Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. –Oliver Wendell Holmes.
What is it about that moment of inspiration when all the fears and risks and barriers seem to melt away? That is the moment when a company is created, a new career is launched, or perhaps a new blog is initiated. It is the moment when we are most vulnerable and exposed to the world. It is also the moment when we are most alive.
It’s sad to say, but few of us truly keep that fire burning intensely. Some fail to keep it burning at all. That’s why most blogs — on average — end with a whimper after just eight posts. (This is my sixth.) We are touched with fire, but then something intrudes — other demands, fear of failure — and it all turns cold. That happens to bloggers. It also happens to businesses. They are launched with all the promise and intensity of an aspiring entrepreneur — and then, they lose their edge. Or most of them do anyway.
You can see it in other fields, too. How can the band that composed something as remarkable as Bohemian Rhapsody end up putting out garbage like Radio Ga Ga? How did the promising young director that created a masterpiece like Citizen Kane end his career doing Gallo Wine commercials? The once vivid, illuminating fire can so easily fade.
I think I understand. It takes remarkable courage, energy and endurance to stare down a blank page over and over again. Whether the work product is a blog, a lyric or a screenplay, few people really want to put themselves on the line this way. It’s particularly hard to follow a hit. Poor M. Night Shyamalan — who I have admired deeply since he wrote and directed The Sixth Sense in his mid-twenties — is now getting crucified by the critics and his new flick, Lady in the Water, is suffering at the box office. (Fortunately, Night knows how to manage a budget. His latest flick only cost about $70M and so, despite the critics, will probably end up turning a healthy profit.)
The lesson for the rest of us is that we, too, must keep crafting new stories with inspiration and energy — even though we are often distracted, even though we know we will often fail. The best, most enduring writers, directors, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs recognize that their craft demands discipline and commitment.
The companies that learn to thrive in the realm of storymaking will possess this discipline. They will recognize that perspiration is far more important than sheer, momentary inspiration. They will launch new thought leading campaigns on a managed and consistent cycle. They will diligently plan ahead. And they will execute in a rigorous fashion, confronting reality with an eye on results and clear measures of customer response.
Art and science — discipline and dynamism — are reconciled by truly exceptional companies… and artists. Their stories are created — and told — around a magnificent fire that is never allowed to burn out.