The company you keep — Part 2

by Lisa Rothstein on 03/20/2012

Who you’re with on a daily basis matters — but it can also be on a not-so-daily basis.

I wasn’t really planning on writing another post on this topic, but I am inspired. I’m at an event (I guess that’s what you’d call it) called CEO Space. It’s a gathering of entrepreneurs,  expert trainers, speakers and investors that’s part club, part marketplace, part festival, part think tank, part trade show, part university. While some eminence grise of marketing or venture capital lectures in the main ballroom, people are setting up meetings, pitching all kinds of ideas and making deals in the hallway. The lecturers sit with attendees at meals and give them one-on-one coaching and pearls of wisdom.

It makes me think of The School of Athens (see pic) by Rafael in the Sistine Chapel. As a kid I always wished I could have been in the scene in that picture. (Geeky, I know.) Well, I think I may have found the modern-day version. CEO Space is international, has local chapters in most cities and the mega event called the Forum that I am attending in Las Vegas happens FIVE times a year.

I came here looking for clients to help with their marketing and copy, but I’m getting so much more, and so many happy surprises. I love hearing about all these new business ideas. And these people are almost all total DaVincis. I met a pediatrician who’s invented an armband-wallet for disabled people and a board game to help people have better relationships — and he’s found funding here. Someone with an idea involving Facebook for dead people. (I can’t divulge more; I signed a non-disclosure agreement.)

Here are some tips and reasons for finding a stimulating and supportive group to hang with:

Get in your element. We’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes being creative can be a lonely business, especially if you’re surrounded by people who just wish you’d shut up and get a  job. It helps to find your tribe and meet up with people who get you,  can remind you that you’re not the only one with your challenges, and challenge you to be your best. These can be writers’ groups, art classes or masterminds. Meetup.com can help you find like-minded people in your area.

Look outside your element.  Consider the cross-pollination and alchemy that can take place when people from totally different backgrounds come together. You bounce ideas off each other. I didn’t think I’d have a lot in common with the people here at CEO Space looking for venture capital for their electric car designs or their bottled desalinated sea water. But talking to the pediatrician about his relationship game gave me a super new idea for a sitcom episode I’m going to write. I outlined the whole thing in a few minutes. He was delighted. And with my advertising perspective, I’ve helped people see why their idea may not be selling and how they might present it instead. It’s a great feeling!

Have an agenda, but be open. As an addendum to the above — of course you should have a reason for going to a group. I came here with a purpose, and made a substantial investment, so some people would think it would be smart to keep my eyes on the prize. But if I had total focus on that, I’d be missing out on all the serendipity. Have  an idea of why you think you are going to a group but have your antennae up, rather than your blinders. Look to listen as well as talk, and to give as well as to get. You may go home with something even better than you came for.

Marry up. I said it in my last post — it sounds crass, but try hanging out with a better class of people. I’m not just talking economics, but that’s a part of it. Being with successful people trains you to think that success, not failure, is the norm… so why shouldn’t you succeed too? Plus, hanging with the winners rather than the whiners is just more fun…and will rub off on you in a lot of ways, from the way you see yourself to the way you talk and then some. And don’t you have enough wet blankets in your life?

Pitch your stuff.  Your mom may praise everything you do (or not, in my case) and your friends have their own agendas. Getting with a group allows you to float your ideas past a truly objective audience. If you’re in a group with a safe and supportive atmosphere (see below), it’s still scary but you will  avoid the haters and get valuable feedback that will make your idea better. And the practice will make your knees knock a little less loudly when you’re in front of the person who really matters.

Consider the atmosphere and mission. While everyone  here at CEO Space is looking for business, the atmosphere is one of cooperation and support, not of competition or secret “haters”.  When you meet someone, the accepted greeting is: “What do you do, and how may I serve you?”  and if you’re not a match, people “scout”  for each other, pledging to send any likely prospects they meet their way. This is a far cry from some pitchfests I’ve attended where the tone was somewhere between desperate and cutthroat.

Create your own. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a leader and an organizer, and not a wallflower, it’s never been easier to start your own group. Technology like Facebook and the aforementioned  meetup.com will help you set up your powwow for free. Downside: you have get people there, and keep them somewhat organized, which can be like herding cats.  Upside: you get to decide what kind of group it will be.

I’m signing off now to get ready for the first event of the day — and who knows who I’ll meet? Every day should be like this — full of positive anticipation, rather than dread, at not knowing what’s going to happen.  But that’s a topic for another post.

Activity: Look around for groups you can attend that will support and stimulate your creativity. Think of one that’s closely related to something you do, like a writers’ group, and another one that seems kind of out of your wheelhouse. You might also consider ones like SXSW (South by Southwest, mostly internet marketing and social media but much more about trends and ideas) or TED – if you can snag an invite. (And do check out CEO Space! Contact me and I’ll give you the lowdown.)

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What kind of groups have you found to be helpful or supportive of your creative or business endeavors? Please share in a  comment below.

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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The DaVinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people athttp://www.davincidilemma.com/ .

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