Choosing to become a business owner is absurd. Given the amount of businesses that fail, breaking from a career to start an organization becomes an exercise that is close to insane. Only a certain type of person, the entrepreneur, who would forsake the glory of the paycheck to start something unique, something counter-industry, something that your market truly needs would do such a thing.
On June 22, the entrepreneurial world lost one such person. George Carlin, who was not one for euphemisms, died (no “passing away”).
To appreciate what Carlin did for his industry, you have to go back to the time in which he started. After working as a DJ, a marketing director for peanut brittle and being discharged from the Air Force for being an “unproductive man,” Carlin teamed up with Jack Burns and started performing comedy shows that were pretty close to conventional. Then, in the late 60s, he and Burns watched as Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity.
Apparently, something clicked. Carlin saw an opportunity to expose a weakness he saw in the way that Americans view their freedom of language, and he saw a way to separate himself from the crowd of other comedians.
This is entrepreneurial fervor. Here are four things that Carlin taught through his comedy and his life that can be applied to your business:
1. See the same thing in new ways
Small business is the best opportunity to walk customers through a new experience, and it does not require you to act or behave any differently. Be a human first before you’re a business owner.
A St. Louis example of this is Joe Edwards at Blueberry Hill. What started as a restaurant and bar turned into the largest neighborhood transformation in recent St. Louis history. He organized other merchants to create The Delmar Loop. His business became an advocacy for something bigger.
He achieved this by being himself. It was not his aim, rather a natural occurrence of being authentic and willing to see the same thing (business ownership) in an entirely new way (community creation). Vuja De.
Carlin was able to achieve this for comedy, and you can do this in your industry.
Do your customers know you? Do you stand for something beyond your business goals? How can your business reinforce your beliefs and allow your light to shine?
2. Get down to the core
One of Carlin’s famous routines was the Al Sleet, the hippie-dippie weatherman, “Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening with some widely scattered light toward morning.”
The act stuck because it conveyed a simple truth that most folks take for granted. Of course, there is much more to weather than the presence or absence of light, but what else can you say with this amount of certainty? The same is true for many organizations. Often we get hung up on tactics, projects or ideas that are really complicating. These things are important, however, remember the simple truths about you, your business and the role you are to play. Everything else is debatable, and, like the weather, difficult to predict. What is at the core of you and your business?
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Carlin had an HBO Special titled, “Life is Worth Losing.” To say, “Nothing is sacred to Carlin,” is an understatement. His comedic topics ranged from airplane food and colloquialisms to death and rape.
While Carlin may have gone to the extreme, a lack of levity is a problem that I see in business all the time. I have a friend who owns a contracting business, and he created a charter of 35 rules and regulations that he has difficulty in following. Now he has to police his workforce and dole out punishment for stepping out of the bounds.
Here is the problem: People will let you down. It is not a matter of if, but when. Try to remember those times you have let others down as a necessary dose of humility. The problem that my friend has is not the code of conduct, but his attitude toward it. To approach people from a moral hilltop is dangerous. Create a business that inspires others to take ownership.
Your legacy may outlive you, but only if you get out of the way. Carlin was an example of this. He was devoted to his craft and his creative legacy, however, he remembered that all of this was fading. It is nothing more than life and death. How are you taking your business too seriously?
4. Challenge everything…all the time
Carlin did not get ahead by regurgitating the same line of ex-girlfriend and cat jokes. He pushed the limits of what it meant to be in comedy.
People were forced to think…to make a decision on something that they thought they could evade. The perfect example of this was his “Seven Deadly Words” routine, which was based upon the seven words you cannot say on television. This routine landed Carlin in jail and forced a Supreme Court decision on broadcast indecency.
He stated his purpose in one of his many comedy routines, “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”
Entrepreneurs and business leaders are situated to do the same thing. Challenge conventional beliefs about how people should be served. Not only does this set you apart from other businesses in your industry, but it is increasingly becoming the way that our economy will survive. We don’t need people who can play the game. We need people willing to change it. What do you do that is worth a Supreme Court decision? What are you doing to change perceptions about your industry?
- Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business