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The 6 Skills That Make Creators Successful

What do you bring into existence each day?

American Express Tumblr/Ogilvy & Mather, used with permission
Source: American Express Tumblr/Ogilvy & Mather, used with permission

One of the most amazing (and sometimes frustrating) aspects of being an entrepreneur is that I get to create something from nothing on a near-daily basis. I write articles, design programs, and put information out into the world. I recently presented to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization about staying resilient at work and building resilient families. Amy Wilkinson, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, was one of the keynotes. She spent five years interviewing successful creators/entrepreneurs who had built multi-million dollar companies in a short period of time and discovered specific traits that these creators utilized. She defines a creator as, “a person or a thing that brings something into existence.”

As it turns out, it’s less about luck and more about this blend of characteristics that vault creators to the higher levels of success. Not everyone will grow a $100 million dollar business, but whether your creating takes the form of writing, engineering a new medical procedure, making music, or designing buildings, building these six traits can help:

Find the Gap. Wilkinson discovered that creators are very inquisitive. The older we get the fewer questions we ask. She mentioned that the average five-year-old asks around 100 questions a day, while the average 40-year-old asks only three to five. By asking questions, creators see the problems or gaps and then do something to solve that problem or fill that gap.

Drive for Daylight. Successful creators spend more time focused forward in their thinking (“to go” thinking) rather than reflecting on what they’ve already done (“to date” thinking). For example, if to go thinkers have a goal of losing 30 pounds and they’ve lost 20, they focus on the 10 pounds they have left to lose, while to date thinkers would pat themselves on the back for losing the first 20. According to Wilkinson, to date thinking is more likely to stall or slow down your progress.

Fly the OODA Loop. This acronym represents a decision cycle that was first developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd and stands for observe, orient, decide and act. His theory was that if you could perform these four steps faster than your competitor, you could change the dynamics of a battle. Successful creators continuously update their assumptions and are easily able to move from one decision to the next.

Fail Wisely. Creators are resilient and see incremental failures as a way of avoiding catastrophic mistakes. According to Wilkinson, while creators are testing out an idea, they set a failure ratio — small bets to test ideas, building in room for a number of wrong attempts. The creators that she spoke to quickly moved away from theories and models that were either outdated or didn’t work.

Network Minds. Creators are good at getting different types of brainpower together to solve problems. They want cognitive diversity and tend to collaborate with unlikely groups of people. An example of “network minds” is a flash team. Like a flash mob, flash teams come together quickly to solve a problem, go to work, and then disband. Flash teams must have a specific dynamic, work well together, and work productively.

Gift Small Goods. The last distinguishing characteristic of successful creators is that they pass along small acts of kindness or favors to others. This could be as simple as critiquing a proposal or forwarding a resume along to a connection. For creators, caring about customers, partners, and colleagues is as important as seeing a big idea come to fruition. According to Wilkinson, “exchanges of generosity create a multiplier effect of three to five times the magnitude of the initial contribution.”

According to Wilkinson, successful creators need all six of these skills, but they are all teachable and learnable. We each possess the ability to turn our ideas into enterprises that last.


For more information about building stress resilience, please visit You can also download my e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention, here.

American Express Tumblr/Ogilvy & Mather
Source: American Express Tumblr/Ogilvy & Mather


Wilkinson, A. (2015). The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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