable of.

 * Create an inspiring working environment. Your office or studio should be a place that rises up to meet you.

* Subscribe to Winning Ways. Read what successful entrepreneurs read. Build a library. 

 * Memorize these five steps: HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN LUCK 1. Get a hobby Find the thing that fascinates you most. You’ll recognize it instantly. It’s the thing you feel you have to do every day or the day is wasted. 2. Obsess Get to know it so well nothing about it is unpredictable, including its ability to surprise you. This part of the process will take approximately one lifetime. 3. Charge for it If you’re so crazy about it and so good at it, go pro! 4. Flourish If you’ve followed steps one, two and three, this is the easy part. 5. Succeed Do it so wildly that everyone tells you how lucky you are.

One of the most popular ideas from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is her suggestion to schedule regular Artist Dates to stimulate fresh thinking. In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach recommends the same notion which she calls taking Creative Excursions. It’s something I’ve done for a long time, without giving it such a perfect name.

The purpose of a Creative Excursion, which is intended to be a solo event, is to take time every week to make a visit to a new place to gather ideas or feed your soul. Although it’s easy to find new destinations, it’s equally easy to find excuses not to do so. When people tell me that they don’t know what they want to do with their life, I’m pretty sure they haven’t explored this concept.

Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about potential creative excursions of your own:

* Spend a couple of hours browsing at a flea market or community festival and imagine yourself as a vendor. What kind of display would you have?

* Take time to go to your library and visit an area you don’t normally look at. Read a couple of unfamiliar magazines while you’re there.

* Slip off tto the movies on a midweek afternoon.

* Gather travel brochures of a place you long to visit. This is trickier with the demise of travel agencies, but not impossible. Start at a your AAA office. Then make a collage of scenes that take your breath away.

* Take a nature hike. Gather seashells if you live by the ocean or wildflowers or weeds for a bouquet if there’s a woods nearby.

* Visit a place like Home Depot and investigate gadgets.

* Pretend you’re an investigative reporter and visit stores secretly making notes on their customer service.

* A great junk store or antique mall is a perfect place to stroll.

* Start a new collection and begin a treasure hunt.

Don’t forget to take a notebook—and maybe even a camera—with you to make sure the ideas that you’ve gathered make it back home with you.

$100 Hour: Organize a tour. (Part 1) Is there a geographic area or subject that you know a lot about? Do you live near a historic battlefield or a favorite fishing spot? You could create a tour right at home that would appeal to visitors to your area. Several companies in London offer popular walking tours covering everything from Oscar Wilde’s London to places where the Beatles hung out. The ubiquitous Pink Jeep Tours in Sedona offer numerous themed explorations. Might you share a passion for your own backyard?

Explore More: John Woods wasn’t looking for a life-changing idea when he went on vacation, but that’s exactly what he found. He tells his inspiring story in Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.~ Robert Wieder