When I was ten years old my mom dropped me off at a rich widow’s mansion to take oil painting lessons in her basement. I learned to paint Bob Ross style scenics with oil and acrylic paint, a ritual that I despised. This was all part of my mom’s master plan, one that was very different from my peers. She encouraged me to study art through my childhood telling me that it is good to nourish the creative part of your brain. Boy was she right.
Those childhood art lessons are a key part of my success as an entrepreneur. In a practical sense they help me explain problems to my colleagues. I can get them on board and thinking about a solution faster because I can quickly represent the problem visually. Startups by nature solve difficult problems and the sooner you are working on a solution the faster you can validate it and get it to market.
As a product manager I used stick figures to represent various use cases. I called them product comics because they had a layout that looked a lot like a comic strip. Those drawings became very popular with my peers in the various companies that I worked for. They not only established a clear definition of the problem we were solving and the solution but they also created an emotional connection.
One strategy commonly used in sales is trying to sympathize with the problem that your customer is experiencing. Once the customer believes you have a good understanding of their problem then they tend to relate better to your solution. It is an emotional connection that you create for them between what they experience and how you can make it better.
Product comics are just once example of how art can help create that connection. Those comics made it a lot easier for me to establish that connection but on a larger scale — often with the entire company.
Unlocking your brain
Reflecting on all of it I think my mom was on to something. She often talked about the left and right side of your brain. She said you should develop both sides — a yin and yang balance in order to get the most out of life. I took art lessons, studied art in school and developed hobbies that encouraged creativity. That was her focus.
All of those activities unlocked the creative side of my brain. It allowed me to take a complicated problem and visualize the solution. I can wrap my head around very large processes in the way a chess grandmaster thinks through several moves ahead in a game.
As a kid my favorite classes were the mechanical drawing and architectural drawing classes. I’d use technical pencils, rulers, t-squares, and compasses to draw fantastic futuristic buildings. My imagination was free to explore without limitation. My brain was comfortable thinking outside the box.
This is the key. Every successful startup starts with a vision. What is the world going to look like in a year from now? Two years from now? How will this problem be solved then? Predicting the future is how you develop a win in the startup game. Know where the market will be in a year and be there first to be there.
My mom’s persistence in studying art as a child has served me well through out my career. I think it is a prerequisite for becoming a successful startup founder and I’ve incorporated the same focus on creativity for my own children. Combine that creativity with technical know how and the sky is the limit. Thanks mom!
Originally published at www.joshkerr.com on August 13, 2014.