What a Paper Airplane Contest Can Teach You About Business

Tonight, Austin was privy to the inaugural Ignite Austin, an ideas summit (can I call it that or will you forsake me?) that was kicked off with a paper airplane contest. One of the event coordinators, Joshua Baer from the successful Austin company Other Inbox, said the contest's purpose was to be a mixer to get the crowd loosened up. As we dodged flying objects coming from the direction of the stage, I started chatting with Kyle Simpson from Getify. "They need to plan for obstacles," Simpson said as another plane crashed and burned -- figuratively, of course -- in the rafters of The Phoenix nightclub. Obstacles. That got me thinking: What else is there to be learned about business from a paper airplane careening through a bar?

1) Stop being different for the sake of being different.
A cube just isn't meant to fly. If you think hurtling something the size of a toaster into the air is not only going to create a product that will work but also differentiate you from the Wright Brothers, you're just plain wrong. Orville and Wilbur Wright are famous because they created something original that functioned, not merely different.

2) Breaking the rules may not get you in trouble but it also doesn't always get you very far.
If you're going to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, you might want to consider what it will do for you in the long run. Is sacrificing your reputation (and your airplane-throwing ability) worth it? How far will the risk take you or your business?

3) Plan for and work around obstacles in your marketplace or environment.
Airplane after airplane went soaring in a beautiful arc, only to crash into the chandeliers or nosedive into a support beam. Adapt to your environment and (please excuse the aviation pun, it's hereditary) you'll soar.

4) Be careful of always sitting in the front row.
You do the math.

5) People may not notice what it was but they will notice what it did.
Rarely did viewers pay attention to the pinstripes or paper stylings of the best gliders of the evening. The ones that went the furthest were simply the ones that stayed in the air long enough for people to look up from their iPhones and say "Holy cow, that went far," or "How did he get it to do that?" Do people say that about your business without ever having seen your website or marketing materials? What does your product or service do that makes it so different? Focus on those aspects of your creation. Promote them and nurture them.

6) Eventually, every good idea hits rock bottom. Then what?
Businesses rise and businesses fall. The good ones rise again. What will you do when someone picks your paper airplane off the ground and asks you to try again? Your little creation might fly higher or further than it ever did before. But it takes a certain kind of person to stand up on stage, with a handful of hopes folded into the creases of a paper airplane and an even bigger audience watching, and toss it out into the stratosphere once again. And while you're celebrating another record-breaking zenith, don't forget to ask yourself: What happens when it hits the ground?
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