Shortly before I began teaching high school English, the International Paper Company began an advertising campaign with the theme Send Me a Man Who Reads.(Yes, it was back in more sexist times.)

Those ads became regulars on the bulletin boards in my classroom. The gist of the campaign, which ran for several years, was that readers made better employees.

Of course, readers make better entrepreneurs as well. That’s no big surprise to those of us who wandered into entrepreneurship thanks to our devotion to lifelong learning.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of struggling businessowners who don’t seem to realize that books are their friends—and business mentors. Equally shocking is the fact that many small business bloggers and book authors do not acknowledge the writing of others.

I once knew a frustrated entrepreneur who dismissed reading as a frivolous waste of time. Evenings on the road were more apt to be spent in the hotel bar than curled up with a book that could have inspired or informed him.

Instead he labored to figure everything out himself. He was making his journey far more difficult than it needed to be.

As Mark Twain once pointed out, “The person who can read and doesn’t has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”

Why does regular reading matter so much to building a business? Here are some of the gifts.

Catch the spirit “Stuff yourself full of stories,” advises Ray Bradbury. “I’ve never had a dry spell in my life because I feed myself well.”

He was talking to writers, of course, but the same thing holds true for entrepreneurs. Many inspiring stories have been written by and about those who have gone from employee to entrepreneur.

Such stories not only inspire for telling the tale of overcoming challenges; they also are vivid records of entrepreneurial thinking in action.

By the way, fictional entrepreneurs can also help readers build an entrepreneurial mindset.

Keep curiosity alive “What I already know is enough,” is not the mantra of the successful. Passion begets passion, of course, but keeping passion alive is closely tied to staying curious.

Whether it’s human behavior or building an online presence that catches your fancy, books can keep you stretching.

Acquire wisdom Nobody has to tell you that we are living in changing times. Those who ignore the changes, operate at a huge disadvantage. It may be more serious, however, than just being handicapped.

As Jim Trelease points out, “People who have stopped reading base their future decisions on what they used to know. If you don’t read much, you really don’t know much. You’re dangerous.”

By all means, don’t confine your reading to quick Internet searches.

Leisurely reading, thoughtful reading, challenging reading can connect you with innovative thinkers and eloquent storytellers. For a few dollars, they can move into your World Headquarters and help you build a better business—providing you spend time with them and put their good ideas to work.

As Jim Rohn so aptly reminded us, “The only thing worse than not reading a book in the last ninety days is not reading a book in the last ninety days and thinking it doesn’t matter.”


Dreams are extremely fragile—especially in their early days. Dreams need to be nurtured and surrounded by support. Unfortunately, there aren’t many parenting manuals for dreambuilding.

Here are a handful of easy  ways to get your dreams off to a great start.

1. Passion must be present. While a dream may be born in passion, it’s up to you to keep it alive. If you’re half-hearted and lukewarm about them, your dreams will never come true.

One way to keep passion high is to spend a few minutes every day visualizing the successful completion of your dream. How does it look, smell, taste, sound, feel? Allow your vision to keep pulling you forward.

2.Take good care of the boss. It doesn’t matter how great a dream is if the dreamkeeper is too tired or uninspired to bring it to life.

Sometimes the easiest things to do are also the easiest to overlook—like drinking plenty of water and avoiding toxic people. Dreamkeepers have an obligation to create the healthiest and most balanced life possible.

3. Make your workspace a place that inspires you. Whether you work on a beach with your laptop or in an extra bedroom in your home, make it inspiring as well as efficient.

Burn incense, play classical music, have a tabletop fountain, and/or cover your walls with art or an inspiration board that pictures your dreams.

And if you’re sitting on a beach, pick one with a great view.

4. Take responsibility for staying inspired. There are three ways to run a business: Inspired, Uninspired or With Occasional Flashes of Inspiration. You can identify those things that inspire you and expose yourself to them frequently.

Whether it’s music or the words of a particular author or the company of another entrepreneur, know where your Inspiration Well is and go to the Well often.

5. Create your own Hall of Fame. Ask a successful actor or musician who inspired them and they’ll probably answer quickly. Ask a would-be entrepreneur the same question and you’re apt to be greeted by a shrug of  the shoulders.

If you’re going to succeed, you need to be inspired by real people. Read biographies or interviews of successful people and pay attention to the philosophies they share.

6. Be open to being inspired at all times. You never know where a great idea or solution to a problem will come from. Carry a notebook with you so you can jot down ideas as they occur.

If you spend a lot of time driving, you may want to carry a voice-activated recorder to capture your thoughts.

7. Notice what catches your attention, what makes you happy, what causes an emotional response. These are all clues. Don’t miss them.

For example, when you receive great—or horrible—customer service, think about what made the situation stand out and how you can adopt or avoid those things when you’re the one doing the delivering.

8. Collect entrepreneurial friends. There’s almost nothing more rewarding than spending time in the presence of kindred spirits who can add their own creative ideas and encouragement to what you’re doing.

Cultivating such friendships will be one of the best investments you can make.

9. Change the scenery. There’s nothing that dulls the creative spirit more quickly than daily routine. You can counteract the dulling effect of that by taking a field trip or creative excursion at least once a week.

Take your laptop to a coffee shop, visit a museum or walk in a Japanese garden. Challenge yourself to come up with new backdrops that feed your soul.


Join us at the Joyfully Jobless Jamboree on October 15 & 16 in Austin TX and you’ll be able to gather all sorts of ideas, inspiration and information that you can take back to your Hothouse.

Register now and save $100…or $150 if you hurry.

Last week, my six-year-old granddaughter Zoe came for five days. It was my great pleasure to take her to see Mystere, her first Cirque du Soleil show. For the next three days, the music from the show played whenever we were in the car and Zoe recalled (perfectly) what scene each song accompanied.

The rest of her visit was filled with lots of art projects. This is obviously a girl who gets up in the morning asking herself, “What can I make today?”

On Saturday morning she begged for a return visit to Michael’s for more supplies. I relented because I’m that kind of grandmother. She surprised me by selecting a white mask and a bag of feathers.

As soon as we got home Zoe sat down with my 20 Years Under the Sun book, a history of Cirque’s first two decades. After studying the pictures, she set up her studio on my dining room table and began painting and decorating the mask.

While she worked I was puttering in the kitchen so she gave me updates on her progress. She said, “I want this kind of like Cirque, but it’s going to have me in it too.”

“That’s called inspired by,” I said. “Your mask is inspired by Cirque du Soleil, but it’s not a copy.” I explained a little bit more about what “inspired by” means.

That got me thinking about all the times I’ve been “inspired by” myself. Paradoxically, part of the creative process comes from being an enthusiastic spectator.

And we needn’t limit our spectating only to activities or enterprises that are like our own.

I have no desire to create theatrical experiences, but Cirque du Soleil inspires me. I’m fascinated by their commitment to finding the perfect balance between business and creativity.

Entrepreneurs and other creative types are constantly seeking inspiration, of course. This causes them to pay attention and be on the alert at all times because experience has shown them that inspiration can arrive at any time.

After watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, my sister Margaret posted a photo of her latest creation with this explanation:This is what happens when I watch Marilyn Monroe get married in the movies: a little hat made of pleated satin with a voluptuous, hand-made chiffon rose and a wisp of tulle.”

That, of course, is the lovely thing about inspiration. It begets more inspiration.

But only if we’re paying attention. Or as Mary Pipher says, “Inspiration is very polite. She knocks softly and goes elsewhere if we don’t answer.”

At the end of every year, I pick my favorite books from the ones I’ve read in the previous twelve months. When I came upon Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art a few years ago, I declared it one of my favorite books of the decade. It still is.

Whether you’ve discovered the book for yourself already or not, I am delighted to share Steven Pressfield’s answers to my questions. Here they are.


 My  enthusiasm for The War of Art comes from having a whole new understanding of the nature and role of resistance. How did you begin to recognize resistance and deal with it in your own life?

 I first tried to write a novel when I was 24, quit my job, etc.  (I told this story in The War of Art, but I’ll tell it again here.)  I got 99% of the way  through and I totally fell apart.  Couldn’t finish it.  Bottom line: divorce, heartbreak, causing terrible pain to people I love, years of wandering, working weird jobs, etc.  It was very clear to me that SOMETHING was screwing me up; I just didn’t have a name for it.

Finally, finally, finally I realized that all my troubles stemmed from that one failure of courage (and a million other such failures thereafter.)  I had to go back and do it over.  Not that same book but another one.   Along the way, I came to call that negative force in my mind “Resistance.”  That’s what it felt like to me.

It seems to me that nurturing inspiration is a powerful way of dealing with resistance. How do you feed inspiration and what inspires you personally?

 I’ve never thought about it that way, Barbara.  That’s pretty cool.  You may be onto something there!  The positive force that actually produces Resistance as “an equal and opposite reaction” is an Idea—for a book, a movie, a business, whatever.  That’s the baby  that wants to be born.  So the more you can feed that embryo, the stronger will be the mother-love and the urge to be born.

I realize, thinking about it (thanks to your question) that I really do cultivate my ideas, when I’m lucky enough to get them.  I raise them in secret, inside myself, like little hothouse tomatoes.

One thing: I don’t talk about them.  I don’t dilute their force by blabbing to everybody.  The pregnant mom metaphor is pretty good.  You gotta protect that “baby bump”  and give it time to grow.  Once it’s really growing, it produces an irresistible power to be born.  Even Resistance is no match for it then.

How can a new writer or entrepreneur or musician put fear of rejection into perspective?

Great question, Barbara.  I’m not so sure it’s all about fear of rejection.  Fear of success may be the bigger issue.  The bottom line for me (and I suspect for many other writers, artists and entrepreneurs) is that the pain of NOT taking that chance is greater than the pain of taking it.  It’s like you have a choice of two forms of difficulty—the difficulty of facing your fears and doing the work you were born to do …  and the difficulty of losing your mind, your wife and family, etc.  I know that sounds pretty hard-core but I think it’s true.

People seem to flock to how-to formulas. Do you think it’s possible to live a creative life if we don’t leave room for mystery?

How-to formulas help, but they can also be a particularly insidious form of Resistance.  We spend all our time studying “how,” and forget to actually “do.”

There’s a great quote from Plato, which I can’t remember even close to verbatim.  He puts it in the mouth of Socrates, who says something like, “The skilled poet is no match for the divinely inspired fool.”  In other words, it does all come down to the mystery, which is really not so mysterious at all—it’s just hearing the voice in your head or seeing the vision in your heart and believing it in enough that you find the courage to actually manifest that voice or that vision in the real world.


At last night’s Golden Globe Awards, Steven Spielberg spoke eloquently about the need to nurture inspiration and not make decisions based on what’s easy or popular. I don’t hear people talking about that much. No wonder inspiration is dismissed or ignored.

For a long time, I thought motivation and inspiration were two words describing the same thing. I no longer think that. As I see it, motivation is a force that generates action because of the consequences if we don’t. Motivation may or may not have anything to do with genuine passion or enthusiasm. In fact, many people who call themselves motivational speakers imply that motivation is a highly emotional state the we must whip ourselves into—or be branded losers. To be motivated often involves talking ourselves into doing something because we should or must. 

Inspiration, on the other hand, is a call to creative action. We act because we want to, not because we have to. 

The dictionary defines it this way:

arousal of the mind to special activity or creativity

a product of your creative thinking and work

a sudden intuition as part of solving a problem

inhalation: the act of inhaling; the drawing in of air as in breathing 

Although it’s somewhat difficult to describe the state of inspiration, most of us recognize it when we’re experiencing it. When we are inspired, we glimpse new possiblities. Continual inspiration is a reward for paying attention.

The results of living our lives and running our businesses from this state are enormous. Quite simply inspiration always leads us to be more and do more. When we’re inspired we feel more brilliant, creative, loving, alive, authentic. Not only do we accomplish more, but we do so with greater ease. It’s hard to feel inspired and complain. 

Happily, inspiration isn’t just for artists. It also doesn’t have to be random or rare. You do, however, have to know what turns yours on. As James Ball reminds us, “An uninspired mind is a handicap we can all do something about.” This week we’ll explore ways to do just that.

$100 Hour: Share what you know. Last spring, an article in the NY Times called Making Money the How-to Way caught my eye. They spotlighted Metacafe and showed how all sorts of people are creating how-to videos and a nifty profit center.

Explore More: Make the Impossible Possible: One Man’s Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary by Bill Strickland. One of the best books ever about inspiration in action.

Pay a visit to Inspiration Station for ideas on creating your own Inspiration Station.

The idea flow from the human spirit is absolutely unlimited. All you have to do is tap into that well. ~ Jack Welch

Look up from the computer you’re reading this on. What do you see? Reminders of places that inspire you? Books worth rereading? Does it matter?

You probably know what I think the answer is to that last question—and I’m not alone in thinking that it matters a great deal. In 1883 Claude Monet moved his family to Giverny. It remained his home for forty-three years until his death. Monet spent exactly one-half of his life living this place which became a daily source of inspiration for his life and painting.

No detail was too insignificant for Monet. Not only did he oversee the planning and installation of the gardens, he was equally involved in creating a beautiful home for his family, insisting that meals be a regular source of pleasure. While Monet’s talent flourished in this beautiful environment, he also became a skillful entrepreneur marketing his work with the same imagination which he applied to his painting and his personal life.

Would Monet have become such a successful artist without Giverny? We can only guess at the answer. One thing is certain: Monet intentionally found inspiration right outside of his door. 

Most of us will never live in as magical a place as Giverny, but we can set up our lives in such a way that inspiration is a daily, on-going event. First we must be brave enough to surround ourselves with those things, thoughts and people that lift us up. And we need to do it over and over again. After all, inspiration isn’t a vaccination. If you want to go beyond the ordinary, begin by bringing as much inspiration as possible into your world.

$100 Hour Idea: Welcome paying guests. Ever since I discovered At Home in London, I have given up hotels and stayed in private homes when I visit that favorite city. If you’re an empty-nester, why not turn the space into a profit center from time to time? A woman who lived near a college, frequently hosted visiting artists and professors in her home. Not only did she create a nice profit center, she met fascinating people from all over the world. She also loved the flexibility of opening her casual b & b when it was convenient. 

Explore More:  Alison Marks is the creative spirit behind Inside Out Design Coaching in San Francisco. Besides doing coaching, organizing and feng shui consultations in her area, she also offers teleclasses and lots of information through her Website and Dwell Well ezine. Read her 10 Things You Can Do to Turn Your Home Into a Haven.It’s full of great tips.

A strong imagination begets opportunity. ~ Michel de Montaigne