Ryan Foland
Apr 20, 2016 · 7 min read

It was a hot day in the fall of 1999, and as an undeclared freshman at California State University Santa Barbara, my skateboard and I finally found my first class, something called DA1. Orientation was stressful so I made the easy decision, and let my parents choose my first full course schedule.

It’s like when I go to the restaurant I don’t like to order because I prefer to have someone else order for me. I like all kinds of food, and I enjoy the surprise.

So to my pleasant surprise, DA stood for dramatic art. Understand that up until that point, I really don’t think I understood the definition of theater. I had heard of theater, gone to see plays, but never referred to it as dramatic art.

It was like the food that I had ordered for me had an unfamiliar smell. As I looked around the 400 person classroom that doubled as a feeder, I questioned my initial decision of having my parents pick my classes.

To settle my nerves, I sat down next to a cute girl, and figured I could just go along for the ride. Towards the end of class, the professor mentioned that we could get extra credit if we showed up for an audition.

Without really knowing the details about auditioning, I gleefully asked the girl next to me if she was planning to attend. She answered with an “Of course. Are you?” I nodded the affirmative, but had no idea what I had done.

Later, my skateboard and I showed up to the designated location for this audition thing. There were a bunch of people, but I couldn’t find my new friend anywhere. I stood in an unassuming spot, hoping she would show up. A voice startled me, calling out my name.

A spark of energy ran through me, only to be disappointed when the voice came not from my new friend, but from an official looking upperclassman, who peered in my direction through thick black rimmed glasses, with a clipboard in hand and waved me over to join her.

As I approached, she handed me two pieces of stapled paper. Without a word, she pointed me in the direction of a single chair in the middle of a large bright lit room, with four people who also held clipboards, looking at me with tired eyes.

I sat on the chair, looked to the pages in front of me, and started to read out loud. To my shock, embarrassment, and confusion, everyone in the room started laughing at me. I’ll never forget that moment: unsure of what to do, I quickly decided to run out of the room and skateboard back to my dorm as fast as possible.

This humiliating event changed the course of my college career. Apparently, I had read the papers in a humorous manner. The group was called the Sherwood Players, and they cast me for a role in what turned out to be the first of many plays, theater productions, and film projects.

My undeclared status changed to business economics and dramatic art. My majors provided a unique experience to see, live, and operate in two completely different worlds. Over the years, as I pursued both entrepreneurial and artistic adventures, I found that there is a lot of drama in business, and business in drama.

In college, I learned to become an actor, and found passion in art. After college, I learned to be a producer, and found passion as an entrepreneur.

My unique perspective has given me insight to things that both entrepreneurs and artists know. It is also given me insight to things that entrepreneurs do which artists should know, and things that artists do which entrepreneurs should know.

Artists already have most of the skills. So lazy artists can become entrepreneurs with just a few small tweaks. To give you just a taste of what the artist can learn from the entrepreneur, here are three things you might not know as an artist if you don’t consider yourself an entrepreneur.

1) The power of asking questions

Stories are the most powerful things in this world (besides love). Questions about aforementioned stories are the second most powerful things. Actors, whom I will refer to as artists, are very familiar with telling stories. They help to create a larger vision that translates to their audience. Entrepreneurs understand stories when sharing their ideas through marketing efforts to communicate their branding to potential customers.

The more you talk, the less people listen; the less you talk, the more people ask questions.

What artists can learn from entrepreneurs is the power of asking questions to fully understand the creation of stories. During the process of rehearsal, directors often tell actors to ask questions about their characters, about their intention, about big and little elements that will help them to portray a specific character.

Entrepreneurs are trained to ask questions to their potential customers, to find out their wants, needs, passions, fears. Referred to as market validation, this process works as part of a lien business model to create products and services with customers in mind.

Artists should understand the value of asking questions not only about themselves, but also about other characters they’re interacting with, and hypothetically about other people who have a valuable perspective. Artists often try to communicate certain visions, but sometimes it’s difficult to picture yourself when you’re in the frame.

Whether an entrepreneur or an artist, make sure you take serious heed to those people who see your work. Creating a brand and creating a character can be very similar in nature, so don’t forget to ask questions of your audience during the entire creative process.

2) What is more valuable than money?

Time is more valuable than money, because it’s shared among all of us and it’s limited. Time remains as one of the biggest challenges that tech startups face. Not only are they trying to make a new technology that’s 10 times better than anything on the market, and trying to capture their target market, but there are most likely a handful of others running in the same direction after the same market with similar technologies.

One of an entrepreneur’s greatest assets is the sense of urgency, and strategic respect for time, and actors can take much from this mindset. Artists are often self-guided, self-controlled, and self-motivated to keep up with the hustle of auditions and creation of content. Many entrepreneurs run at a breakneck pace, and can make incredible progress within a short amount of time. In order to do so, there are specific tactics involved:

Successful entrepreneurs set goals with specific time frames.

A goal without a time-frame takes longer than you think. Successful entrepreneurs set multiple short-term goals, also known as benchmarks, to track progress through incremental growth. When was the last time you identified, wrote down, and checked in on your goals as an artist?

Happy entrepreneurs invest time to maintain a work life balance.

Entrepreneurs who don’t take time to maintain their relationships outside of work often burnout, burn bridges, and breakdown. Give yourself the best chance to be successful by allocating time to relax and enjoy life outside of work.

Healthy entrepreneurs make time to work out.

If you haven’t worked out in the last three days, you need to work out in the next three days! In order have energy needed to operate as an entrepreneur, fighting through challenges and obstacles all day, you have to be physically and mentally fit.

As an artist, you may work out to achieve a certain physique for certain roles, but I challenge you to keep regular exercise as part of your routine not just for looks, but for the way it makes you feel. And if you’re not into working out, then go take a yoga class. There are many different ways to empower your body and your mind.

3) How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time. That’s right, eat an elephant one bite at a time. Entrepreneurs often face more things to do than their capabilities any given day. When it comes to running a startup, sometimes it’s not the decision you make, but that you actually make a decision. Savvy entrepreneurs understand the importance of first identifying things to accomplish, then prioritizing them.

Finally, they focus on the first task and finish it before moving on. Entrepreneurs often fail when they try to do too much at once and have a hard time completing individual items. Instead, they just “sorta” finish things. This is the “sorta” disorder. As an actor, you accumulate an incredible amount of self-driven tasks to do, all day, every day.

Take a moment, or however long it takes, and create a brain dump of every single task that you think you need to, want to, should get done. Write all the items onto a single piece of paper. Then grab some Post-It notes, transcribe each of the items onto a Post-it note, and spread them all out over the wall. Prioritize the notes, and proceed to work on the errand. The covered wall represents the elephant, and each Post-it note symbolizes a bite. Slowly but surely, you can eat that damn elephant.

What are some other ways that artists can learn from entrepreneurs?

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Ryan Foland

Written by

Keynote speaker | 4X TEDx | Author ✒️ @ditchtheact — Pre-order at getwhat.works/DitchTheAct | If I’m not speaking or brand building, I’m likely sailing ⛵️

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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