The Autotelic Business
"What kind of Internet business should I start?" I was recently asked by a friend.
"I didn't know you were thinking of the Internet. I thought you really weren't too big into technology," I replied.
"I'm not. But it seems everyone else is building an Internet business. I'm starting to feel left out at cocktail party discussions. I feel I should build one."
"Build an autotelic business," I said.
"I like it. Telecommunications for people driving around in their cars. Compete with the cell phones. Except over the Internet. I was reading about how people are using the Internet to talk to each other long distance and save money. I think you are on to something."
"Exactly. No. I mean watch."
I ran into my room and returned with my number seven golf iron and a golf ball.
I tossed the golf ball up and bounced it off the club. It immediately hit the edge of the club and bounced off at a sharp angle and landed on the floor.
"OK, watch again."
I tossed the ball up and bounced it off the head of the club. It went straight up and when it came down, I hit it again. It went back up. I kept bouncing the ball off the club 16 times before it fell to the floor.
"Pretty cool, huh?" I asked. "I can even do 25."
A friend had shown me this when we were out playing a round of golf. He said he saw Tiger Woods do this repeatedly on a commercial. Friends can be a tremendous waste of time. I enjoyed the golf, but became obsessed with this silly little trick of bouncing the ball off the club. It took quite a bit of time to master it.
But there I was spending time tossing up this silly ball up and practicing bouncing it off the club. A skill that had absolutely no value to anyone other than myself. I have always been susceptible to this kind of thing.
Years ago, when at a Twins game, I saw Bo Jackson, catch a fly ball behind his back at the warning track during pregame warm up. I knew this was for me and practiced repeatedly until I could do it with some regularity. Never mind that I occasionally had baseballs bouncing off my head. And, I'm the sort who avoids pain at any cost. And, I don't even play baseball or even softball.
"See. Do you see why I'm doing this?"
"I haven't a clue."
"You never read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have you?"
"OK. Then, I'll explain it. You see, bouncing this ball and keeping it in the air takes my full concentration. I'm not thinking of anything else when I'm doing it. Just trying to keep the ball in the air. I'm absorbed in the experience and that makes it fun. It becomes what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls an autotelic experience. Something that demands your entire concentration. Something you do just for the sake of doing it. You lose self-consciousness."
When you build a business, find something you love to do. That way, if the going gets tough, you will be able to stay with it. You will stay with it, because you enjoy it. It will be an autotelic business that you run for the joy of running it. It won't be the possible money or the prestige you are after. It will be far more personally meaningful.
If you choose to build a trendy business, because it seems everyone else is, then will you have the real passion to keep going two or three or five years down the road? I'm guessing not. Don't set yourself up for failure by going in with the wrong motivation.
"But, about the cocktail parties. I can show you some really nifty tricks to entertain and amuse people. Of course, you will need to bring a seven iron and some golf balls."