09/08/2011 10:50 am ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

Is Inspiration a Success Metric?

Confessions of a Female Entrepreneur

Is Inspiration A Success Metric?

In economies like these, we have to work smarter. Necessity, being the true mother of invention, drives a lot of true innovation. But is that enough?

I can't help but notice that many of the companies that break out, or "cross the chasm" in Geoffrey Moore's words, are not only innovative, but their employees perceive the work they do as "inspired." Inspired work can be a state of mind that the company espouses, a social purpose, a greater good, or one's raison d'être. This explosive combination of great product and framing perception can be seen in company slogans like Google's "Do No Evil", Apple's "Think Different" or even Zappos' "Emotionally Unprepared." Let's face it -- in a world that seeks to ride the fence, toe the line or play Switzerland, standing for something is sexy. And I'd suggest that this counter culture is what moves employees to the level of zeal required to break the barriers. This goes way beyond a paycheck...

When discussing our media strategy, my advisor, Bill Moore, recently asked me why I started this business. I explained that people who knew I was a lawyer came to me when they had a legal problem. They didn't know or care that I knew nothing about the specific type of case they were experiencing. Having been injured financially or physically, and often unable to work, they just needed help -- and they couldn't pay for it. I was overwhelmed when I realized the magnitude of the problem, so I created a portal enabling them to connect to legal help in a cost effective manner.

I combined personal passion with meeting an unmet market need, and this inspiration continues to move my company forward despite seemingly insurmountable odds. In answer to the subsequent question "What's Plan B?," my answer is, "No idea. I'm not through with Plan A yet." When you're inspired by a higher purpose, you do not need Plan B, nor do those you are trying to help. They need your Plan A.

When you are starting a business, it's not only vital to tap into what has moved you to create your business, but to build a team from those who share your inspiration. This will insure that your team will be there with you through thick and thin. You need your team to succeed, and as a leader, the greatest gift you can give is vision. There's a great talk by Simon Sinek at the TED conference on how great leaders inspire action -- and includes an analysis of why Steve Jobs had such success at Apple.

The intersection of three circles, which he calls "The Golden Circle," revealed the companies that have the greatest chance of succeeding were, yes, you guessed it, those that had, at the heart of their message, a "why" that created connection and excitement. This is the difference between selling a commodity and selling a brand. The underlying product may be no different, but the latter is infused with passion, vision, inspiration, and a higher purpose. This is also what differentiates companies that stand out and stand alone.

So I would urge all entrepreneurs to think about what inspires you to the point that you are willing to drop everything, abandon financial security, and strike out on your own to create your business. In order to help you with this, try answering these three questions:

  1. Why did you create this business?
  2. Whose lives are you improving?
  3. Why should people care about what you do?

When the founder can't articulate the mission to the team, he or she becomes the only person who can promote the business. However, if the founder can convey the core inspiration in a way that inspires team members to connect to that narrative and incorporate their own experiences -- instead of one voice, there will be many.

Innovate, Inspire, Illuminate