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A business without a dream is like a life without a purpose, declares American author and entrepreneur Michael Gerber, whose E-Myth small business development system has made him famous worldwide.

The E-Myth is built on the premise that small businesses often fail because the owners are technicians who work in their business rather than taking the entrepreneurial approach of working on their business. However, by learning business growth and management skills, he says the technician can be successful.

When Knowledge Gym director Mike Doughty first heard Gerber speak 15 years ago he says Gerber's message touched him like nothing before.

"He sells relief to stressed-out small business people. He understands the frustrations, pressures and exhilaration of running a business and provides a solution and pathway. If you follow his system properly, it does dramatically provide a lot of relief."

Therefore, Doughty was delighted to have Gerber visit New Zealand in September to deliver his latest ideas through the Knowledge Gym seminars. His central message this time was to encourage people to do something in a way that was completely different to anyone else.

"He was telling us to take the biggest challenge in our business and turn that into the biggest opportunity. It was about being creative and looking at shifting paradigms and going beyond average."

After 30 years in the E-Myth business, Gerber, 71, says he has a new mission - "to awaken the entrepreneur within, by discovering their true dream, vision, and mission".

Intentional dreaming is his latest mantra and the focus of his new Dreaming Room process, and a new book. "This has nothing to do with problem solving and everything to do with transforming your whole life and business in a radically creative and strategic way. The surprising reason that most small businesses fail is not because their dream is too big, but rather too small, too realistic - it isn't big enough to sustain more life."

Fear, rather than desire, holds many people back as does the tall poppy syndrome. Gerber says an entrepreneurial personality is like a preschooler who is always constantly questioning the accepted.

As children we learn through failing but we lose that tendency as we grow up, put off by continual admonitions and cautioning.

So how does one find the entrepreneur within? By finding space to dream, says Gerber, which is what the dreaming room process offers.

"In the Dreaming Room, you start anew with a blank piece of paper and then pursue with dogged determination, and passionate interest whatever reveals itself."

But you don't just take the first idea that surfaces. "It is like peeling an onion. You need to decipher what the idea meant, then take it apart to see if that first idea is helping you avoid something else. You need to keep asking; what else is there? What is lurking behind that?"

Kevin Smith, director of NZ Fashion Tech, a private tertiary provider, first heard Gerber speak 11 years ago.

"I got goose bumps because he made so much sense."

Smith ended up successfully using the E-Myth system and took five of his staff to Gerber's September seminar. "The first time I heard him, it was mainly about a step-by-step process to successful business systems. The latest seminar was more about helping us to think differently and more creatively."

Smith said an important message from Gerber was to look at the biggest problem in your business as the biggest opportunity. He and his partner decided they had to challenge the perception that the only way to get a decent career in fashion was by attending university.

"So we worked hard at making it a feature that people could come to NZ Fashion Tech, gain practical skills quickly that would fast track them into the fashion industry. It is now a successful part of our marketing."

Smith says Gerber gets you to think about your problems and then pushes for more original thinking and creative solutions. "Buts are challenged and pushed and pushed. It was getting us to look for a grab bag of ideas, rather like brainstorming."

NZ Fashion Tech now brainstorms more, beginning with exercises like asking for a number of new ideas on how to use a paper clip, and letting people be as silly and crazy as they like.

"The paper clip approach loosens up creative thought. We then throw a real problem at them. One was finding space to hang clothes. We ended up with sky hooks and pulleys, and hinging a table to the wall. The only rule is that all ideas are valid."

He describes himself a total convert. "None of my team had heard him speak before but they came back buzzing and are now all reading his books."