Zeitgeist: why every entrepreneur needs to understand it

If you are an entrepreneur you need to understand Zeitgeist and learn how to work with it to push your business forward.

In this article I want to dive into the concept of Zeitgeist by answering:

  • What is Zeitgeist?

  • Why do you need to work with Zeitgeist?

  • How can you be mindful of Zeitgeist in your business?

What is Zeitgeist?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the term Zeitgeist means the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

To take the definition further: how we live our lives – our beliefs, values, behaviors, and rituals – are all based on a succession of interconnected historical ideas, events, and phenomenon packaged up and passed down, over time, through the institutions, laws, and customs that govern us.

As our knowledge and interpretation of the world shift so do our perceptions and ultimately lifestyle. The version of the truth that we live by today is just that – today’s version. Nevertheless this version influences each and every one of us more than we realize.

For example, there’s a theory within science called Multiple Discovery that surmises most discoveries and inventions are made independently but simultaneously by multiple creators.

This phenomenon has increased over time and is fueling a non-stop debate amongst philosophers, scientists, professors and businessmen around the origin of ideas, the cause of innovation, and the factors that spur leadership.

Why do you need to work with Zeitgeist?

Now that you have an understanding of what Zeitgeist is, it’s clear that newness is not really what we think it is. Neither is genius, creativity, or innovation.

We love to celebrate so-called trendsetters, inventors and thought leaders but need to recognize that they are merely conduits of the underlying current – or ethos – that defines our time.

The greatest innovations of mankind were not created in a vacuum. No one can stake claim to any idea even if it materialized in his own head, as its inspiration can surely be traced beyond him.

As an entrepreneur, creator or thinker you may find this difficult to accept because you want to make unique contributions to the world we live in.

You want to be a pathfinder, pioneer or trailblazer. You want to be different and make your signature mark. You yearn to be special and perhaps leave a legacy behind.

I get it. Human beings have an innate drive towards greatness. We don’t just want to survive, we want to thrive, and part of thriving entails discovering new ways of being in the world — the universe really.

But I don’t want you to ignore the invisible “spirit” that drives each generation's accomplishments (including our own). Because if you ignore it you might risk working against it which will lead to disappointing outcomes for your ventures.

Take to heart German Philosopher George Hegel’s statement:

No man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of the time is also his own spirit. 
— Philosopher George Hegel

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How can you be mindful of Zeitgeist in your business?

First, know that working with Zeitgeist should not discourage you or downplay your desire to do big things. As you aspire to greatness just keep in mind that you can simplify your journey by being in tune with the spirit. Here’s how:

1. Stop worrying about your ideas being stolen

Please get out of the scarcity way of thinking that you need to protect your ideas, because there’s probably someone else in the world who already has them.

Yes, you bring your unique spin to them and will manifest them in a way that only you can. But they are likely not 100% original.

And even if they were, ideas take an incredible amount of time, effort, and resources to bring to fruition. Not everyone is cut out to invest what it takes to turn ideas into ventures that create value for others.

You’ve already taken a big step that the majority of people — even if they are idea thieves — wouldn’t necessarily be ready or willing to take.

So don’t operate from a place of fear. Focus your mental and emotional energy on nurturing those ideas and getting them out into the world.

Because it doesn’t matter if there are other people doing something similar. There’s room for your version.

2. Be open to outside influences

Don’t be a know it all or try to do it all. It doesn’t help you nor the customers who stand to benefit from your work. When you are in tune with Zeitgeist you are able to put ego aside and make decisions that help drive your work forward.

That will sometimes mean getting out of your own way. That will sometimes require being more open-minded about your approach. And that will always entail listening to and observing  your customers so you know how to create value for them.

In order to take the next step or get to the next level in your business you may also need to reach out for help, get sound counsel or build a support system.

Our modern world is evolving fast and seems to be ever-changing. It’s easy to end up obsolete overnight if you don't stay connected. Going at it alone is in direct opposition to Zeitgeist. Indeed the idiom “two heads is better than one” is one you should embrace.

Letting others contribute or help doesn't necessarily belittle, downgrade or water down your work. If you get support from the right resources it’ll be more like a chisel that refines your work so the end product is exactly what the world needs.

3. Seek internal and external inspiration

Closely related to the above is to be in touch with your intuition but to recognize that strengthening your intuition still requires picking up on environmental inputs, cues and patterns. It doesn’t mean completely shutting yourself off to the world around you. 

When you think about true experts and their seemingly magical ability to make gut decisions or come up with aha moments, it’s really due to them being intimately familiar with their subject matter after years of immersion. 

Likewise as an entrepreneur whatever market you play in, you should plunge fully into it and know it well. Whatever audience you’re targeting, you should understand them like you understand your best friend.

No matter how long you’ve worked in your field, you have now automatically adopted the expert status because you are selling a product or service that people need to trust before they buy. So get up to speed.

You can’t stay closed up in your office for days on end and think that will lead to a revolutionary concept. That’s foolish. Look outward from time to time and be receptive to the unsolicited and unexpected inspiration that follows.

4. Use it as the foundation of your branding

When I work with entrepreneurs in my coaching program I personally like to incorporate considerations about Zeitgeist into the branding process. Since in this process we do deep work on the brand vision, values, voice and visuals and all those key elements should be influenced by the underlying spirit.

Now, being mindful of Zeitgeist doesn’t mean adopting all of the trends that are out there or being a copycat. There’s a way to naturally embody the spirit of our time without emulating others.

Typically this happens organically if the entrepreneur personally experienced the problem s/he is trying to solve or is part of the demographic (or has a similar psychographic make up) of their target customer.

But even if that’s not the case for you, consciously raising your awareness about how your target market operates and taking into consideration key insights will give you ample to build on.

All of the above may sound counterintuitive because entrepreneurs are typically conditioned to go against the grain. But I think that's the issue. Perhaps that’s a contributor to the reason why over 95% of startups and  small businesses fail.

We need creatives, inventors and savvy business folks who can see what the world needs and foster ideas that meet those unfulfilled needs. Based on my 13+ years of professional experience, I’m convinced this approach will bring about success much faster for you.

Are you concerned that your idea isn’t really resonating with people? When you explain your concept do people struggle to get it? Have you been in business for a while but struggle to attract a consistent stream of customers? Does it seem like your work is lost in the crowd and can’t shine through? You could be experiencing a Zeitgeist issue.

Book a complimentary strategy session and let’s dive into your business and find the disconnect that's stopping you from attracting and converting more customers.

What is zeitgeist and why every entrepreneur should understand it
Aja Nicole Edmond