In the realm of mindset, words matter. One word that plants a certain idea can have vast repercussions, and it’s for this reason that I have a beef with Thomas Jefferson. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are words that have shaped America and the mindsets of Americans in countless ways. I have no problem with life and liberty, but I’ve always wondered why the “pursuit” of happiness. Why set up the assumption that it’s something we need to chase after—that we don’t already have it? I’d like to propose an alternative thought: replace “pursuit” with the “expansion” of happiness.

It’s just a single word, but the shift in sentiment is dramatic, and the reason I care is that I see people, and especially many successful entrepreneurs, trapped in a kind of linear thinking that results when you set up a situation in your mind where you’re constantly in pursuit of something you don’t have. And yet, when I get them to compare themselves to 99.9 percent of people who have ever lived, these are the most well-off people on the planet in all of history in terms of advantages, resources, and freedom. If happiness doesn’t reside where they are, where is it hiding? If they’re not at the top of the pyramid, who is? And yet, for many, it takes a new context like this for them to see that they’re there, in the place where they, and most of the planet, would like to be.

Realizing that there’s not another “there” somewhere out in front of you yet to be reached is liberating. Immediately, you begin to appreciate the reality of where you are more. It’s not about some future external possibility, but about what’s already true. Happiness can be found inside of you where you are. Things may not be perfect, but there’s so much to be grateful for in all the events and good fortune and useful learning and relationships that have brought you to your current level of success in the world that you could only ever hope to scratch the surface if you tried to create an inventory. Any successful entrepreneur can see this immediately. Focusing on expanding that happiness acknowledges that it’s there inside you and makes you inclined to identify what’s already making you happy so you can build on it.

Linear vs. spherical thinking.

Bringing it back to game changing, the difference between pursuing and expanding as a framework for thinking is dramatic. It’s the difference between linear and spherical thinking. When you’re pursuing something, there’s a straight line you’re trying to follow toward whatever you’re after, and you’ve got blinders on to everything else that takes place around you because you’re dissatisfied that you don’t yet have what you want. If you encounter obstacles, there’s a tendency to blame others and complain about how the rest of the world isn’t doing what they should to contribute to your effort. This linear way of setting up your life prevents the appreciation of everything you have going for you.

In contrast, the expansion of happiness approach is like a sphere that goes out in all directions with you at the center. It comes from inside of you. You’re using your actual happiness to generate more happiness. You won’t do any harm in this way, and you’ll encounter all kinds of opportunities and interesting things by not limiting your trajectory.

You might wonder at this point what this has to do with business and being an entrepreneur and game-changing ideas. I draw a lot of circles in Strategic Coach that have the entrepreneur in the middle. It’s not just happiness that we can envision expanding in a spherical manner. The dynamic of expansion is everywhere for growth-oriented entrepreneurs. It’s how you expand the impact of your business and your capabilities, wisdom, freedom, and purpose.

Cooperation and collaboration.

I go back to Friedrich Hayek’s definition of capitalism, which is an ever-expanding system of increasing cooperation among strangers. Every successful industry-transforming game changer I’ve worked with has created their breakthrough by finding a way to expand cooperation between parties who weren’t connected in the same conversation before. Linear thinking doesn’t lead to these innovative kinds of collaborations. It’s the surprises or “strategic byproducts” that come up when you allow something to evolve on its own without imposing too much structure at the beginning that end up being the most unique and valuable elements.

Each game-changing idea that I’ve seen take flight has been birthed by creators coming together with open minds and loose agendas at the start and seeing what gains momentum through conversations and tests in the real world. The best game-changing collaborations I’ve been involved in directly are those where there have been no contracts or financial arrangements (which almost always bring linear thinking into the picture). This keeps the whole process simple and purely focused on expanding value creation on both sides. What is created in each case is something far beyond the independent capabilities of any one of the co-creators.

The freedom of spherical thinking.

My contribution usually begins with vision. From my perspective, I can often see an entrepreneur’s future possibilities for expansion more clearly than they can themselves, but it always begins with what’s true already about them and their business. Part of it is seeing that they’re capable of this kind of expansive thinking early on, in that they’re engaging with all kinds of unconventional and interesting ideas and experiments that relate to their central passion, even if they’re not clear what the payoff of these activities is going to be down the road. They’re just reaching out in all directions to see what’s there and learn. If I see that what they’re committed to is something that will benefit my clientele, I’ll become their greatest salesperson, providing they’re in it for the long term (25 years). What I won’t do is take a cut. If they succeed, we both win, and that’s enough incentive for me. Whether the venture succeeds or not, I win from the experience.

The entrepreneurs who get to execute on their game-changing ideas on a large scale with the least pain and friction are the ones who have done the work to get their foundation business running as what I call a “Self-Managing Company.” That’s what gives them the freedom and confidence to take risks on things that may not immediately generate revenue. It’s a lot easier to indulge in this kind of spherical thinking when you’re not under financial pressure or too tightly scheduled. That said, anyone can practice the shift from linear to spherical thinking in some area in their lives. It’s really a shift from a type of scarcity mentality where you believe that the next thing is something outside of you that you need to pursue, to a sense that you already have an abundance of unique advantages inside that you’d like to expand in ways that attract and connect you with new learning, growth, and capability. The two mindsets that help are a sense of gratitude about the past and a sense of generosity in how you imagine the future. Both will open you up to greater game-changing possibilities.

About the Author

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan is the founder and president of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of the Strategic Coach® program, which works with entrepreneurs to reach new heights of success and happiness. He has authored over 30 publications over his 42 years as a highly-regarded speaker, consultant, strategic planner, and coach to entrepreneurial individuals and groups.