Guest post by Makis Levis –  first principles thinker

Everyone knows that entrepreneurs need new ideas!

They are trying to come up with new ideas, create new products and they want to be as creative as possible. But how do you come up with new ideas?

One of my favorite mottos is: “When you really pay attention, everything is your teacher”.

It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can. I’m teaching my two children, Yonatan and Ben, to pay attention cultivating their ability to attend to what others overlook.

Here is my favorite example of someone who paid attention.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book by Michael Lewis, published in 2003, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane. Billy Beane joins forces with Peter Brand, a Yale graduate, to challenge old-school selection methods and reinvent his team using a never-before-used sabermetric (the empirical analysis of baseball) model. There is a movie with the same title too. Billy Beane found success by paying attention to data that others ignored!

Anybody interested in thinking creatively seeks (need) to notice what has been overlooked and ignored by others, to get beyond distractions and attend to the world. But paying attention isn’t easy! As the economist Herb Simon said in 1971 “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. As you can see, the sense that external forces seek to seize our attention isn’t new. Today we contend with the myriad distractions flowing through the pocket-size screens we carry with us everywhere.

Today, the average human attention span is 8 seconds (has fallen from 12 seconds in the year 2000). That’s lower than goldfish!

If you want to be able to pay attention to anything, you need to slow down.

Take a long walk where your only objective should be to better understand your surroundings. For example, go to the city center and walk around, and pay attention how people are always in a rush, how many of them look on their phones while walking, try to pay attention to the non-verbal communication between people and try to guess what they are talking about. Look at the buildings, the roads. Pay attention! You have an hour to walk around and observe!

The next step could be to write down what you remember from your long walk. Write down anything you remember. Do this once a week. Even if you believe that you are super busy.

Let me tell you a story from Jorge Bucay. Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who auditioned to work at a timber company. The work and the working conditions sounded good, so he wanted to leave a good impression. On the first day he reported to the foreman, who gave him an axe and showed him to a particular area in the forest. Thrilled the woodcutter went to work. In one day, he cut down eighteen trees. “Congratulations,” said the foreman. “Keep it up.” Spurred on by the words of the foreman, the woodcutter decided, to surpass his results the next day. So, he went to bed early that day. The next morning, he got up before everyone else and went into the woods. Despite all the effort he did not managed to cut more than fifteen trees. “I must be tired”, he thought. And decided to go to bed just after sunset that evening. At dawn he awoke with the firm resolution to surpass his mark of eighteen trees today. He did not even manage half. The next day, there were only seven trees, and on the next five, his last day he spent almost entirely cutting down a second tree.

Concerned about what the foreman would say, the woodcutter stood before him, told him what had happened, and swore that he had toiled till you drop. The foreman asked him, “When did you last sharpen your axe?” “Sharpen the axe? I had no time for that, I was too busy cutting down trees. “

Comment by Julie Ann Wood: As a Franklin-Covey Facilitator who teaches the Covey 7 habits, I love the Sharpen the Saw story. It is actually habit 7 and says if you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to accomplish the other 6 habits.  Thanks Makis for submitting this post in a time when many people are stressed out because of the holidays!  Don’t forget to stop, pay attention and Sharpen the Saw! If you would like more information on helping get your kids started as a young entrepreneur, here’s a couple other blog posts that you might enjoy: and