By Communication and Program Director, Jennifer Bennet, Ed.D

Initially, our knee jerk reaction is to think that artists and entrepreneurs are completely different and complete opposites. But as you begin to examine the characteristics, traits and mindsets of both, you will soon find that they are more alike than different.

I recently came across the story of Bette Nesmith Graham, the inventor of Liquid Paper. As I read her story, I couldn’t help but to see the commonalities between artists and entrepreneurs.

Facing divorce in 1924, Graham realized that she had to “shelf her ambitions to become an artist” in order to provide for herself and her son. So, she accepted the position of secretary for W.W. Overton, chairman of Texas Bank and Trust. Little did she know that this position would allow her to implement her artistic skills. And it was this position, that allowed her to move forward as an “artpreneur.”

Her story gives us a glimpse into the five common traits of successful artists and entrepreneurs:

They spot an opportunity: As a secretary in the 1920’s, Graham’s position required typing and lots of it. And as you can imagine, she made lots of mistakes too (she admitted to not being a great typist). It was through her work that she spotted an opportunity to fix the typing mistakes that she encountered on a daily basis. “An artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error,” Graham explained. It was in this moment that she realized there was an opportunity to do something different.

They think outside the box: Entrepreneurs are known to think outside the box. It’s this thinking that allows them to create something that not only solves a problem, but also benefits the lives of others. And this is exactly what Graham did. She came up with a solution for a problem she had, and soon realized that many others had this exact same problem too. Her artistic mind allowed her to see an opportunity and then allowed her to move forward with a solution that didn’t require erasing, but rather, “painting over the error.”

They lead with creativity:  Graham used what artists use to help her “manage” her typing mistakes at work. “I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office.” And when she realized she had a market for this, she tweaked her formula until it was just right. Her artistic creativity allowed her to create a product that has impacted the lives of millions.

They embrace the challenge: Instead of sitting back and doing nothing, Graham embraced the challenge of finding a “fix” for the “smudged pages” she encountered on a daily basis. Artists and entrepreneurs share this characteristic. A challenge doesn’t scare them, instead, it fuels them. They embrace challenges and are not satisfied with the status quo.

They are resilient: Despite the fact that in 1957 “IBM turned down her offer to market the product,” she kept going. It wasn’t until 1979 that Gillette bought her brand—22-years later! Both artists and entrepreneurs are resilient and can withstand and recover quickly from setbacks. Difficulty doesn’t deter them. Both artists and entrepreneurs know that things always take longer than expected. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel, da Vinci three years to paint the Last Supper, and it took Thomas Edison at least 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he found the right “formula” for the light bulb. Both artists and entrepreneurs know that with each attempt they are learning something new. Artists and entrepreneurs alike know how to keep moving forward.

As one delves into the stories of both artists and entrepreneurs, one will soon realize that there are more similarities than differences. The story of Bette Nesmith Graham shows us that these two worlds can come together beautifully.

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