Although you probably read it ten years ago I recently finished Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity. It’s a worthy read that appears in many top ten lists of books for entrepreneurs to devour. Something I found most interesting about the book and his criteria for entering into a business operation was that it had to be fun.
We were a long way from when we first copied out an old record contract on the houseboat and signed Mike Oldfield. Times had changed and now we had $500 million in the bank. At this point I could of course have retired and concentrated my energies on learning how to paint watercolours or how to beat my mum at golf. It wasn’t in my nature to do so. People asked me “Why don’t you have some fun now?”, but they were missing the point. As far as I was concerned, this was fun. Fun is at the core of the way I like to do business and it has informed everything I have done from the outset. More than any other element, fun is the secret of Virgin’s success.
I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be evolving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.
Reading this drew me to look back over my own career, how had the ‘fun’ element influenced my business and career decisions? The truth is that when I started my own businesses in my late teens, ‘fun’ was everything. I opened a music studio because I thought it would be fun, I became an arts administrator because I thought it might be fun, I moved to various parts of the world to further my arts administration career because I thought it would be a whole load of fun. I took a short career break and taught English at a five-star resort on the coast in Vietnam and it was fun. In almost all of the jobs that I had whilst working for other people there was a lot of fun!
The fun I’ve had at work over the years hasn’t usually been a “laugh your head off” kind of fun, but rather a sense of fun that comes about by being engaged with work, having a mutual sense of shared purpose with likable colleagues, being intellectually stimulated and challenged and finally being rewarded for the work you do.
As I’ve been an arts administrator for most of my professional years I’ve had the privilege to work with many artists, such as writers, painters and musicians. I’m a failed songwriter and novelist myself! Most of the time that an original artist spends creating their art is on solving problems. Take for example the songwriter who solves problems like “this chord doesn’t sound right”, “this lyric doesn’t fit” and “this tempo’s uncomfortable”. To write a novel, writers solve problems such as “this character’s actions aren’t believable”, “this plot device leads nowhere” and “this section is really boring”. A good artist is a good problem-solver. Finding solutions is the challenge and fun of being an artist.
Living abroad and hosting a multitude of visitors through the Couchsurfing project I came to meet many short-term and long-term travellers. Here is one difference I’ve observed between a short-term traveller and a long-term one. Short-termers get really stressed when their travel itineraries don’t go to plan, while long-term travellers rub their hands together with anticipation when plans get derailed. Long-term travellers love it when the bus breaks down in a knee-deep landslide of mud after heavy rains – because it’s an opportunity for something unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary to happen. It’s an opportunity for problem-solving and fun, not necessarily “laugh-your-head-off-fun”, but fun nonetheless. Short-term travellers sit on the bus stressing, more so if there’s no wifi, while the long-term travellers get out and push, or seek out a local drinking spot.As I’ve been an arts administrator for most of my professional years I’ve had the privilege to work with many artists, such as writers, painters and musicians. I’m a failed songwriter and novelist myself! Most of the time that an original artist spends creating their art is on solving problems. Take for example the songwriter who solves problems like “this chord doesn’t sound right”, “this lyric doesn’t fit” and “this tempo’s uncomfortable”. To write a novel, writers solve problems such as “this character’s actions aren’t believable”, “this plot device leads nowhere” and “this section is really boring”. A good artist is a good problem-solver. Finding solutions is the challenge and fun of being an artist.
This is the fun I find in being a business owner. I feel the engagement with my work that an artist feels, I feel like a long-term traveler. Setting up a business requires crafting and when things get bogged down opportunities present themselves for problem-solving and new learning experiences.
I work in corporate cultural diplomacy (CCD) providing solutions to challenges that an organisation or a person might experience while working abroad. CCD initiatives include exhibitions, performances, films, sporting contests, fashion events, cooking displays, or cultural workshops; all built to allow organisations and individuals to develop outstanding strategic relationships. Such initiatives can help your business to prevent or solve problems that it might encounter whilst operating in foreign markets. These activities are fun – I hope people that are involved in your CCD initiatives have fun and that through these activities some fun is brought into the lives of your prospective business partners or customers. My friends and I share many fun experiences and memories and there’s no reason why corporate relationships can’t likewise be built on shared experiences and memories of fun times.
So what about you? Is fun a priority when you make decisions about your business or your career? Has fun ever brought you better business relationships? Has basing business or career decisions on fun reduced your profit or salary? Have you ever chosen to do something less fun for more money? Let’s talk in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you and share experiences.
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Endnotes and sources are listed on the next page.