Work Like an Artist: An Artist’s Guide to Success as An Entrepreneur

Artists are fantastic at overcoming obstacles in their work. Why? Because, to artists, obstacles are a necessary ingredient in the recipe that will lead them to success. They’re waiting for the bumps in the road, and when those bumps arrive, artists have the tools necessary to surmount those rough patches--sometimes even turning them into gold.

As a former professional actor—now a business coach—I’ve been able to infuse my coaching work with many of the ideas that helped me as an actor. And, I’m often surprised at how unfamiliar those tools can be to the business people I work with. It seems that business people are more likely to be product-oriented, sometimes to the detriment of their work. Perhaps that’s because business leaders often find success by engaging in tried and true tactics, and there’s no doubt that there’s much to be learned from established blueprints for success.  However, with such an intense focus on blueprints, the idea of having a flexible mindset can often be pushed to the side or forgotten entirely.

But, implicit in the idea of being an artist is a flexibility of mind that allows corners to be turned and obstacles to be surmounted. And entrepreneurs and business executives can tap into these artistic “habits of mind” to find their own gold.

In a series of seven articles, I will explore these artistic habits of mind which can be utilized to help dive into a more creative business mindset. I’ll share real world examples of how savvy entrepreneurs and executives have employed these habits to bring themselves and their companies great success.

Here’s a brief synopsis of each of the habits I’ll explore:

  1. Artists allow themselves to be in the moment. Sometimes we put so much pressure on our end goal that we turn a blind eye to the needs of the present.  But, artists take pleasure in being in process. Too often I see managing directors who focus solely on the completion of a project, closing off their vision to the unexpected and unexplored aspects of a project that are right in front of them. It takes practice to be in the moment, but the more at home we are in the midst of a project, the more tools we’ll have at our disposal.

  2. Artists create. Artists playfully make something out of nothing and see the potential in everything, without the immediate need of creating a final product. Often when I am helping a client to brainstorm I will ask them to come up with the most ridiculous or least probable solution to a dilemma. This allows my clients to think without the shackles of having to justify their ideas and allows for the most inventive solutions to dilemmas that may have previously felt unresolvable.

  3. Artists know how to fail. Artists know that what others think of as failure is, in fact, simply a way of gathering information to make their next effort stronger. We see this same mindset in the business world in successful negotiators who know that a “no” is rarely the end of a negotiation but rather an opportunity to learn more about the true desires of their counterparts. For all of us, adapting this artistic habit of mind will allow us to see failure for what it really is: more data to help in moving toward our final goal.

  4. Artists develop new skills. Successful artists are good at self-assessment. They never see a personal shortcoming as something to work around, but rather as an opportunity for personal growth. For instance, though business professionals are often voracious readers, many of my clients haven’t received any formal instruction since they left business school in their twenties. Only when we see our own challenges clearly can we look outside ourselves for help or further education.

  5. Artists get out of their own way. Are you familiar with the ego monster? That’s the constant negative chatter in your head that’s become so repetitive and familiar that you think it’s real, but it’s not! You can recognize that voice by its favorite words: “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda.” An accomplished artist knows how to quiet that voice so that real change can happen and real progress can take root. In a purely creative endeavor, there can be no progress at all if the ego monster is in control. So artists have to become masters of slipping out of its clutches. Bringing this mastery into your business life is essential to finding true enjoyment and success.

  6. Artists search out silence. Artists know that silence can help them reflect on their work. In this quiet space, they can open themselves up and see solutions to dilemmas that previously felt insurmountable. Most of the truly successful c-suite leaders that I work with know the tremendous benefits of meditation or of simply finding a quiet place to think out their ideas.

  7. Artists take risks. Artists allow themselves the freedom to take risks. They know that they can only learn through doing and will often take a leap into the unknown while others stand by and admire the view. A visionary leader in any realm knows how to employ this habit of mind for unimaginable success.

Please check back in the upcoming weeks to read my articles on these habits. I hope you’ll find them enjoyable and transformative.

Alexandra Phillips