As is common on the eve of Compelling Storytelling, I am filled with antiicpation. Spending three days watching participants make fresh creative discoveries that will impact their businesses is just about the most fun I can imagine.

Creativity still is a mysterious force, but the behavior that welcomes it is not mysterious at all. Unfortunately, too many people are oblivious to the possibilities of what can happen when we tap into our own idea factory.

I have been spellbound several times listening to Stephen King’s audiobook On Writing. King, one of the big names in popular fiction, weaves his advice to would-be writers in between autobiographical tales. A voracious reader and fan of sci-fi movies as a kid, King fell in love with the writing life in childhood and has never put down his pen since. 

Married right out of college, King supported his family by working at several horrendous jobs and then as a high school English teacher. Even with two young children squeezed into cramped quarters, he always managed to find room for a writing corner and practiced his craft daily. The result is a mind-boggling body of work that includes short stories, novels, movies and television productions. 

King knows more than a little about the writing life and at one point mentions a number of writers—Harper Lee comes to mind—who produced a single book and then were silent. “Why,” King wonders, “if God gives you a gift, wouldn’t you use it?” 

What Stephen King, understands is that creativity begets creativity. The creative spirit that resides within all of us is prolific, abundant, and flagrantly generous. It’s only when we ignore our own creative impulses that they appear to go away.

What does it take to live a life of extraordinary creative output? The answer is not slavish workaholism—as many people think. Creators all work in their own unique ways, of course, but  there are several obvious characteristics that creative folks share. 

Besides a high level of commitment and discipline, the prolific creators among us are enormously curious about many things. They don’t dabble. They immerse.The creative thinker is always gathering ideas and inspiration from far-flung places and people. For instance, King frequently asks himself questions beginning with, “What if” to form new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. They look, they listen, they’re fully alive. 

“The idea flow from the human spirit is absolutely unlimited,” says Jack Welch. “All you have to do is tap into that well.” And then go to market.



When my sisters and I used to spend time together, someone always went home with a new hair color. These days we’re more apt to be gathered around a computer, as we were on Thanksgiving showing Becky how to upload her photo on her new Facebook page.

I am appreciative and thankful that my siblings are curious adults who teach me all sorts of things. The day before Thanksgiving, my sister Margaret and I made a trip to Lowe’s, a place I find mildly intimidating. Going with Margaret is a different experience, however, since it’s more like visiting a museum. We had gone to buy some mundane safety treads for my bathtub. I left with a new light fixture for my kitchen which Margaret assured me I could install myself. “If you get stuck,” she said, “call and I’ll walk you through it.” We’ll see.

Because one of the things I am especially thankful for is the free enterprise system, it’s not surprising that I came across all sorts of stories that added to my joy during this holiday week. On my drive from Las Vegas to California, I always listen to an audiobook and I picked a good one, even though I knew nothing about it. Good Business by Mihaly Csikzentmahalyi takes a look at how visionary entrepreneurs create an environment that allows for flow, that optimal state of creativity that the author brought to our attention back in 1991 through his bestselling book Flow. He shares many ideas that an entrepreneur running a tiny business will find useful. And the quotes from Anita Roddick are profound.

Margaret, who had been a volunteer for the Obama campaign, told me a terrific story about Scott Jacobs, a 22-year-old local artist was was evicted from his house on Election Day. He took a half-finished painting of Obama that he’d been working on and set up his easel in front of Ben & Jerry’s, who were giving away free ice cream to anyone who had proof they’d voted. Jacobs attracted a lot of attention–and suddenly his life got much better before the day was over. You can read this great story at the Ventura County Star.

Entrepreneurial artists were already on my mind thanks to a piece in the NY Times called Transforming Art Into a More Lucrative Career Choice. Check it out.

Guy Kawasaki, another personal favorite, has an article called The Art of Bootstrapping that is worth a look. Actually, it’s worth printing out and rereading on a regular basis.

Finally, the latest issue of Newsweek has a Turning Point article by Carlos Mencia called Laughing in the Face of Change. It begins, “Right now, a lot of people are losing their jobs. They’re saying ‘Oh, my God, what am I gonna do?’ I’m here to tell you, this is your chance. Paint. Put out a rap album. Design a car. Do whatever you’ve always wanted to do….Why am I so confident about this? Because I had one of those turning points in my life: long before Comedy Central came calling, I used to be headed for a degree in engineering.” Read the rest of the story. It’s great.

When Gary Buehler moved from Nebraska to Colorado, he brought with him his wife Duncan, toddler Adam and Hasselblad camera. After years of honing his skills as a photographer, he was ready to set up shop. They settled in Nederland, a little mountain town above Boulder. Shortly thereafter, we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance.

We began talking about ways that Gary might launch his business. He decided he wanted to have a brochure so I suggested he visit area photographers and collect their brochures to see how they were promoting themselves. When he showed me his collection, I was struck by the fact that not one photographer had their own picture on their brochure so we promptly decided that Gary would use his picture (with his beloved Hasselblad) in his marketing. 

We also talked about getting free publicity. I still remember getting a call from Duncan who was wildly excited because the Nederland newspaper (I believe it was called the Mountain Ear) had just contacted her and was sending a reporter to interview them. I didn’t want to dampen her enthusiasm, but suggested that this small circulation paper might not bring in a flood of business.

I was wrong. As soon as the story appeared, Gary got a call from a couple about to be married and in desperate need of a photographer. Gary got the assignment and that started the wedding photography side of their business. Because he had introduced himself to other photographers in the area, he also started getting referrals from them. Gary the Photographer was launched.

In exchange for helping them with their marketing, I bartered for a photo session. I had never enjoyed having my picture taken, but it was so much fun working with Gary that we giggled our way through the entire shoot. I loved the resulting photos and told him that I had never been so relaxed working with other photographers. “We want people to leave a session with us liking themselves better,” he said. 

I was impressed and thought he should write a tip sheet about how to work with a photographer. He did just that and came up with some terrific suggestions. (My favorite was to interview potential photographers in person before booking to make sure you have rapport.) I published his tips in Winning Ways newsletter and then he reprinted it and used it as a handout at bridal fairs and to include when people requested his price list. 

I haven’t had much contact with Gary since I left Colorado about a year after he arrived. However, I got thinking about him again when I decided to give my granddaughter Zoe a gorgeous photo he had taken of her mother when Jennie graduated from high school. That led to tracking him down via e-mail. He wrote back to update me on his family and then told me about the changes that he’d made to his business with the advent of digital photography. Then he added, “After all this time, I still love it.” 

Connect. Collaborate. Care. Change. These are all things that helped Gary build the business of his dreams. And, of course, there’s his passion for taking pictures that would last a lifetime.

Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. ~ Parker Palmer

Years ago, I stumbled across Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road on the shelves of the Santa Barbara Public Library. Although I knew nothing about the book, I soon discovered a kindred spirit. The book is a collection of letters written between Hanff, a struggling New York writer and booklover, and the manager of a London bookshop from whom she ordered books. As time went on, the letters became more personal as the two correspondents became great friends.

I adored the book, although it was a long time before I found out that the story didn’t end there. When Hanff learned that her friend had died (without them ever meeting), she gathered up their letters, thinking they might make an interesting magazine article. Eventually, a publisher saw her manuscript and suggested the letters be turned into a book. Not only did the book receive rave reviews, it became a favorite of Anglophiles and booklovers everywhere. A few years later, the story was made into a BBC production, then a stage play, and, in 1987, a movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

In her subsequent book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Hanff writes, “I tell you, life is extraordinary. A few years ago I couldn’t write anything or sell anything. I’d had my chance and done my best and failed. And how was I to know the miracle waiting to happen around the corner in late middle age? 84, Charing Cross Road was no bestseller, you understand; it didn’t make me rich or famous. It just got me hundreds of letters and phone calls from people I never knew existed; it got me wonderful reviews; it restored a self-confidence and self-esteem I’d lost somewhere along the way. It brought me to England. It changed my life.”

The editors of the original Contest News-Letter used to remind their readers that the secret of winning sweepstakes was patience, persistence and postage. Seems to me those same qualities are the basis of Hanff’s success—and all sorts of other stories that inspire.

People tell me all the time that they have no role models around them. The truth is, they’re just not paying attention. Wonderful stories of success are everywhere, even if we don’t personally know the leading character. After all, it’s not so much a matter of finding role models as it is about recognizing them…and being smart enough to learn what they have to teach.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer

In his chapter on fear in The War of Art, Steven Pressfield has this to say:”We know that if we embrace out ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold on to.

“Of course this is exactly what happens. But here’s the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends too, in places we never thought to look. And they’re better friends, truer friend. And we’re better and truer to them.”

I’ve been thinking about these words alot lately as I’ve been dazzled by the helpful, delightful, creative people that are in my life. Some of them have been around for a long time; others I’m just getting to know. I seem to consistently attract people who are curious, adventurous and committed to making a difference. I think of them as my personal faculty in my own journey of discovery.

My experience seems to contradict a number of recent polls that show more and more of us feel isolated and lonely. This phenomenon does not just affect adults; kids in school often feel disconnected from their peers. Consequently, isolation is often a concern for people who contemplate solo entrepreneurship. Will they end up talking to their cat?

It’s possible, I suppose, but it’s also the antithesis of the entrepreneurial life. Being an entrepreneur is about connecting and collaborating with others. In fact, one of my earliest observations about the Joyfully Jobless life was that this is where we come to get our Ph.D. in human relations.

When we make changes in our lives, it’s natural that the cast of characters around us may change as well. There will be newcomers that join us and there will be old-timers that disappear. There will also be permanent cast members who welcome and weather the changes. The wise person consciously chooses to include people who enrich, challenge and delight. In the end our best relationships are built on a balance of contribution.

Do not surround yourself with people who do not have dreams. ~ Nikki Giovanni

I don’t have many routines in my life except for my daily trip to the post office. I grew up in a small town without mail delivery so picking up the mail has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father used to drive us to school, but a mail stop came first. As the oldest child, it was my duty to fetch the mail from the box. To make it more fun, I began taping coins to bits of cardboard and sending away for things I saw advertised in comic books, insuring that some of the mail would be addressed to me. Even though e-mail has replaced the personal letter, I still enjoy finding something handwritten in my mailbox.

Since today is a postal holiday, there won’t be a mail run, but I wanted to pass along one of my all-time favorite letters, although I’ll keep the writer anonymous. He wrote, “Exactly 24 hours ago, I took my penny pail to the bank and cashed it in for $23.09. Against my better judgement I decided to visit Border’s Book Shop to have a latte and browse through a book that had caught my eye on several previous tours. Before my coffee was cool enough to drink, I decided to spend over half my available cash on Making a Living Without a Job.

“After brooding for nearly two weeks and accomplishing nothing, I read your entire book in one sitting. Since then, I have sold books (not yours) to a used bookstore, sold an expensive golf bag to a secondhand sporting goods store, sold a rowing machine to a secondhand exercise machine store, took four large trash bags of good clothing to a consignment shop, dared to try my new Rollerblades, scheduled a meeting with my father-in-law to learn his business secrets, faxed a letter and resume to a local business college to teach several courses, made several phone contacts for some consulting work and listed 37 potential Profit Centers. Oh, yes, I also made a huge pot of Texas Red chili and did five loads of laundry.”

He goes on to write about his previous adventures being self-employed. “I have been making a living without a job, though I lacked an understanding of the process and certainly lacked the passion you so eloquently described. I knew the time had come to return to the dream. Thank you for giving it back to me.”

With the possibility of a letter like that waiting for me, you can understand why a trip to the post office is my first priority every morning.

Live in the active voice, not the passive. Think more about what you make happen than about what happens to you. ~ William Dewitt Hyde

° They love innovation and ideas

° They ask “what if” alot

° They drop names of people they admire

° They study success

° They are not satisfied with the status quo

° They understand the power of practice

° They show up at gatherings of other inspired entrepreneurs

° They are tireless relationship builders

° They are relentlessly curious

° They spread encouragement

° They laugh often

° They are enthusiastic problem-solvers

° They consider personal growth a worthwhile hobby

° They are generous and sharing in diverse ways

° They take good care of themselves

° They know that inspiration isn’t vaccination

° They are genuine optimists

° They find change exciting

° They are genuises at mobilizing the resources at hand

° They are committed to leaving it better than they found it

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield like to joke that they became friends because they were the two slowest, fattest kids in their seventh grade gym class. That friendship continued on through high school and was interrupted only by their individual attempts at going to college. Ben dropped out first and became a potter; Jerry ended his college career when he failed to gain admission to medical school. With bleak prospects on both sides, the two got together and decided to start a business.

Since they were both enthusiastic eaters, they decided on a food enterprise. They considered bagels, then pizza, but settled on ice cream thinking it would be something they could make themselves. They also decided to relocate to a college town and ended up in Burlington, Vermont—a place that seemed unlikely to generate much interest in ice cream during its long, hard winters. They rented an abandoned, unheated gas station and began whipping up their frozen treats. 

The first few years were difficult. Besides learning the business, Ben and Jerry had to deal with regular breakdowns of their used ice cream-making equipment. But it was also a time when they honed their folksy, humorous approach to doing business. Unwittingly, they became a classic example of a bootstrapped business.

Paul Hawken, an enthusiastic advocate of bootstrapping, explains why this is the path to building a strong enterprise: “Bootstrap businesses will act like a malnourished child. With low overhead, frugal means and fragile budgets, you can’t buy your way out of problems. You have to learn your way out. The creativity and tenacity you have to develop will make it hard for you to be put out of business.”

These self-proclaimed hippie capitalists believed that good vibes made for good business. They recall, “Right from the beginning, even though the business wasn’t making any money, we were always thinking up new excuses to give away ice cream. When we opened we had our Grand Opening Special: buy one, get one free. Then we started giving away cones at random to people waiting in the ice cream line. Then we had free cones for all mothers on Mother’s Day. Visibly expectant mothers got two. To promote winter sales, we held the Penny Off per Celsius Degree Below Zero Winter Extravaganza, thereby turning a liability (being located in a very cold winter town) into an asset.” 

As the little business grew, the founders delighted in giving their ice cream whimsical names like Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby and Phish Food. Their Web site says, “Some folks think there’s a huge difference between fun-related stuff and work-related stuff. Whatever you’ve been led to believe, we’d love to show you all the fun stuff we actually get paid to create. Which, when you think about it, is what Ben & Jerry’s is all about.” 

As if inventing Cherry Garcia wasn’t a big enough contribution to life on this planet, they tithed 7 1/2 percent of their pretax profits to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, which then distributed it to not-for-profit organizations and charities, making it one of the most generous corporate donation programs around. 

At you’ll find more of their ideas about the role of responsible business and, even, a useful article called 50 Ways to Promote Peace. Visit their site and you’ll come away thinking that the ice cream was just their attention-getting device.

You need to integrate the needs of your heart, your mind, and your soul in order to achieve happiness and contentment. Those needs cannot be met through money. ~ Ben Cohen

Last Saturday I flew to Austin, TX to visit my daughter and her family in their new hometown. 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 exclaimed, “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 people. 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. On their busiest days, they now sell about 1,000 cupcakes.

The entrepreneurial field trip continued. On Monday, I got to meet several more members of the Austin entrepreneurial community when Diane Kobrynowicz and I went scouting locations for my upcoming seminars in Austin. We stopped at a beautifully restored post-Victorian house where David Walker runs Austin’s first 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’s also co-owner of 302 Designs which produces t-shirts with beautiful designs and inspirational words. He told us that they’d just signed a contract with Whole Foods who will be distributing their shirts. Everything about being an entrepreneur seemed to excite him.

I saw many other wonderful small businesses during my short stay. Of course, any place I visit  becomes an opportunity to explore local businesses. It’s a hobby I enthusiastically recommend if you want to nurture your own entrepreneurial spirit. In a place like Austin, the Joyfully Jobless life is downright contagious.

We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into. ~ Carolyn Myss