On Tuesday, I was in Amsterdam for Inspiration360, an event that aimed to motivate and inspire entrepreneurs with high-class speakers. On the menu were Richard Branson, Bear Grylls, Anita Elberse and Al Gore. I took away most from the last two speakers and today I want to talk about my insights from the only Dutch and only female speaker, Anita Elberse. She is a professor at Harvard Business School. An award-winning teacher and scholar, Professor Elberse develops and teaches a course covering the businesses of entertainment, media, and sports, titled Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries, which ranks among the most sought-after courses in the School’s curriculum for MBA students. In her research, Professor Elberse primarily aims to understand what drives the success of products in the entertainment, media, sports, and other creative industries, and how firms can develop effective marketing strategies for such products. (Why yes, I did take that from the Harvard website, how could you tell?)
Here is a summary from her talk in photos, with my own insights in words below.
Dare to make big, blockbuster bets
Whereas Professor Elberse studies popular actors like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that take bets on which movies will become blockbusters and propel their career forward into the direction they desire, as a creator and small business owner you have to do the same. Remember you already took a bet when you decided to pursue that which you’re really passionate about, but make sure you solidify that bet by going all in. Spend your time honing your craft, learning more, getting better, going forward in the direction of your dreams. To get there, Professor Elberse says that taking big bets can propel you forward in a big way, putting you right where you want to be in one step instead of several tiny steps.
The notion of smaller bets being ‘safer’ is a myth
So what big bet can you take that will take you several steps forward in one big leap? Maybe instead of trying a lot of different things, placing small bets, fully commit to the one that’s at the heart of what you do, the thing you wish you could do all day. Maybe it’s investing in a tool that will make your work easier and frees up time to grow your business. Maybe it’s taking the leap and going fulltime. Taking a big bet could also mean doing something that scares the shit out of you. What if giving a lecture on your field of expertise or submitting an article to a magazine could put you on the map? Showing yourself, talking about your passion and standing for what you believe in is scary, but I think if you do something from genuine interest, passion or believe, you will find that connection that every person and every business needs.
Embrace the possibility of epic failure
On the flip side, you can still lose your bet. But failure is never the end of everything and always the beginning of something else. You might lose time, or money, or followers, but you will always gain a valuable lesson. And in my experience, that lesson is always that another way suits you better, whether that’s another way to make your goods, a different aspect to focus on or a different direction altogether. You don’t know exactly how you’ll get to where you think you want to go and you will learn a lot about yourself and what works for both you and your business. Embrace that.
Bet on your star power
– and use it to help others
If you’re anything like me, you don’t think of yourself as a “star”, nor do you want to be one. But think of it like stars in the sky. Some shine their light bright, for everyone to see, and others reserve it for those closest to them. However far you decide to spread your light, get to know your star power. It could be your expertise, your knowledge, your craft, but also your kind nature or your ability to connect people. When you realize what your star power is, or star powers are, you can use them to help others. The beautiful thing is that you already do that when you act on your powers, so go ahead and share them.
These ‘meetings of the best brands’ can be extraordinarily powerful
Professor Elberse was talking about the marriage between Beyoncé and Jay-Z, but working with other brands can help you, and them, further along too. You can work together on a new product, combining expertises, sharing knowledge to make work processes easier or help promote each other and reach more people. A star, however bright, will always only be a star, but together with others it can become a galaxy.
Have the audacity to become a multihyphenate
Like pro basketball players branching out into fashion or developing their own products to spread their reach, you can take your star power and use it in multiple ways. As creative entrepreneurs, I think most of us are already multihyphenates, like designer-maker-shop owner or, when digging deeper into that last one, ceo-cfo-accountant-photographer-copywriter-etc. What this bit of advice means to me, is that while going all in with your passion, stay open to the shape this may take. A lot of us have a message we can spread in different ways. And also if your passion is in a specific skill, there are still different ways to bring that skill out into the world. Don’t be afraid to try different things, because you never know what works for you and your business. Teaching might be better than making. Doing both may get you the reach you need. Maybe a combination of different skills is your sweet spot. Wander a little.
The path to the top is seldom linear
– high achievers keep breaking out of their comfort zone along the way.
I was happy to read this little bit of advice. Not that I’m very good at breaking out of my comfort zone, but because the path I’ve taken is definitely not linear. I don’t have one specific skill that I’m extremely good at, but multiple different skills that I’ve developed through interest. My interests are broad and I like exploring different skills, different ways of getting somewhere and it’s good to hear that that can be a good thing. If anything, the talk reminded me that there’s no one way to do something, to get somewhere, to be successful. There’s just your way and that’s where your power lies, in being uniquely you. Because remember: