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6 Things You Can Learn About Business from One Wild and Crazy Guy   

business lessons steve martinLife isn’t fair.

That’s what your mama told you when you were a kid, and you’ve been dealing with it ever since.

Some people are born lucky. They were born with talent. Drive. Focus.

You read about them all the time.

This one made six figures in six months. You’ve been in business two years and haven’t made half that much.

That one wrote two posts and both of them went viral. You’ve written a hundred posts and you’re excited when your mom comments. It doesn’t seem fair that some people have multiple talents that bring them raving fans while many of us struggle.

Take Steve Martin. On the surface, Martin looks like a lucky, talented, focused guy. He was the biggest concert comedian of the 1970s. He starred in the Jerk, The Three Amigos, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

He’s written bestselling books. He’s a playwright. And he won a Grammy for his bluegrass album.

How does one man have so many talents? Is he just lucky? Should the rest of us just accept that some people are given more natural gifts?

Why Steve Martin’s Talents May be An Illusion

Martin’s autobiographical book, Born Standing Up, chronicles his path to a successful stand-up career.

Contrary to what the title implies, Martin never alludes to being born with talent or luck. He tells a story of discipline, frustration, loneliness – and finally, reward.

It’s a journey that mirrors one of many entrepreneurs. And as a small business owner myself, I found the lessons in it invaluable.

Lesson #1: Experiment Often

Martin’s career began in the 1960s when it was not only common to copy other acts, but easy. And that’s what he did. There was no YouTube. No internet reviewers to catch you stealing. You could watch an act in one town tonight and perform it two towns over tomorrow.

But Martin soon realized he would never improve without experimentation. He knew doing an act someone else perfected would only get him so far.

He made a promise to himself to do only original material. This commitment to experimentation allowed him to develop a distinct voice. His big successes came only after fans started to identify him with a certain type of wacky humor.

In your online business, experimentation is vital. The online world changes daily.Click To Tweet You may be able to copy the big businesses in your field when you have little traffic. But the sooner you begin to test your own voice and strategies, the sooner others will be able to distinguish you from the competition.

Lesson #2: Seek Feedback Every Day

In the beginning, Martin played his act everywhere and anywhere. He understood he would never know if a joke would work unless he tried it. When a joke failed, even one he loved, he made a note and moved on. I cringed when he described some of the audiences he performs in front of: drunk people, bored people, angry people and often very few people at all.

There is much chatter online about the best way to get in front of people. Yes, guest posting on a major blog will help you, but maybe you’re not ready for the big blogs yet. That doesn’t mean you can stay silent. Just like Martin, you must get your business out there. Only then you can see what works for you and what doesn’t.

Lesson #3: Stick With the Tough Decisions You Believe In

After deciding to be original and seeking lots of feedback, Martin decided he wanted to be avant-garde. In business, we say we want to be innovative.

Martin examined the way comedy worked. Every joke built tension until the comedian delivered a punchline and the audience laughed as they had been trained to do.

Martin theorized that if he never delivered a punchline, the audience would laugh at what they really found funny. Instead of jokes, he performed odd little skits.

Skits that nobody understood. Where were the one-liners? The punchlines?

But Martin didn’t give up. He tweaked his act until they got it, but he never went backwards. And in the end, crowds worshiped him for giving them the authentic laugh they didn’t know they were missing.

Innovative businesses shake up the norm. They often provide service and products people don't yet realize they need.Click To Tweet. If you decide to be innovative, you also must accept that you’ll be misunderstood.

And you may start to feel like you’ve gone too far. Maybe they’re not ready for what you’ve created yet. Maybe you should go back to being like everyone else.

Or maybe your marketing just needs a few tweaks until they understand. It’s easy to give up on a good idea, but true innovators make them see what they’re missing.

Lesson #4: Make Precision a Goal

“Like the burlesque comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.” – E.E. Cummings

This quote followed Martin throughout his career.

As his career progressed, he learned to read the audience and make every second count. He moved with them to make sure they were coming along for his ride. In fact, he got so good at reading and reacting to his audience, he started taking them on little field trips around the comedy clubs. At one show, he brought the audience outside, got in a cab and rode off.

To pull an act like that off, you must have control over every beat.

Precision in your online business could mean a slight change in your logo, a subject line, or your latest blog post’s call to action. It’s the little things that create movement in your audience and encourages them to buy.

Lesson #5: Letting Go Moves You Forward

It’s no doubt Martin’s act was a success.

His shows sold out to crowds of up 45,000 fans. He was a household name.

Then he realized his stand up wasn’t progressing like it used to – and he moved on. He began to create movies and eventually to write plays and books.

We often think of letting go of failures. When you create a product that sells poorly, you naturally move on. But it’s a lot harder to let go of your successes. It feels unnecessary.

But you must let go of successes to make time to create new opportunities. Just think  – if Martin had continued with stand-up, who would have been Father of the Bride?

Let’s say you create a product that sells twice as well as you expected.  The temptation is to dwell on your success. It feels so good to create something people love. Unfortunately, if you hold on to a success too long, it becomes a failure.

Lesson #6: Use Everything You Know

Actually, this piece of advice comes from Johnny Carson. Martin fell in and out of favor with Carson over the years, but in the end, Carson respected him.

One night, Carson was doing his Goofy impression and told Martin, “You’ll use everything you know.”

Martin started out as a teenage magician. When you watched his stand up, you saw a magician’s dedication to props.

In case you’re wondering how he became such a great writer, his first real paying job was writing for the Smothers Brothers. His writing abilities came the same way the rest of his talent did – perseverance and hard work.

Many of us start our online businesses after we’ve tried a career in another field. Maybe you’ve had bosses you hated or jobs you stayed at too long. When you finally start achieving your dream, you might feel like you should’ve started long ago.

Instead, consider it all experience. If you had a boss who treated you unfairly, remember them when you hire your first employee. If you had a bad experience at the grocery store yesterday, remember how you felt when you deal with your own customers. When you start to look at everything you know as an asset, you might be surprised at how much you can use.

Now It’s Your Turn to Be a Natural Talent

When we look back at Martin’s prolific career filled with record-breaking comedy tours, best-selling books, and a Grammy, it’s easy to say to think that guy’s lucky. It’s easy to say, “Well yeah, but he was born with talent.”

Yet when Martin started his career, he was a lot like you. He thought he could do it. He wanted success, and he was willing to work hard.  He avoided worrying about whether he had the talent and decided to acquire the skills.

Do you ever look around and feel like you just don’t have a knack for something in your business? Maybe it’s marketing or selling or writing. Instead of worrying about whether you were born with talent, think of how you can develop a talent in that area.

How will you follow Martin’s example and remake yourself into a natural talent? Leave a comment below with your answer!

About Adrienne Andreae

Adrienne Andreae is a freelance writer who hopes someday people will mistake her hard work for luck.

42 comments

  1. Laura Ryding-Becker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    From #3, Stick with the tough decisions you believe in: “If you decide to be innovative, you also must accept that you’ll be misunderstood.” It can be hard for me, sometimes, to stick with my decisions. Being innovative and pushing the envelope do not come naturally or easily to me, but that’s what I’m looking to do currently. Thank you for this reminder and the encouragement!

  2. Marcie says:

    Adrienne, you spoke to me with “Use Everything You Know.” I’m working on this now. Writing is my gift, passion and purpose; however, I also love photography and scrapbooking. I scrapbooked (is this a word) a gift for a friend, and after she expressed her gratitude, she said, “This is one of your income streams,” quoting Suzi Orman. That blessed my spirit and so did this message. Thank you.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      That’s great, Marcie. We all know and can do so much more than we think. Sometimes we need others to remind us.

  3. williamparker.parker says:

    This is all really good heartfelt stuff …but y,know aside from a great comedian etc. , for me a telling thing was that Steve Martin put together a personal collection of art – notably a GREAT collection of Franz Kline paintings – for his own / family enjoyment/fulfillment/soul ….and had it all just around the house…lived with it … I mean, i would say this as an artist myself….but when somebody ‘gets’ it….because ofcourse, despite the price tags endowed by ‘the market’ …..art is priceless, because it is worthless – it only has worth and meaning bestowed by the artist/beholder – …anyway, i digress…great post

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      William, have you read his book, “An Object of Beauty”? His love of art really shows in that book. I think you’d enjoy it.

  4. Donna Barker says:

    This post reminded me of one of my favourite quotes related to the subject of having to work hard to achieve success – and not quit during the often long process.

    It’s by Steven Furtick: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

    Thanks for sharing some of Steve Martin’s behind-the-scene anecdotes.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I love that quote too. Probably because I need to remind myself of it all the time!

  5. There is nothing “wild and crazy” about the information and guidance in your post, Adrienne. Superb juxtaposition between Martin’s story; your learning points; and their relationship with our businesses. I have said to many people: Life is not about retiring. It is about constantly aspiring. Your 6 lessons give us all specific direction for pursuing our aspirations. Thank you.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thank you, Gary! So true. I’ve lived most of my life in Southwest Florida around a lot of “retirees”. So many people I know start second careers or businesses just because they get to retirement and realize they love new challenges.

  6. What a fantastic post! One that hit very close to home. I’m looking into building myself a new career and as I flip through other individuals doing thing similar to what I want to do, I think… I’ll never get there! How could that success be mine.

    Now, I have the motivation to go out there and find that success for myself!!

  7. Sibilant says:

    I think #3 resonated with me the most. As I work on my novel and read about the craft, there is a lot of debate on experimentation vs. writing to please an audience.

    I like that this post encouraged being creative and experimental, but also accepting feedback. It’s a difficult balance for all of us, but I think especially artists of any ilk.

    Thank you for a really great post!

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thank you Sibilant! Anybody who is moving forward on their novel is to be commended in my book!

  8. Rohi Shetty says:

    Hi Adrienne,
    Thanks for this wonderful post. My absolute favorite Steve Martin movie is ‘The Man With Two Brains.’
    I’ve added ‘Born Standing Up’ to my reading list.
    The biggest lesson for me, in addition to the great ones you have listed, is the importance of having a sense of humor.
    As Habib Bourguiba says, “Happy is the person who can laugh at himself. He’ll never cease to be amused.” 🙂

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Rohi–so true! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in how serious we all are about our businesses, but sometimes you’ve gotta step back and laugh about it all.

  9. Great post. I agree that many people that never succeed think too highly of talent and those that succeed care little about talent.
    I also like the point of letting go of successes. We see successful people moving on to new things. Some might say “what’s wrong with you, why don’t you stick to your success?” Life is about trying new things.

  10. Carolynne says:

    Hi Adrienne,
    I needed this reminder today! I am testing my voice and strategies to find my place in a crowded marketplace. Finding that unique stage!

    #4 Make Precision a Goal ~hit the mark as I am doing some tweaking on my sight right now. Feeling a bit overwhelmed but moving forward with each step.

    Thanks for the much need reminder.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Carolynne,
      I think it’s important to remember that it’s a goal that we’re always working towards. It’s overwhelming for everyone. But the more we work on it the closer we get!

    1. Kathryn Goldman ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I read that article over the weekend. Authors who are mad at him are those who have contracted their power away to traditional publishing companies. Now all they can do is buy ads in the NYT.

      I’d love to be invited to that party, though. I can keep a secret.

      1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        I know! That was my first thought–if they don’t want to go, I’ll go. I’ll be so quiet you won’t even know I’m there.

  11. Denise Segler says:

    Thanks for the article! I’ve a blog but I’m currently having trouble discovering what I want my niche to be for my business. It’s certainly frustrating because I have a few directions I’d like to go.

    When I feel like like something’s too hard, I remind myself that if it was easy everyone would do it. We’d all be successful authors, musicians, or businesspeople. At that point we’d probably still be looking for something different and more difficult to do just to stand out. If you want it, there’s nothing else to do but work for it.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Sometimes it’s so hard to make decisions. I know I like to over think everything, but in the end, I find out by just experimenting. That’s one of the things I really loved about Steve Martin he experimented all the time–in front of crowds of people!

  12. Adrienne,

    Not everyone has a natural talent, even those who do need to work hard for success.

    I particularly like this phrase, “If you decide to be innovative, you also must accept that you’ll be misunderstood.” The Jeff Bezos mantra.

    Kathryn

  13. Jane Muldrow says:

    I really loved this article. A very interesting read. The article was engaging from beginning to end. Love me some Steve Martin. Thank you for writing to and for us!

  14. Steve Szubert says:

    We need to be responsive to feedback (#2), but not too responsive. I like how #3 encourages us to stick with our innovations and experiments until people do “get” what we are offering. And I’m looking forward to following through to #5 when I can let go because it has worked (not because people said it wouln’t).

    Great article. Thank you.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Steve, You’re so right. It’s a balancing act. But when you really believe something is good for people, you have to balance how you can get it to them without destroying it’s value. It’s tough, but worth it.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks Mark. I found his perseverance so inspiring. I’m excited to get to pass the inspiration along.

  15. Elke Feuer says:

    Great post with a lot of great advice! I try to remember not to give up. People see overnight success and get discouraged, but what they don’t realize it what that person did to get there and how long they were at it.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Elke,
      I try to remember the same thing every day! What I’m realizing more and more is some people have quick overnight success, but it doesn’t always last. The people with long-term careers seem to have had long climbs to the top, as well.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks for the article, Linda. It’s easy to think you either can or can’t do something. For doctor’s that line must feel even more real, but in truth most things worth doing in life take practice.

  16. Marcy McKay says:

    LOVE this, Adrienne. I remember roller-skating and skating all the words to Steve Martin’s “King Tut” in 7th grade. The reminder I needed was PERSEVERANCE. I’ve read and adored both of his novels, but I’m so glad to hear his backstory. Thank you for this post. I needed it today.

    1. Adrienne Andreae ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks Marcy! It’s funny, as I read about his life I realized how many Steve Martin memories I have. (The Three Amigos was my favorite movie as a kid.) It’s amazing to think of all he went through to start his career. And then, instead of resting on his fame and wealth, he decided to challenge himself to become an actor and novelist!

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