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Arianna Huffington's Top 10 Lessons for Entrepreneurs
In this blog, I'll share with you what I learned from Arianna Huffington on creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation -- 10 key lessons of extraordinary benefit to any entrepreneur or CEO.
I've gotten to know Arianna Huffington very well over the past few years. We share a common Greek heritage and she sits on my board at the X PRIZE Foundation. Arianna is both the force behind the Huffington Post and a force of nature herself -- a brilliant, powerful and loving person. When I talk about taking bold actions in the world, few things are bolder than creating the Huffington Post from scratch and reinventing the newspaper business. In 2012, this work was recognized when Huffington Post (now part of AOL) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
In August 2012, at Joe Polish's 25K Abundance event, I sat down with Arianna to talk about what inspires her, what worries her, and what bold ideas she's most excited about. She was remarkably frank about how she tries to be different, what drives her, how she comes up with ideas, how she stays focused, how she taps into her creativity and how she manages expectations.
We began the interview talking about taking BOLD actions in life -- specifically what advice she has about pushing the frontier. She addressed how she deals with failure and criticism and where she looks for inspiration. Here are the key points that she herself follows in doing BOLD things:
- Think differently from other entrepreneurs by accepting failure and learning from it. "There are a lot of failures along the way," Arianna said. "I always stress that. I have two daughters, one just graduated from college, the other a junior, whom I always talk to about my failures." Entrepreneurs need to address the possibility of failure, she said, "because so often, I think, the difference between success and failure is perseverance and not giving up after one or two or three failures. Just keep connecting to that place where failure doesn't matter," Arianna said. "If we become so dependent on things always being a success, then we're in a very vulnerable position -- because we're not in control of how the world is going to receive something," she said. "I'm reading Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman emperor and a Stoic, about how to get to the place where bad things can happen and you are not affected by them. This is now my ambition because I think that from that place then you can act so much more effectively."
- Pick something you are passionate about that aligns with the zeitgeist. "For me, the most successful enterprises are always when the entrepreneur's passion matches something happening in the zeitgeist... There is a spirit of the times," Arianna said. "There are things that are happening, that have the wind on their backs and when we tap into them and when our passion converges with what is happening in the world then magic happens. It doesn't mean there's no hard work, but definitely entrepreneurs have the wind on their back. For me the Huffington Post was something like that. I mean, being Greek I was always about connections and conversations. The beginning of the Huffington Post was actually, then, just taking those conversations and moving them online. I could see that the important national conversations were moving online."
- Relax in order to get your best ideas. "I'm very interested in how people get their ideas." Arianna said. "A lot of my ideas come in moments of peace, relaxation, hiking and reading. Something completely unrelated. Not in moments of dealing with my email or cleaning out my inbox," she said. "There is a great book by Arthur Koestler called The Act of Creation that tracks where great scientists get their ideas, not just the ones that we all know about. Again and again you come across the fact that creative ideas come in moments of relaxation, not in moments of stress. That's why if you talk to the people who've achieved great breakthroughs, whether it's Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, they all talk about how they manage their life. Bill Gates taking time to go in a cabin away from everything and read."
- Never tolerate a toxic person in your organization. "I heard Jeff Bezos say it best," said Arianna. "He said that he will not allow anybody in the company who comes to his attention who is toxic person, however talented, to stay in the company. I'm a big believer in that. Zero tolerance for toxic people. I would rather have somebody much less brilliant and who's a team player, who's straightforward, than somebody who is very brilliant and toxic."
- When hiring, trust your feelings. "When AOL acquired the Huffington Post and we had more resources, one of the hardest things I had to do was staff up rapidly. We're now almost at 700 employees," Arianna said. "I would spend weekends in hiring sessions that were like speed dating. Time is so precious, so I set up a system where I would have other people in the interview with me. I would participate for the first 10 minutes, and then leave them with editors to talk. In interviewing a candidate you know almost immediately if it's a 'no.' There's no need to spend more than that initial time."
"You also know if it's a yes," she added, "that moment of falling in love. You know it's a yes 100%. The hard thing is in between. If there is any slight doubt about it, my answer is no. I don't proceed if I have any doubt because the hardest thing is hiring somebody who turns about not to be the right fit -- that mistake is very costly. We've all done it. It's problematic. So, 'If in doubt: Don't,' is a very good rule for me, whether in relationships or in hiring people."
- Handle criticism and public scrutiny by refusing to doubt yourself. "I wrote a book called On Becoming Fearless where I talk about the voice in our head, that voice of doubt which is ultimately your worst enemy," Arianna said. "You can deal with everything outside. The hardest thing is dealing with what I call the obnoxious roommate living in our head. That voice that doubts us and learning to deal with that with a sense of humor or the way we're educating a child is also eliminating a huge drain from our lives."
When the Huffington Post first began, Arianna added, it received negative reviews from some quarters. "In fact, if you'll go back to the first day, some of the reviews were not kind. I've learned one of them by heart. It was: 'The Huffington Post is an unsurvivable failure. It is the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate all rolled into one.' A year later the woman who wrote that review emailed me and said, 'I was clearly wrong, and I would now like to write for the Huffington Post, to blog for it.' I said absolutely -- and that's the other thing. You never hold grudges. It's really again part of living in abundance."
- The truest drive comes from doing what you love. "I feel very blessed to be doing exactly what I love to do," Arianna said. "I feel very grateful. It doesn't mean that there aren't many things every day that happen that I wish didn't happen, challenges I'm dealing with, as we all are, but nevertheless the overwhelming sensation is one of gratitude."
- It's important to step back from work to recharge. "One problem is learning to unplug and recharge," Arianna said. As somebody who loves what I'm doing I think we run the risk of forgetting to recharge ourselves. I have a lot of rules around sleep. One of my rules is I never charge my devices near my bed. It's really important because you may wake up for whatever reason in the middle of the night and be tempted to look at your data. There is medical evidence that if you do, even if you go back to sleep it's not the same recharging sleep. You know what? What is it that can't wait? The other thing is a lot of people say oh, I need my iPhone by my bed because it's my alarm clock. Eliminate your excuses. We all know there's nothing better than waking up recharged and nothing worse than going through your day like a zombie."
- Find hope in the world by focusing on abundance. "I think the world is like watching a split screen. Depending on which side you are looking at you can be hopeful or despairing," Arianna said. "I focus on what gives me hope. It's key that we focus on abundance and surpluses rather than just our shortages. To that effect, I think, we in the media have not done a good job at spotlighting what is working. So, I think beginning to put a spotlight on what is working not just on what is not working is what gives me hope and we're doing a lot of that. On HuffPost we have a section dedicated to good news. We have a section called Impact, which is all about giving and what people are doing to transform the world."
- Build a tribe that will support you. It's important to have a group of trusted friends, colleagues and family -- who will support your efforts. "For me the tribe always started with my mother and my sister, which is very Greek," she says. "What's important, is the combination of whomever it is that helps us connect with ourselves, our mission and passion."
In my next blog, I'm going to dive into the world of gamification. A means of getting people to enjoy doing work for you, for free.
NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.