It dawned on me recently while listening to an interview with Judd Apatow that we business leaders could all learn something from the guys and gals who make us laugh. Judd is a crazy, successful comedy writer, producer, and director who is best known for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and This is 40 among a long list of other projects. I wondered, “So, what makes him so successful?” I mean, there are millions of comics out there, pounding the pavement, doing stand-up, posting YouTube videos. Why did this guy make it while others crash and burn?
I got my answers in the interview he did with Fresh Air on NPR. It become obvious that this guy was obsessed with comedy, to the point where there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for comedy. From having the nerve to book famous comedians for his high school radio show (that he admits probably didn’t reach beyond the parking lot at his school), to repeatedly delivering a terrible stand-up routine that got its biggest laugh when he closed by acknowledging how really bad it was, Apatow pursued his comedy dreams with single mindedness and determination.
“Aha,” said the little voice in my head, “So that’s it.” The secret to his success, of course, was perseverance – combined with chutzpah and some creative problem solving. He just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and insisted on turning his failures into successes. Well, those are the same things that it takes to be successful in business.
You’ve got to persevere – hang in there, pull yourself up by the boot straps, get back in the saddle (can you tell I’m in cliché-mode right now?) – do whatever it takes to make your vision a reality. Successful people, no matter what their profession, all have this in common. Don’t believe me? Do a little research, and add up how many times your idols or mentors overcame obstacles and failures on their way to the top. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the overwhelming evidence that nobody makes it on their first try. But, you can’t quit. You can’t give up the first time someone doesn’t laugh at your jokes, doesn’t get your vision, or doesn’t buy what you’re selling.
Standing up in front of an audience trying to be funny has to take guts. I’m really good at talking about the auto repair industry and being an entrepreneur because I have a lot of experience with both. But, man, to make a room full of strangers laugh, that’s gotta be tough. I mean, you never know if they’ll laugh or if they won’t. Something that’s funny to one group might just fall flat with another. The key, though, is to have enough courage to try. The same goes in business. You never know if your plans will work out until you put them into action. When the time comes, you have to be fearless. Have confidence in yourself, your vision, and your product, and people will pay attention to what you have to say. All the successful entrepreneurs I know are bold, driven folks who don’t let a little thing like nerves get in their way.
Some of the funniest people in history took a look at the most ordinary things and made us all laugh out loud. I mean, seriously, who would have rolled on the floor laughing about a chocolate assembly line before I Love Lucy? In business, you’re going to have to get creative sometimes. Even the most mundane problems could require you to think outside the box. Innovation and creative problem solving are hallmarks of business leaders, and frankly, they’re the things that make being in business more fun and rewarding. So, let your inner Steve Martin loose the next time you’re facing a mountain of obstacles. Get creative, be bold, and persevere.