Five years ago I published The Startup Garden, a book which reflected my lessons about entrepreneurship....
I wrote the book to be a What Color Is Your Parachute for people launching businesses, a personal guide to help take the next step forward.
After publication, I launched a site/blog to promote the book and eventually, post my thoughts on related topics. And over time the site waned, got weedy, nearly expired as I tried to figure out what it really was.
Recently I've been writing there far more frequently, partly to spark direct sales of my book from the site, and mostly to follow a key theme of my book: find your voice in whatever medium or enterprise that fits. It's a challenge.
There's one trait of great sites which I really admire. People like Jory des Jardin, Ellen Lamb, Ken Levine, Tom Peters and Tod Goldberg (among many others) do a great job of publishing original material whose tone and content are seamless.
And, without beating myself up, I haven't realized such a consistency of voice, a fullness of who-I-am online. Yet.
And here's why it matters so much my site, which is really about the spirit of enterprise (that's what my book explores too by the way.) Regardless of whether you are writing a book, starting a business, cobbling together a career, or simply living a life, it all makes far more sense when you've found your voice, and then travel down a path that serves as a place for you to sing. And everyone has a different voice which is as unique as a fingerprint.
Two recent things reinforced this thought for me. The first was a televised concert with Elvis Costello and guest stars, among them Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day. When Armstrong sang Wake Me Up When September Comes (aided by a powerful performance by Sir Elvis and the Imposters) I realized that whoever chooses to cover this song, it will always be his–that he has written the perfect song for him to sing. Dancer from dance, singer from song; venture from adventurer. How can we tell the difference, and why should we care?
The second prompt came from this Warren Buffet quote in an interview about his philanthropic plans in Fortune.
"Well, when we got married in 1952, I told Susie I was going to be rich. That wasn't going to be because of any special virtues of mine or even because of hard work, but because I was born with the right skills in the right place at the right time. I was wired at birth to allocate capital and was lucky enough to have people around me early on–my parents and teachers and Susie–who helped me to make the most of that.
"In any case, Susie didn't get very excited when I told her we were going to get rich. She either didn't care or didn't believe me–probably both, in fact. But to the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it–and that was to give it back to society. In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously overpriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century."
Now, I'm just going to discount the value of hindsight here and take his words at face value. Even then they have great power. Here's a guy who knew precisely what he was meant to do at an early age, had the good fortune to find the external resources to help him, and who performed his craft consistently for decades.
While none of us will amass the wealth of Warren Buffet, nor will few become the successor to Billy Joe Armstrong, I admire each for their consistency of vision, and their stubborn, patient, discipline when it comes to sticking to their vocation. There are certainly others I'd put on this list: famous folks like Scott Adams, Michael Lewis, Christopher Guest, Joss Whedon; and less-famous but equally worthy people like my buddy Gus Rancatore, owner extraordinaire of Toscanini's Ice Cream.
And of course, I'd like to add a few others: you out there, and myself. My advice to you, and I assume my audience to be entrepreneurs whose ventures can be very loosely defined, is this: spend more time understanding your voice, and shape your venture to fit. Don't pursue great wealth, or fame, or arbitrary measures that are beyond your control. Instead of launching an inauthentic business to capture a momentary business pocket; focus instead on recognizing what you're good at, what you care about, and what you can deliver, and then adapt that to the world around you.
My advice to me is simpler: keep writing. Ultimately, the thing which I love to produce, and which comprises the bulk of my income (okay–which I'd like to comprise the bulk of it–most of which now comes through consulting), is writing. So, instead of getting too precious about this topic, I'll shut up about it. And post again. Quickly. Quickly and slowly.
P.S. (I just came across this Ray Charles quote: ""With singing, the name of the game is to make yourself believable. When somebody hears you sing a song and they say, "Oh, that must have happened to him," that's when you know you're transmitting. It's like being a good actor. You make people feel things, emotions, and whatnot. But you gotta start with yourself. You got to feel it yourself. If you don't feel it, how do you expect someone else to?"
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