Ode to Being an Artist

Our culture, and the business community, in particular, has an artist deficit. We need more artists, not more managers

I will be an artist.

Not the narrow and uninspiring mainstream definition of an artist: “a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.”

But a generous, empathetic, gracious, and open artist. An artist that does work that is meaningful. Work that is personal. Work that changes the receiver.

Over the last two years, I have been loaned two debentures.

The first debenture is time.
Time to think.
Time to read. Time to realize that life is not short, but that we make it that way.
Time to fall in love many times, always with the same person, my beautiful wife.

The second debenture is a choice.
The choice to stay at home and spend time with my beautiful bride.
The choice to build relationships with those that inspire me to be a better person and to think critically.
The choice to learn how to live, instead of how to make a living.

The choice to search for truth, instead of certainty.

However, all debts come with an obligation. An obligation that I will devote my life to repaying.

An obligation to imagine.
An obligation not to pretend that change is impossible.
An obligation to perceive of what is new and different from what is inferred from previous knowledge.
An obligation to make mistakes.
An obligation to daydream.
An obligation to describe things that do not yet exist.

An obligation to be an artist.

Our culture, and the business community, in particular, has an artist deficit. We need more people that aspire to provide products and services that are personal, creative, and passionate. Products and services that change the receiver.

We need more artists, not more managers.

In our current culture, too many leaders pretend that nobody can change anything. That we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field.

But the truth is, every day, individuals, change their world over and over. They do this because they are artists.

Artists make the future. I will make the future by imagining that things can be different.

It’s The Thought That Counts…or is it?

The problem with the prevailing view of thoughtfulness is that it doesn’t scale. There are no network effects. No platform exists for the foundation of our actions. Instead of merely being thoughtful, we each have the choice to be generously thoughtful.

There are two ways to be thoughtful: first, there is the prevailing view in which being thoughtful is merely being kind.

It’s holding the door for a stranger.
It’s flashing a brief smile when you walk past someone.
It’s offering a compliment.
It’s sharing what you have, expecting nothing in return.
It’s giving someone a discount.
It’s the card and flower routine you employ every valentines day or birthday.

However, these acts are passive, stemming largely from our subconscious rather than from intentionality.

The problem with the prevailing view of thoughtfulness is that it doesn’t scale. There are no network effects. No platform exists for the foundation of our actions.

Instead of merely being thoughtful, we each have the choice to be generously thoughtful.

Being generously thoughtful is acting with intentionality and openness. 

Being generously thoughtful creates trust.
It creates a platform for each of us to scale our actions, providing benefits to both people, over and over again.

However, being generously thoughtful also requires trust, which is why so few of us go down the path of acting with generous thoughtfulness.

To earn one’s trust is time-consuming.
To earn one’s trust can be draining.
It requires vulnerability.
It takes emotional labor.

However, the emotional costs of being generously thoughtful pale in comparison to its impact.

Each of us longs to connect and be members of generously thoughtful communities.

Being generously thoughtful is self-reinforcing.
It is useful at a large scale.
It is valuable in nearly every circumstance — in every location, with every human being.

Being generously thoughtful lowers the transaction cost of connecting with one another, allowing us to redirect our energy towards collectively satisfying our higher order human needs.

It allows us to redirect our energy toward living with empathy and vulnerability, which fosters a deeper sense of love and belonginess in our lives.

It gives us the capacity to cultivate self-esteem, freeing us to worry less about what others think of us.

It gives us the capacity to achieve self-actualization in our lives, experiencing the world totally for what it is and finding a meaning to life that is important to each of us individually.

The excess capacity created by being generously thoughtful nurtures both the part and the whole.

The part, in that it frees us to individually explore who we are and what is important to us.

The whole, in that it makes it easier for us to connect, as through self-exploration we each cultivate the capacity for transcendence, or the desire to help others achieve self-actualization.

The value of being generously thoughtful rises with the scale of participation in our community.

In the prevailing view, being thoughtful is more of an action, focused on one person.

Being generously thoughtful is a state of being, not directed at any one person, but at our culture at large.

Brand Marketing: It Was The Best of Times, it Was The Worst of Times

Our culture has a social capital deficit. Some brand marketers are taking action to change that.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

While the setting is drastically different, as when Charles Dickens penned those words he was referencing an age of radical opposites taking place across the English Channel in France and the United Kingdom, yet Dickens sentiment captures the brand marketing landscape of today.

Today’s brand marketers live in a world of chaos – big data, social media, attribution ambiguity, etc.

For some, it’s a world of despair and conflict. And others, a world of happiness and engagement.

It’s a world of extreme opposites without any in-betweens.

At no time has this been more clear than during the advertising mania of this weekend’s Superbowl, advertising largest stage.

It is the best of times.

Instead of providing respite or simply taking the easy road and providing entertainment, some brand marketers decided to have a voice. They decided to make a statement.

Airbnb and Coca-Cola on diversity.
Goggle and Expedia on acceptance and global togetherness.
Budweiser and 84 Lumber on immigration.

These brands were willing to take a stand.
To have a point of view.
To put profits on the line for something they believe in.

This is what we have accused business of being unwilling to do for so long.

However, brand marketers aren’t out of the clear.

#BoycottBudweiser and #DeleteUber are subtle reminders that there is still work to be done.

It is the worst of times.

Our culture has a social capital defict.

Powerful brand messages are met with skepticism.
Authenticity and motives are questioned.
Vulnerability is ignored instead of embraced.

Yet, the journey to authenticity and consistency starts with a small step in the right direction.

It begins with generosity.

Over the weekend a number of brands started their flywheels of generosity and I hope they continue. I hope others embrace the risk and gather the courage to have a voice as well.

Our culture needs it.

It is a time of transformation.

Choosing The Right Pair of Glasses

You see what you expect to see.

Nothing is inherent.
Change is always possible.

In 1454 the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. 1454, a time when most people couldn’t read, yet alone use a printing press to write or type!

In 1901, Wilbur Wright told his brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later, the brothers built and flew the world’s first plane.

Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, remarked in 1905 that, “sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by man and woman in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence than ours.”

In 1909, the Scientific American published, “the fact that the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”

In 1977, Kenneth Olsen, president and founder of Digitial Equipment Corporation, a major American company in the computer industry at the time, remarked, “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”

Nothing is inherent.
Change is always possible.

Yet, our brains make it difficult for us to embrace this reality. As, for the most part, we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see.

As humans, our tendency to categorize is reflexive, automatic. We need to know what something is before we can figure out how were supposed to relate to it.

Hence, our frame of reference and categorization of people, brands, products, and ideas impact how we view the world.

This frame of reference impacts how we interact with people. Our ability to build relationships.

It impacts our ability to trust. It impacts the way we view business leaders and the businesses that provide the products and services that we depend on.

Just as people aren’t inherently evil. Business and capitalism aren’t inherently bad.

What matters is our frame of reference.

The beauty is that, like when choosing which new pair of glasses to buy, we have the freedom and liberty to choose the lens through which we see the world.

To do this, we must be open to trying on several new pairs of glasses.

We must be open to listening through multiple new pairs of headphones.

Most importantly, this willingness and openness must occur often and with intentionality.

The power of embracing this freedom allows us to adjust the posture of how we view the world. It allows us to cultivate and embrace entirely new ideas, products, people, and opportunities for connection.

Ultimately, you see what you expect to see.