I’m an Artist. But That Doesn’t Mean I Can’t Run a Business

There's actually a lot of overlap between the creative and entrepreneurial worlds, writes April Chen, a student at Babson College and co-founder of Gentle.

April Chen By April Chen

The common thinking is that artists and business have nothing in common. That might not be the case. (Credit: Daria Tumanova on Unsplash)

I used to sit in my business classes, and feel a little out of place. In those classrooms, I would often feel like my inner artist was at conflict with how my mind was being trained to think. Over the past few years, I’ve had to learn how to pair my creative wiring with a business mindset. As they’ve worked together, I slowly realized that these two “worlds” actually overlapped in more ways than one. They enhanced each other, especially in the process of building a venture.

In creative fields, there is a lot of conversations around the process. In business theory, it can be easily ignored. That’s why I wanted to unpack how the idea of the process is actually incredibly relevant to entrepreneurship, and how understanding it has helped me.

First off, entrepreneurship, in itself, is a creative act. A venture creates previously non-existent value in the world.

I recently heard of an entrepreneur who was funded $200,000 by someone he met at a networking event, two weeks after conceiving his business idea. Though as much as I wish that type of quick success happened more frequently — it really doesn’t.

One tip that I got from an angel investor is that “Value builds in steps.” In the beginning, the value is measured by the team; then, the product development, market demand, product/market fit and so on. Each validation, each proof, each test and experiment adds up.

This is the process, and it matters.

But it can feel messy and disappointing. There are times when there may be no tangible progress. The path may feel like it is constantly winding, or going in circles. It may look something like the infamous design process squiggle.

While I was developing the initial idea of my startup, I came to a point where I no longer tried controlling the act of creation. Instead, I began accepting that the way forward was definitely not going to be linear. So I had to remind myself that sometimes being present in the process was enough, which leads me to my second point:

The process is not a waste of time.

I like framing this statement using the two words that the ancient Greeks had for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is the type of time that can be pinned down to a number on a wristwatch. Whereas, kairos can be described as the time of just being in the right time. Not striving for the end-product, not forcing results but naturally engaging with the middle of a story. An artist at work is in kairos. Same goes with a child playing with lego.

In kairos, the mind is nowhere else but focused on the brainstorming session, conversation or product test right in front of you, even though they may “drain” chronos and not lead to a desirable result. In kairos, there is faith to believe that all of those moments will weave into something better than you could have thought of from the beginning.

The process makes a sweeter outcome.

One of the first inspirational quotes I really had to swallow when I first got into the startup space was: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” I understood it as an artist, but it took time for me to also grapple with it in the context of business.

An audience delights in a dance performance, but cannot begin to imagine what it took the dancers to get to that point. The final dance, which is over in a few minutes, is worthwhile because of the countless rehearsals that came before it.

This is similar to the experience of an entrepreneur; the dance performance can be an analogy for each milestone achieved. For example, the first business partnership is meaningful, not necessarily for the partner, but for the entrepreneur because of the many hours that had gone into securing that first customer.

That’s the process. The behind-the-scenes, grimy work. If we are stuck with it, we might as well brace ourselves for the rollercoaster ride that it is. And maybe even raise our hands and enjoy it a little more.

Posted: June 5, 2018

April ChenI’m an Artist. But That Doesn’t Mean I Can’t Run a Business