Pop Culture

How to get rich from your ‘Big Idea’

Donny Deutsch's CNBC show "The Big Idea" has put the spotlight on the ordinary moment and the people who have the courage and stamina to make their dreams come true. Now, in his book, "The Big Idea," Deutsch takes what he's learned from his own life experience and from the experiences of his guests to help guide you to creating your own enterprise. An excerpt.

Calling all dreamers

  • A carpenter gets tired of almost losing a finger whenever he slices a bagel. Bam! Bagel Guillotine.
  • A homemaker is frustrated that her pantry is full of stale food because the packages don’t stay closed. Bam! Quick Seals.
  • A woman is annoyed that her bra strap keeps slipping. Bam! Strap Tamers.
  • A nutrition-conscious couple wants frozen foods that aren’t junk. Bam! Amy’s Kitchen.
  • A mother is worn out from chasing down runny-nosed kids. Bam! Boogie Wipes.
  • A stylish lady is fed up with visible panty lines. Bam! Spanx.

Big ideas are all around us. Every day I meet people who have come up with innovations that nobody ever thought of before. In each case, the idea grew out of a need, something that was missing, a frustration, the desire to make life a little easier, a little better. These are slap-yourself-on-the-side-of-the head, obvious ideas. But it took people with the desire and motivation to see them through.

If you’re sitting on a big idea right now — an idea that could make you millions — it’s time to get moving. Don’t let anything stop you. Don’t let anyone dismiss your idea and tell you that your dream won’t work. When in doubt, do.

The American dream is within your reach. I’ve literally seen it happen hundreds of times. The people who turn their big ideas into millions come from every conceivable background. They’re middle-class moms, factory workers, college kids, veterans, people with disabilities, office workers, retirees, everyone and anyone. Ordinary people — some faced with enormous obstacles — are stepping up and achieving extraordinary goals.

They share one thing in common. They were passionate about their ideas — so passionate that when the naysayers piled on, they kept shrugging them off, believing they could achieve their desires ... and they did. They acted on their beliefs. And their achievements represent a revolution that’s sweeping across our nation, changing the way business is done.

News flash: We no longer live in a top-down world. We live in an age of individual empowerment. The business culture has undergone the most radical transformation since the Industrial Revolution. Turning individual dreams into reality is much more possible than ever before. The smart ones are those who figure out how to get a piece of the action.

Forget the old excuses. Drop the Us vs. Them mentality. You don’t need a corporation to make it. You don’t need your own factory to produce a product. You don’t even need an office. From your home, you can build your own Web site, do your own research, create an electronic sales force, join a community of like-minded people, and sell your product.

Dreaming is the new reality, and The Big Idea is the ultimate reality show. My guests are the embodiment of everything that’s wonderful and hopeful about who we are as a culture in the twenty-first century. They didn’t make it because they were born into the lucky sperm club, or were the best-looking folks in the room, or even were especially talented. These are people who through human drive and passion — and yeah, sometimes a little luck — found their way to the mountaintop.

There are many different roads to success. But I have to say, on a personal level, there’s nothing I enjoy more than coming across someone who was a screwup as a kid and is now making it.

Love is the answer
If I’ve asked two thousand people, “What’s the secret to your success?” almost every answer is identical: “Do what you love.” You have to be passionate about it. I’ll take it a step further: No matter what you do, if you’re not passionate about it, find something else.

I have never met a truly successful person who was not fired up about their work. Take a look at the icons in business today — the Donald Trumps, the Rupert Murdochs — and you’ll see the gleam in their eyes. These guys have so much money, they don’t have to work another minute of their lives. They work because it turns them on. You want to know who’s doing well? Notice the people with the big shit-eating grins on their faces.

There are a lot of ways to measure success. Money is one way. But the key is love. Most of our waking hours are spent working, and if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to be happy day-to-day.

Here’s a clue: When Sunday night feels as great as Friday night, you’re doing what you love. I still remember when I worked at Ogilvy & Mather, Friday night was the peak of my week. My real life, my happiness, my pleasure all happened on the weekend. By Sunday night I was winding down, feeling tense, gearing up for a five-day grind.

To this day I can recall how dramatically that changed once I really got engaged in my dad’s agency. Sunday nights were as good as Friday nights. No, they were better. I couldn’t wait to get to work. My work was my play. It was fun for me. And that’s when I started getting successful. So, if Sunday night is your Friday night, you’re in the right place.

Our business tradition in this country is pretty stoic. As a society we still have trouble with the idea that happiness is consistent with success. That “no pain, no gain” philosophy has stuck to us like glue. The rubric is to work hard for forty years, then retire and enjoy yourself. What a messed-up plan! There are plenty of retirees on golf courses asking themselves, “Is that all there is?”

When people get it that work can be fun, it’s a huge revelation. I see a lot of transformation on my show. I hear the wildest stories. Only they’re not so wild when you see the results. I had a guy, Nathan Sawaya, a big corporate lawyer earning in the high six figures. One day he chucked it all to become a thirteen-dollar-an- hour LEGOs builder at LEGOLAND. It turns out that from the time he was four he loved LEGOs. I mean, passionately loved them. In college, he had LEGOs under the bed in his dorm. So, now he decided to go back to his first love. You can imagine what his family and friends thought of that idea! Think of the conversation: “Honey, I’m going to leave my corporate job and build LEGOs for a living.” But here’s the punch line. Today Nathan is one of the premiere LEGO artists in the world. He earns thousands of dollars for his original works of art. And why not? Nathan’s creations convey emotion, subtlety, and humor—all through this unexpected medium that most people would consider child’s play. He’s a happy guy.

Nathan hit on a very important secret to success. When people ask me how to go about finding their passion, I use Nathan as an example. Go back to your childhood, which was the purest time in your life. What did you love? What were your hobbies? We tend to divide our lives into work and play. Look at the play. I guarantee you’ll find an insight into what makes you happy today.

In fact, that’s how I got into television, The Big Idea ... and now this book!

In 2000, I sold our agency to an international holding company, Interpublic, for around three hundred million dollars. I was still the CEO, but I was less involved. By this point in my life, I knew myself pretty well, and I saw that the agency was no longer capturing my heart and soul as completely as it once had. I’d been doing this for too long. I’d walk into a meeting and figure out in the first five seconds what was going to happen. I loved the business, but the sense of great challenges was no longer there for me. I was feeling restless, not engaged one hundred percent. I knew what that meant. As is my nature, I started scouting around, looking for a new mountain to climb. I found it at CNBC.

Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. CNBC had always called on me over the years for commentary and opinions on marketing-related topics for their business shows. Whenever they wanted “the ad guy” they came to me, and I always enjoyed it. My agency was featured on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, and that got a lot of attention. After I substituted as a host on Kudlow & Cramer, I said to myself, “Why not pitch an idea for a show?”

I’d noticed that every time I did TV I got a rush. I was pumped. The folks at CNBC noticed it, too. It didn’t matter that I had no real experience in television. This time I had enough business experience under my belt that I was confident I could add value.

I thought, “Why NOT me?” When I have met the most successful people, almost without exception they have that “Why NOT me?” sense of entitlement. You could line up thousands of other people with the same skills, but they have that extra bit of “Screw it, I should be doing it.” And that was my attitude.

It wasn’t easy, and it was a big emotional risk. Obviously, by that point I wasn’t going to the poorhouse if it didn’t work, but there was no guarantee that I could make it in TV. In fact, history proved that the odds would be against me. Only a small percentage of new talk shows make it. The first couple of years were tough. We had the name, The Big Idea, but we weren’t paying homage to it. It was basically an interview show, and, to be honest, I found it a little boring. We kept experimenting, and CNBC, led by its dynamic president, Mark Hoffman, gave us support, patience, and room to grow and change. And we finally found our big idea in the lives of remarkable people — not just celebrities, but ordinary folks who transformed themselves with guts and passion. Within a year we went from one night a week to five nights. Over time, we got the right formula, and today The Big Idea has become a real winner.

Once again, I had found an arena where my ten-mouth was a plus. And once again, I love my work. A friend recently tagged the show “Inspirational entertainment.” He hit the nail on the head. And I think I’m the guy who is most inspired by the people who come on my show. I really feel like a kid in a candy store.

How do you find what you love? It’s got to start at the gut level.

Listen to the little voice
Trusting your gut is a win-win situation. You might think, “What does my gut know?” A lot. That nagging little voice inside is telling you what you truly know, think, and believe. Hey, you could be wrong, but it’s real. It’s you. Listen to it. Take advantage of it.

You already know this is true in life. You probably trust your gut a hundred times a day and don’t even realize it. From the moment you roll out of bed and start preparing for the day, you’re bombarded by choices. Some just feel right. You wouldn’t be able to dress yourself if you didn’t trust your gut. And of course, we put a lot of store in the concept of chemistry when choosing a mate or a business partner. What is chemistry but a deep response from the gut?

This same gut-sense is important in business, too. Yet so many people ignore the inner voice and end up trudging through their professional lives feeling unfulfilled. Instead of tuning in to their hearts, they follow the cacophony of the chorus about what they’re supposed to be doing, or what is most prestigious, or what is the safest path. Well, I have news for you. Prestigious jobs can be boring and soul-deadening. And the safest, most conventional route doesn’t guarantee success, much less joy.

I had a great woman on the show named Taryn Rose. She is a gutsy lady who listened to her heart and won. Taryn was a self-described “good Vietnamese girl” who always did what her parents wanted. And what they wanted most was for their daughter to become a doctor, so she obediently went to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. She was a good one, too. The only problem was that she hated it. “It seemed like death,” she told me. “I could see myself for the rest of my life doing the same ten procedures.” She took a good look at her life and asked the critical question, “If I don’t love what I’m doing now, when do I think I will?”

Taryn’s head and a lifetime of conditioning was telling her one thing. Her gut was telling her another. If she listened to her gut, she’d be going against everything she’d ever been taught.

So she took a big leap because she didn’t want to be sixty and say, “I wish I’d done that.”

Taryn’s big idea grew organically out of her practice. Her patients had foot pain, and that meant having to wear those ugly orthopedic shoes that made them feel old and unsexy. She often heard from patients that they’d rather suffer than look like their grandmothers. It bothered her that there wasn’t a hot, luxury shoe that was both comfortable and sexy. So she invented one.

Going from being an orthopedic surgeon to a shoe designer was a pretty big leap of faith, and it was definitely not a “good girl” move. Her parents didn’t speak to her for a year. There were many dark moments. But today Taryn Rose shoes are sold in every high-end department store internationally, and Taryn has five locations.

How did she know to trust her gut on such a major life change? Here’s Taryn’s litmus test: “If you can imagine yourself in the future looking back and feeling sad that you didn’t go for it, that’s how you know.”

By nature, anything new comes from the soul. The day you stop listening to your inner voice, the dream dies.

An act of life
On The Big Idea, we celebrate people who have the courage and stamina to make their dreams come true. But in every case, the road to success starts with an idea.

Some people think a big idea is like a lightning bolt out of the blue that slams you in the head. You know, that “Aha!” thing. But it’s hardly ever like that. The big idea isn’t an act of God. It’s an act of daily life. Simply put, the idea that will make millions starts with an observation. It comes down to a keen awareness of your life and the lives around you. It’s the moment when you say, “There’s gotta be a better way.” It’s the moment when you ask, “How can I solve this problem?” It’s the moment when you see something and think, “Huh, maybe that will work in my neighborhood.” The real big ideas are organic. They come from life.

Look around. What are the most successful companies today — the big ideas people really admire? How did they get started? With an observation. Starbucks originated after Howard Schultz noticed on a trip to Italy that there were coffee bars on almost every corner. He loved the quality of the brew, but what really caught his attention was the feeling of a public living room. He asked the question: “Why couldn’t that work at home?”

Federal Express was started by a regular guy named Fred Smith who saw the potential for an overnight delivery service. He wrote a college term paper about how it could transform the business world. “I probably got my usual C on that paper,” he said. But today FedEx is a twenty-seven-billion-dollar company.

Whole Foods originated as a health food store in John Mackey’s garage in Austin, Texas. He saw a need for fresh, healthy foods that wasn’t being met. Today it’s the largest retailer of natural and organic foods in the country.

In each case, a need was not being met. A problem had to be solved. And these innovators stepped up to the plate and took action. None of them had a barrel of cash. None of them had a ton of experience. They started with a moment of awareness and followed it through.

Awareness is the ignition. Motivation is the accelerator. That’s when you say, “Where am I going to go with it? What action am I going to take?” No action, no story.

Most people who don’t get their ideas into being are stuck at the point of motivation. It’s easy to say, “I have an idea.” Everybody’s got an idea. But you have to do something to put faith into action.

Usually it’s a matter of taking baby steps. It could mean walking into a store and looking around. Or going to a trade show. Or drawing a picture of your idea. Or asking five friends to try it.

Every action moves you one notch further. The impediments are fear and negativity:

“I don’t know how ...”

“It’s not that good ...”

“I’ve never made anything before ...”

“I’m too busy ...”

“I don’t have the money ...”

“If it was such a good idea, someone else would have done it ...”

And on and on. There are endless reasons not to do it. Anyone can whip themselves into a frenzy of fear. That’s easier than rolling over and going to sleep. It’s those who respond to the wake-up call that make it.

What’s inspirational about our show is that viewers see people they can identify with who put one foot in front of another, and didn’t let their inner voice of doubt win. These are people who believed in themselves and forged ahead, even when one hundred people said no. I like the way one of my guests put it: “When someone says no, I don’t hear no. I hear not that way.”

Excerpted from "The Big Idea" by Donny Deutsch. Copyright (c) 2009 by Donny Deutsch Publications, LLC. Reprinted with permission from Hyperion Books.

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