I always wanted to be an artist rather than a businessman. I imagined artists to be more virtuous somehow, more empathetic – certainly more fun. There was a time in my life when the world of business seemed too cold and calculated.
So I pursued a career in illustration. One evening, I went to a meeting of illustrators in Toronto and found they spent far too much time whining about market conditions, dismal bottom lines, clients and especially agents. The sense of entitlement was rampant. The sharing of good business advice was surprisingly absent.
I left convinced that this particular group could learn a thing or two from more entrepreneurial types, accounting professionals and sales people.
It didn’t happen right away but eventually I found myself working in branding and marketing which blends things like research, strategic planning, metrics and analytics together (the compass) with less tangible things like intuition, risk-taking, empathy, storytelling and artistry (the creative). It’s the kind of business that involves working with the key stakeholders of organizations. Owners, CEOs, managers and sales people – people who are very good at what they do. These are people with knowledge and skill. However, I’ve observed that many are being held back by a lack of some crucial abilities which most artists take for granted.
It occurred to me that business can also learn something from the arts.
Here’s why. Consider how an artist approaches a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper. He knows what to do with it. He’s not intimidated by it. He’s not discouraged by it. In fact, he’s energized by the very fact there is nothing there yet. In the blankness he sees the opportunity which only exists in his mind’s eye. Artists have the gift of vision. Builders follow plans. Machinists follow blueprints. Investors study data. Accountants follow rules. Managers follow process. But an artist starts with nothing more than an idea – a vision that only he can see.
Artists have the gift of vision. Builders follow plans. Machinists follow blueprints. Investors study data. Accountants follow rules. Managers follow process. But an artist starts with nothing more than an idea – a vision that only he can see.
There are no pre-determined instructions. But that doesn’t stop the artist from starting. He puts down a pencil line or a brush stroke and then stops to analyze what he’s just done. Then he adds another line and another, adjusting and correcting as he goes – always comparing what he has just done to the image in his head. The creation of art relies on a clear mental picture of the desired outcome, the courage to start and the tenacity to keep pushing through a thousand little failures.
The artist learns as he goes. It’s hard work. It takes passion and commitment. Often the final piece turns out different than imagined. Sometimes better. When it turns out worse, the artist starts again believing he can do better the next time. In his final piece of art is the expression of a vision or an idea, the result of the passion, the struggle and the effort it took to share it with the rest of us.
Can we say that of your business, your product, or your service?
You are an artist. Your business, your product, your service is your art. There is no magic formula. Innovation isn’t a paint-by-number. It’s more like scribbling at first. Lots of sketching, erasing, retracing, throwing away and starting over. The only thing getting you closer to something of value is the clarity of the vision in your head.
Where are you going? What do you want to do? Who do you want to help? What do those things look like?