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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:

1. 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."

2. 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."

3. 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."

4. 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."

5. 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."

6. 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."

7. 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."

8. 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."

9. 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."

10. 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: As always, I would love your help in co-creating BOLD, and will happily acknowledge you as a "contributing author" for your input. Please share with me (and the community) in the comments below what you specifically found most interesting, what you disagree with and any similar stories or examples that reinforce this blog that I might use as examples in writing BOLD. Thank you!
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22 comments
 
Thanks Peter - this is what I can use for tomorrow's challenge (spreading first-hand news from #SiliconSaxony  as a prototype for future work for Free State of Saxony)
 
Love every single one and could jot a "me too" experience to reinforce each.  I'll be replacing my iphone alarm clock (I swear it's not an excuse; I just rarely need a clock to awaken so keep my bedside table clutter free).  
 
what's missing from her story is how much her success was based on people she partnered with originally --she was not the only brain behind the HP success.  no successful person is doing it alone! 
 
I did not find anything new here, I like her but we have heard the same advise from many others.  would she be where she is if it was not for the fact that she was married to a millionaire, a well connected family?  these are the real stuff that no one is talking about.  

people can follow her tips and still not be able to move much..its the other "stuff" that make the real difference and I hope you can discover that "other stuff"with each person you interview and be able verbalize it.
 
Peter I am so proud for the tradition of the greek spirit you and Arianna hold in your mind. I would be deeply honored to meet you. Congrats on what you are doing both, it has been so inspiring on me becoming an entrepreneur! 
 
Are there really toxic people? Or are they good people trapped in toxic belief structures?

In comparing 5 and 6, it's interesting to note how the use of doubt varies. 5 seems to say listen to doubt, and 6 seems to say silence it.
 
Hi Peter: for starters I want to let you know how much "cariño" you evoke in me. Please receive the whole lot of it from the bottom of my heart. Arriana´s tips are clear and functional. I have found myself using some of them most of my life. Following my own bliss I am doing something very bold as well. On a video with Jim Kwik you summoned people to reinvent education. I have done just that. And please hear me out. This is an announcemente and a declaration. I have poured my 37 years of understanding the brain into the NOESIAN PEDAGOGY ( I am a neuroscientist) and I do need some backing to be able to finish implementing it. Might you please look into this and nudge me a little? I just recently posted a blog (in spanish) about this. Please visit http://neuropedagogizar.blogspot.com  and have google translate it for you. It does a decent job of it. My email just in case labriego@ec-red.com I sincerely need the support. Thanks
 
Hi Peter.  All of these are great.  Two stand-outs which evoked reaction.
Regarding 4.  Nevers never work for me ;)  How do you define toxic people?  As an optimist and realist, if I had to define toxic people, I would generally say pessimists.  Also closely related is 9. True, there are optimists and pessimists and the view determines the direction or approach toward any goal.  

Most of the sufferings I see in the world have come through the influence of this one negative force - pessimism.  Pessimism, too, can have value.  If we call pessimists toxic and discount them, I find we lose a lot of good ideas and input.  

Each of us carries the ability to show our pessimistic side as well as our optimistic side, it is a choice in every moment. And each choice can be judged in each moment.  No one wants to be judged in a bad choice moment as a toxic person.  Each person wants to be viewed and judged by their best choices, which come through trials and experience.  We must see each person for the value they can bring to the table, this is more holistic, realistic and practical, and perhaps most importantly, compassionate.  Thanks for the soapbox.
 
Great info, very encouraging!  Thank you so much :)
 
Practical information.  I especially resonate with items 3 and 8. 
 
Good ten points to revise understanding for better performance for the self & for the organization we are running or working for. Particularly point number 2 & 7 were more meaningful for me. Point 2, because without passion we may not go very far in life & if it is not relevant for the present time then we are not using the power of passion to create better results. Point 7 is related to point 2 itself. Boldness is to pursue your passion despite challenges, failure for creating a big influence & impact  .
 
I like the Arianna thougths!!!  The number 3 and 4 are very complicated, but are very impoooooooooortant!!!!

Peter:
Do you have any kind of guide for creating an organization?
How to evaluate the risk and the future TIR...
How to negociate with your partners...
How to make the business forecast....
Including the business plan...  

As allways thank you!!!
 
Thank you Peter! I have red about and attended a lot of personal growth and business success books and programs and Arianna's ten-points you gathered in this post are all important points! They are worth being incorporated in BOLD.
 
I appreciate how Arianna's first point is to accept failure and learn from it. In many of the entrepreneurship courses I have taken professors have said that an entrepreneur that has three successful start-ups and one failure is seen as more prosperous than an entrepreneur that has 4 successful start-ups. Being able to learn from mistakes, and apply this knowledge to future endeavors is what adds greatness to a good entrepreneur. Awesome advice coming from Huffington, I would be curious to know what some of her mistakes are.
 
 Here is a response I recieved via email from Sabrina Teekah.

I took a class on Gameification from Coursera and was fascinated with how
valuable this tool can be for educational purposed too.

SickKids Pain Squad iPhone App
 
An really inspiring  interview with the admirable lady.
What I like most is the lesson 10 which is not a lesson only for entrepreneurs but for life.
 
Never hold grudges is a good one! She's smart! She in the Zeitgeist!, which is not the hallmark for happiness... of course! As about being Bold, is Fine, as long as you step with care and great Tact! 
 
Another great post.  I heartily concur with #10 Build a tribe that will support you.  Although I have referred to it as fostering and enforcing a supportive culture.  I insist on people sharing ideas, and giving credit.  If I find someone not crediting someone's idea, I provide them with feedback.   I also try to always encourage everyone to go a little further to provide credit to people who share ideas, so that everyone will feel secure in offering up even more ideas.  If you work with a culture of fair people who support each other, you get so much more done than when you all hide your ideas, for fear of having them stolen.

Building a support culture takes effort, but it is worth it.
 
When in doubt it is a no. Thank you for reminding me of this. I always want to figure out a way to make it a yes. That takes away my chance of  finding the yes right away.
 
I belived in spirituality or universal forces that araund all of us, and that is what keeps our mind stable to driving us to renovation , our thinking ability is the main key to renovation, but to empewer the brain is spiritual experince well many forget this thinking that ther is no forces at univers , well that is my personal experince , what ever you are doing if you belived that ther is some one that can her preyers, then you are save, i have  experinced this things when i was about five years, and today i can see my self how i have found positive people to hear informations from them by  their books that i read. i belived that all secret is in the books, reading book is like luking for hiden tresur , but the best way of faund it is meditate on what you are reading, this is what shap Human mind, and I belive that every entrepreneur ,  or must inteligent people on the planat do this , bcs whithaut meditation it miens you we reading without logic . 
 
+Elle Plato Yes you are right in fact its the essence of life Elle without human relationships we are all dead in the water ?
So your credit to others builds them up ...and comes back to you 100 fold

I taught creativity for 30 years and wanted to build a internet startup but had so many ideas ( the result of teaching /research ) I could never decide which idea to progress  ..In the end I came to the obvious solution ..Put ALL the ideas on one platform   ... This edu platform I will be launching in Oct next year .. the brain project I have tested the basic idea on the site     testmyidea.com Now building the   Alpha..Let me know if you have ideas or anyone wants ideas its free .

..I think Peter may be interested to include some of the case histories  .but I can never get contact with him  

 Ian  UK
 
These are all very insightful, very practical. But here's what people don't get (and what Peter might find useful for the book): simply reading these nuggets doesn't get us anywhere, no matter how much we believe in them. The hardest part about learning and living up to Arianna's lessons are integrating them into your daily routine, truly making them a part of your psyche so that when the hard times come (and they will), you are prepared with these weapons. As of today, I am going to summarize her lessons and carry them with me on a tiny piece of paper in my briefcase (or maybe my wallet). When I'm feeling discouraged or depressed, when I am spending too much time dwelling on negative perspectives, when I simply have too many challenges to face at that moment, I will take out these lessons and let them teach me anew.
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