Anyone who starts a keynote by throwing a frisbee to the audience and ends by playing the kazoo probably knows something about playfulness.
Life is Good® co-founders John Jacobs and Steve Gross argue that playfulness is the ultimate trait of a successful entrepreneur. Seeing as they have built an empire based on optimism, it is hard to disagree.
John and his brother Bert sold their first Life is Good t-shirt over 20 years ago. They wanted to create something simple and positive in a world inundated by negative news. Though their brand would eventually spread to all fifty states and thirty countries, the first several years were not easy. Jake and Bert spent many years bootstrapping, driving a used minivan around the East Coast for over six years years trying to sell t-shirts in college dorms. “We were really pathetic,” John said. “We were in our mid to late 20s and meeting people with real jobs.” But this experience taught them a valuable lesson: ‘no’ doesn’t hurt you. “You should try your idea in some format as soon as you can,” he said. “Either you succeed or you learn.”
In 1994, Jake and Bert sold out all their t-shirts featuring the smiling stick-figure, Jake, at Boston’s Central Square street fair. Soon customers began to re-order and the company began to grow. John remembers getting phone calls about Jake. “People asked, does Jake fish? Does he kayak? I told them, give me 2 hours and he will!” As the number of products began to grow, so did the Life is Good® brand. Customers started to send letters explaining that the “Life is Good” message helped them to overcome adversity. John and Bert saw an opportunity to spread their mission of optimism, and the Life is Good Festival was born.
For several years, the festivals supported Project Joy, a non-profit organization Steve Gross founded to help children overcome trauma through the power of play. In 2010, Project Joy teamed up with Life is Good Children’s Foundation, creating the Life is Good Playmakers. Steve Gross argues that play is invaluable to helping children heal from trauma and stress. “It provides the motivation to fully and joyfully engage with, connect with, and explore the world,” he said. In the same way, play can propel an entrepreneur to new levels of success:
1. Playfulness leads to joy. It blurs the line between work and play.
2. Playfulness provides a social connection to a community. It encourages interaction and collaboration with others.
3. Playfulness provides a feeling of internal control. While fear and stress zap energy, playfulness makes you feel safe, worthy, and empowered to create something new.
4. Playfulness helps you to stay engaged. Being present allows you to recognize new possibilities and seize opportunities.
John and Steve stressed that people want to rally around something positive. “Optimism can take you anywhere,” John said. “Focus on the good and it will grow.”