How This Successful Entrepreneur Keeps Inspiration Flowing

When you were a kid, what did you love to build?

When Frank Yang was eight, he dreamt of building all kinds of things. One of his first creative concepts was a dog food dispenser with a timer that could feed house pets on demand. Yang used to tell people he wanted to be an inventor, but the adults in his life said he should be an accountant or an attorney instead.

Today, Yang is the founder and CEO of Simplehuman, a privately-owned company that designs and manufactures kitchen, bath, and beauty tools. Simplehuman is devoted to finding ways to streamline daily tasks for efficient living, including touch-free soap pumps, sensor-activated vanity mirrors, and automated trash cans.

Last year Yang’s love for building practical “problem solvers” grew Simplehuman’s revenues by $15% to more than $200 million. Yang says he continues to find joy in the dreaming:

“Even though I’m the CEO of Simplehuman, I spend about 60% of my time on [Research and Development], because that’s what I love – I think about it all day,” said Yang.

Maximize Mental Energy Through Your Weekly Routine

What fuels your inspiration?

Though your job may be full of many “ordinary” tasks, how can you keep creativity alive each day?

Some experts believe grounding yourself in daily rituals can be a foundation for success. In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey writes about the habits, routines, and rituals of hundreds of artists, including Frederic Chopin, Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, and Ernest Hemingway. Even though their routines varied wildly, each individual had steps they followed to put them in an optimal state of mind. Currey came to this conclusion:

“In the right hands, [a routine] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

Rituals you might include to fuel your creativity could consist of things like:

  • Rising early
  • Making coffee or making your bed
  • Morning runs or daily stretching
  • Prayer, breathing exercises, personal affirmations, or journaling
  • Lunchtime yoga or sports commitments
  • 10 minutes of browsing Pinterest or your favorite design publications
  • Accessible scratch pads in your car, office, or house (for random idea bursts)
  • Regular times spent visualizing success, writing goals, or brainstorming for future projects
  • Weekly lunch gatherings with friends who inspire you
  • Writing tomorrow’s goals at the end of each workday
  • Wind-down routines like space tidying, piano playing, evening walks, light reading, or “brain dumps” in a journal

Finding Solutions in Unlikely Places

Yang says that, though he has many responsibilities as CEO, he likes to stay focused on his primary passion, which is creating and developing.

And when he’s stuck in a rut, he goes back to simple pleasures:

“I really believe that my mind and body work together. We have a basketball court in the office, and if there’s a problem my team and I can’t solve, we’ll go there and shoot around . . . I [also] love cycling. I have three bikes in my office, and when I need a break, I ride around the parking lot for 15 minutes. I get this sense of freedom when I ride, but I also love the mechanical aspect of bikes, the way the gears shift, the way the frame is made, the geometry of the design. That inspires me.”

What is the “bicycle” in your life? Sometimes taking your mind in a different direction can help you find solutions when you are stuck!

Bringing Your Dream to Life

“Someone is sitting in the shade today

because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” (Warren Buffet)

Dr. Julie Silver is a giant among medical practitioners.

As an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Silver has published several award-winning books and is the Chief Editor of Books at Harvard Health Publications, the consumer health publishing brand of Harvard Medical School.

But Silver is known for more than her accomplishments, she’s known as an overcomer. At age 30, Silver found herself on the other side of medicine – as a patient instead of a physician – when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her story from surgery through radiation, chemo, and rehab is now the backbone of her identity.

Through cancer recovery, Silver found herself exhausted and depleted, with few resources for getting back on her feet:

“Returning to work and caring for my young children was very difficult,” Silver says of that time. “I was not given rehab care and therefore had to rehabilitate myself. If I had been a stroke survivor or been in a car accident, I would have been offered rehab treatment. But, as a cancer survivor, I was left to figure it out on my own.”

Silver says this experience, combined with loads of research touting the benefits of cancer rehab, prompted her to team up with others to reshape the recovery road. She and a team of experts created STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehab) certification programs for hospitals, group practices, and individual clinicians. STAR programs have empowered post-cancer treatment centers, improved life for thousands, and given legs to Silver’s dream.

Pursue a Dream

Do you need the courage to pursue a dream in your life?

You have to believe a dream before you can see it come true. Every great achievement begins in the heart of one individual who took a risk and asked, “what if?” As Walt Disney once said, “all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Dreamers are people who don’t let negative thinking discourage them, even when their vision is beyond their capabilities. In Silver’s case, she started with a hope for better cancer rehab. But as her journey progressed, she discovered hospitals needed much more than information. They needed an entire training system.

“I quickly realized that [my colleagues] needed a lot more information and assistance than I could offer with a simple conversation,” Silver said. “They needed to be educated about cancer rehabilitation and to implement protocols to deliver this care.”

Share a Dream

One reason dreams die is that you never share them with others.

People who genuinely want to achieve a dream must talk about it! Frequently. Why? Sharing a dream aloud helps you believe in it more and to make necessary tweaks along the way. Sharing dreams builds momentum, inspires others to collaborate, and holds you accountable to a plan. And plans break visions into actionable steps while pushing you to gather necessary resources in realistic time frames.

Work the Dream

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

After you’ve done the necessary planning, it’s time to work. When it comes down to it, cathedrals are built one brick at a time. So, the most successful dreamers aren’t just people with bold ideas; they are people who follow through in ordinary moments.

Hard work isn’t always fun, but success looks something like this:

Short-Term Tasks * Regular Follow-Through = Long-term Achievement

Sound difficult? Just remember, it can be hard to work the dream, but it can be even harder to work for someone else’s dream. Do the work today and enjoy the results tomorrow!

Inspire Imagination with 4 Creative Design Catalysts

Do you enjoy creating?

Are you an illustrator, a graphic design specialist, or a photographer who loves to see ideas come to life?

If so, you’ve probably experienced a few slumps. Even the most innovative people need new inspiration from time to time. Ready to ignite a fresh perspective for your projects?

Here are some creative exercises that may spark your next fantastic idea.

4 Design Catalysts to Inspire Your Imagination

Loosen your turtleneck pullover and host an art night with friends.

If you create for a living, what better way to connect with your inner muse than to host a no-holds-barred, imaginative free-for-all with your best pals?

Tell guests to dress for a mess and drag out your paints, beads, clay, stamps, ink, and more. Remind people to leave the perfectionist self at home and have fun with the process. After all, some of the best art is spontaneous.

Takeaway: Creating things with friends reminds us that art is fun, and beauty can arise from unexpected sources.

Build and broaden your artistic muscle by doing icon reps.

Choose an icon (like a sun, heart, leaf, crest, or set of cherries) and create 25 thumbnail icons that depict its message and its meaning. If that’s too easy, try 50 or 100.

Start with basic sketches and transition into graphic design or large-scale renderings. As you build variations, try different shadings, color combinations, or typographic elements to stretch your normal design boundaries.

Takeaway: Forcing yourself to sketch the same thing in different ways can build and broaden your artistic muscle.

The next time you work on a concept, fill a full page with icon sketch versions of it before you settle on your design of choice. Begin with quantity and finish with quality!

Identify your core audience and ask yourself what subject would best connect with these viewers.

Then, brainstorm ways to feature the perfect person doing the ideal activity in perfect circumstances.

How can you best capture the age, gender, or appearance of this “perfect” individual? Experiment with collages, photos, silhouettes, stick figures, or only body parts (such as the hand, eye, or mouth).

Takeaway: Featuring the wrong people in your piece (or possibly the right people in the wrong atmosphere) can tank your design.

In contrast, a piece that features the right people in the right way can befriend viewers and make them extremely receptive to your product or message.

Tend your roots by asking yourself: “Why did I become a Creative in the first place?”

Make a list of passions and interests that led you to this stage in your journey. Then, cultivate these roots through revisiting some of the places or people who inspired you in the past.

Takeaway: Neglecting your creative soul apart from your professional commitments puts your growth as a person at risk. Nurture your nature, and momentum will freely flow in all that you do.

The Human-to-Human Connection

While many designers have a free spirit, often professionals end up spending a great deal of time alone.

However, much of our success in design is rooted in human-to-human connections. The connections you make will have a massive impact on how you see the world and what you create in response. So connect with others, connect with yourself, and have fun with your next best design.

Increase Sales Through Authentic Marketing

Authenticity is a hot word in business.

Today’s consumers don’t want to be told how to think or what to do. Instead, they want businesses that inspire them, and customers are demanding greater purity and consistency in the products, messages, and values a company represents.

What is Authenticity?

Some define authenticity as being consistent in word and deed or having a fundamental character that doesn’t change based on circumstance.

Inauthentic companies may come across as artificial, timid, fake, or gimmicky, while words associated with professional authenticity might include transparent, original, boldly unapologetic, legitimate, or truthful.

Authentic brands are those that stay true to who they are, what they do, and who they serve. This means that, in an age of unprecedented consumer empowerment, understanding your customers and what they expect from you is critical.

But in crafting authenticity in marketing, entrepreneurs should understand that the meaning of the word authenticity can vary based on customer expectations.

Authenticity Translated: Two Interpretations

Consider the restaurant industry in New York.

Two fan favorites in this scene include DiFara’s Pizza in Brooklyn and Blue Hill in Greenwich Village. Both are lauded as “authentic.” DiFara’s reviewers rave that this pizzeria is as “authentic as they come,” while Blue Hill at Stone Barn is hailed as “an authentic Hudson Valley culinary experience.”

What does this actually mean?

Translation 1: In this genre of authentic companies, a product or brand perfectly conforms to the original.

DiFara’s matches the expectations a customer might have for a “classic” Italian pizzeria experience. The pizzaiolo at DiFara’s, Domenic DeMarco, immigrated to the U.S. from a small town near Naples and has been making traditional thin-crust pizzas in Brooklyn since 1964.

Translation 2: Blue Hill offers farm-to-table ingredients with a focus on creating sustainable food systems.

Here authenticity is assigned to a company that offers products or experiences that adhere to the core beliefs or values of the customer served, whether the value is for transparent leadership, unpolluted products, or a desire for excellence. (Think the Honest Company, Apple, or Yeti, for example.)

Which Strategy Should You Pursue?

According to four studies reported by the Harvard Business Review, authentically conforming to a category (see Translation 1) might lead to higher social evaluations (like 5-star ratings) but might not increase a consumer’s willingness to pay more.

This can bring tangible benefits: research shows that even a 1-star increase in Yelp reviews may bring a 5-9% increase in revenues.

On the other hand, authenticity adhering to customer core beliefs (see Translation 2) might persuade consumers to pay more for those products.

How does this affect your business? Researchers said this:

“Managers should consider these patterns as they attempt to appeal to customers. Rather than assuming that any mention of authenticity leads to a better reputation or more revenue (or both), managers might do well to think carefully about what kind of authenticity their organization expresses. For organizations that convey authenticity because they exemplify a specific category or genre, they might focus on generating value by winning higher star ratings – which can increase sales traffic – rather than attempting to charge more for products or services . . . Organizations that evoke authenticity by adhering to their core beliefs might benefit more from charging a premium for products and services to a more selective set of customers.”

Want to win at authenticity? You will be wise to choose the best way to meet customer expectations, ensuring each message you send is genuine and in line with your brand principles.

Don’t just claim to be authentic, choose a strategy to pursue it. Then live up to this vision by giving your very best!

Perseverance: How to Know If It’s Time to Quit

Over the last two years, there has been a great buzz about 37-year-old tennis phenom Serena Williams.

Williams has 23 Grand Slam titles and a dominant career, ranked number one for 319 weeks over 15 years. In 2017, Williams gave birth to her first daughter. Many wondered how motherhood would affect her career. Would she return with the same fight? Would she return at all?

Williams roared back to the semi-final of the 2018 U.S. Open and quickly regained top 10 rankings. Fans worldwide were inspired by her courage and moved by her transparency about her struggles.

Faced with a Crossroads

In life, you will face discouragement, wondering, “Is it time to quit? Should I alter my path or press on through resistance?”

On one hand, redirecting can be wise, helping you avoid harm or consider better alternatives. Conversely, quitting might weaken your character or prevent you from realizing an achievement that’s closer than you think.

Walter Mallory, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, was expressing regret that the first nine thousand experiments with a battery yielded few results. Edison had a different perspective:

“Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I have found several thousand things that won’t work!”

To Fish or Cut Bait?

Politician Newt Gingrich said, “perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

Pressing on in a project can build character, enhance your skill set, and build confidence that can only come through trial. The best leaders are those who’ve been tested.

When tempted to quit, ask yourself whether other alternatives seem tangible or rewarding. Does a change seem realistic? Could you tweak certain variables to make a situation more bearable? Perhaps your moments of greatest discouragement are those when you’re actually closest to breakthrough!

But whoever said “quitters never win” may have been wrong. Quitting is scary, but sometimes continuing is worse. Stubbornness can destroy important relationships, blind you to better alternatives, or make you oblivious to your destruction. It might be time to quit when:

  • Continuing will destroy friendships, family, health, or your character
  • Despite loads of effort, you don’t see results
  • You find yourself growing numb to red flags
  • Proceeding may eliminate other options
  • You’ve lost all joy or energy

In 2010, Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa shocked fans when she retired at 28. At that time, she was ranked number one in the world, a winner of two major championships and millions in prize money.

An impulsive decision? Ochoa says no. From early in her career, Ochoa wanted to marry and raise a family without golf, projecting about 10 years on the tour.

“ . . . For me, getting married and having a family, that was more important,” Ochoa said. “Now that I’m a mother, I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world and I feel blessed. I’m really, really happy that I made the decision at the right time and now I can enjoy 100% this second stage of my life.”

Looking back, Ochoa said knowing there was a definite “end” actually helped her game:

“When I was in a difficult position and I was either upset or tired or angry or disappointed, I keep saying, ‘OK, y’know I have three or four years left. I’m going to do it and continue and I’m going to put everything into it’ . . . When I look back and I see what I did, I just feel even luckier because I made the right decision at the perfect time.”

Ochoa’s courage may inspire you to think of it this way: perhaps it’s time to quit when saying no to the good means you can say YES to the best.

Use Short Deadlines to Get Lasting Results

In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, scholars found that longer deadlines can be a detriment to workers.

The study asked volunteers at a local community center to answer a short survey about retirement planning. One group was given seven days to access the online survey, while another group had 14 days to respond. Results showed that, though the 14-day group gave more thoughtful responses, they were more likely to procrastinate or skip the assignment.

A second study revealed longer deadlines affected outcomes on tax filings. In this research, a short deadline group received their “lost” W-2 tax form later (closer to the filing deadline) and had less time to complete their taxes. Despite the setback, the short-deadline group spent less money than their peers to get the same job done via tax professionals or self-help software.

Beat Those “Last Mile” Blues

Do you struggle to take projects across the finish line in an efficient manner?

There’s a reason! Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Longer deadlines lead people to set easier goals and decrease effort, costing more time and stress overall. Researchers also found that longer deadlines sometimes make workers think an assignment is harder than it is. When people commit more resources to a difficult task, they procrastinate and are more prone to quit.

For managers and workers alike, it is important to set achievable goals and appropriate time limits using four simple strategies.

Think Small

Procrastinators who avoid finishing struggle to break projects into manageable tasks.

To overcome this barrier, psychology professor Joseph Ferrari (author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done) recommends a narrow focus. “People who have trouble finishing a project don’t have problems seeing the big picture,” Ferrari said. “It’s how to break it into manageable tasks that can be paralyzing. Just do something now. Start something and get going.”

Starting small breaks your fear of failure and shortcuts perfectionistic hang-ups.

Stay Disciplined

Sometimes when the finish line is in sight people accelerate the pace but lose focus.

Discipline slips, which can lead to delays. Overriding budgetary constraints, ignoring quality control checks, or fast-tracking publications can bring painful consequences. Instead, stay on track with small deadlines to ensure work on larger projects is done in a timely, precise manner.  

Call in the Closers

Burnout and fatigue are genuine risks near the end of a project, and high-value contributors are often needed to airlift the next big project.

Consider deliberately structuring your team so starters take a project to 90 percent, while fresh eyes step in for the final spit-and-polish.

Use Incentives

When deadlines are distant, shift attention to everyday outcomes.

“Can you get that to me by the end of the day?” isn’t a request many people like to hear. But quick turnarounds can actually boost morale because lethargy breeds inertia but accomplishment spurs accomplishment.

From cash incentives to extra work-day coffee breaks, consider attaching small perks to fast-action deadlines. Self-starter rewards can work for yourself too. When writing her thesis, one grad student filled a glass jar with tantalizing chocolates. Throughout a year of writing, she rewarded herself with one truffle per week as she stayed on schedule. Progress was visible, and the rewards were sweet. When the jar was empty, the project was done!

Short turnarounds on urgent tasks elicit attention and improve outcomes. Whether you’re managing yourself or others, consider adding incentives, bringing in closers, or breaking large projects into daily deadlines to achieve better results.