The Red Pill Or The Blue Pill?

by seanlow on January 17, 2019

20 years and still one of my favorite movies. The Matrix has a scenewhere the hero must choose between seeing the truth of the world he truly inhabits or continue the facade constructed by the matrix. Red pill truth, blue pill matrix. Take the red pill and no turning back, blue pill and you live in blissful ignorance.  Of course, Neo chooses the red pill and the story unfolds from there.

For your creative business, are you really wiling to swallow the red pill? To absolutely know the truth and live to the consequences? To feel the pain of change?  You can read The Dip all you like (and you should) but owning the truth of where you are and where you are heading are not the same thing.

We forget the pain of compromise, the feeling that happens when you do not make (either in terms of dollars or respect) the money you need. We associate that pain with how little exists today and the need to book business to ease that pain.  A negative cycle if there ever was one.

You take the red pill because there is no turning back. Better to quit than do bad business. Bad business is cancer and you will die, if not today, then tomorrow. This much is certain. Own that truth.  Compromise and half-truths, depletion, frustration at not having what you want from yourself, your art, your creative business. This is not sustainable.  The blue pill lets you believe it is and you become a slave to your business, your clients and to all those you believe you need to stay afloat. Slowly but surely your power goes to other, with you blissfully unaware until it is too late.

The red pill means that, given the choice of panic and stress when business is not materializing as you thought it would or cash is short, you move closer to yourself, your art and your vision rather than away.  Specifically, when you know the truth of the world you inhabit, you can change that world by writing about why you do what you do.  Sweating about money?  Write about why you are the best in the world, your world, at what you do.  Feeling anxious about the level of inquiries? Write about why you are compelling to create what you do, about what would happen if you could not do it any more. Frustrated with your current clients?  Write about why you are grateful to create art for them and, if you cannot do that, why you are grateful to create the art — period.

Do not just say it to yourself or your team.  Actually do the work of writing it down. Better yet, put it out to the world and let the world see what is underneath the facade you believe is drawing people to you and your art (it is not). From there, you will see the business implications that you must abide by. Your price is not a number, it is a series of value points you must describe and assess for your potential clients and colleagues alike. If you know what you must get paid for, then not getting paid for it is soul-sucking.  Do what you do and get paid for what you do when you do it.  The red pill. It is the truth and it is up to you to live by it.

Which leads me to pundits and soothsayers and those who need to scare you into the solution you are missing. Fear and FOMO are powerful mistresses. They draw you in to what can save you from yourself if only you can follow along well enough.  If all the cool kids are doing it, then that has to be the answer for you. Hundreds, if not thousands, of creative business owners reach at this time of year for those who have the temerity (gall?) to say this is the way.

There is no way, only the truth that is yours. You have to do the work.  You have to own what matters.  You have to appreciate that cutting vegetables does not make you a chef no matter how fast you cut them. To be a chef you need education, intention, perseverance and conviction.  There are no shortcuts and I loathe those who prey on fear and FOMO as if their answer is better than what is inside.  Learn new tools and practices every day. But never ever mistake them for the answer. Run away from yourself, your art and your creative business at your own peril.

Invest in community, those who will make you better, those that will consistently and constantly show you the truth of the red pill. No turning back.


The Emperor’s New Clothes

by seanlow on January 10, 2019

How many times have you kept your mouth shut because you did not want to piss off the powers that be?  When you know that your insight into their business is spot on but will require change and vision on the part of those you would seek to share your wisdom with?

Still incredibly relevant isZappo’s desire to receive the inputfrom shoe manufacturers and wholesalers to help with the marketing of the shoes they made. This at the time when brick and mortar retailers actively went out of their way to keep as much information as possible from manufacturers and wholesalers, lest the power dynamic shift against the retailer. Of course, Zappo’s customer service is legendary, but the key to their success is the collaboration between them and their manufacturers and wholesalers.

Here we are all these years later and the amount of information that is withheld by those threatened by the new world order is staggering. And the higher you climb the luxury scale the more the disparity exists.

Where is the guide by planners of the strengths and weaknesses of their local venues? Production partners?  Sure you can find wonderful reference sites like Style Me Pretty’s Little Black Book, Carats and Cakeand Party Slate, but I am talking real, unbiased evaluations by those in the know for consumers to read and be better informed by. Evaluations by those who really know what the consumer wants and what the particular partner may or may not be able to provide. Better information for those that care to really know provided by those who actually know.

For as much as Houzz provides very useful information for all things interior design and renovation, we are still very much in the wild west of “I’ve got a guy/gal” when it comes to who does what and why.  If you are unwilling to truly own your own niche, you are reluctant to share  who should inhabit that niche with you.  So there are very few who will say that contractor/designer/supplier does this well but not this.

I am not talking about creating the next review or validation site. That is an evergreen business but also one that has been done to death. I am talking about taking the time ala Zappo’s to ask what the actual problem is and what the solution to THAT problem ought to be. We need fresh eyes from those that see constraints to a system that need not be there. Do not just say that a production partner’s customer service is lacking, talk about what is specifically off and what you suggested to fix the problem. Give everyone the chance to see that your voice matters and leave it to the production partner to heed the advice or not. At least then we will get clarity as to where everyone stands especially at the power and ultra luxury level.

The reason information diverges at the luxury level is that the physicality and constraints of budget pale as to the status of the endeavor and/or product.  If you are using the highest end upholsterer in your region, the expectation is that the work will be superior.  The real question is not the craftsmanship it is about the integrity of the craftsmanship and why it matters so much to them and to you. The mastery of intention and vision is what increasingly matters when you climb the luxury scale. Yet, no one talks about that mastery in a specific way that is relevant to those deciding. Of course they are the best, but why? Where do they fall short and what do you say they should be doing to improve?  Is it happening?

Today, there are no absolute gatekeepers. As such, we are all experts on the businesses we partner with.  We have both the responsibility and authority to improve each other.  Keep the platitudes for cocktail parties.  Identify better problems so we can all make better art for our clients. The rest will take care of itself.


2019 — Welcome To The Revolution

January 3, 2019

In no particular order, here are my wishes/fantasies/pipe dreams for creative business owners for 2019: Just because you each sell the same thing to clients, does not mean you are in the same business.  Quit comparing yourself to those who are not, in fact, you.  A designer who charges $50/hour for “consulting services” is NOT […]

Read the full article →

2018 Year In Review

December 19, 2018

I was sitting down to write a year in review and saw that The Business of Home had done a much much better job of summarizing my ideas (from my column that I write for them) than I ever could. Here is the link: BOH Year In Review.  I love writing my column for The […]

Read the full article →

Client Management Revisited

December 14, 2018

If you have a process, believe in the specificity of that process and are uncompromising in that belief, you are going to get punched in the mouth.  To paraphrase Mike Tyson, what happens then? Will you bend to those challenging your process, your clients, production partners, colleagues, even employees? Will you dig in without justification? Will […]

Read the full article →


November 29, 2018

Cancer is an awful disease. My stepfather endured ten years of agonizing treatments for tumors that would never leave his body.  As with most cancers, it is not the actual cancer that kills you, it is the other diseases (infections and the like) that move in to take a depleted body. To overstate the obvious, […]

Read the full article →


November 21, 2018

After spending time last week in Tampa presenting to the attendees of ABC’s Annual Conferenceand in New York City talking to interior designers for The Business of Home(both fantastic experiences), I was traveling back to Northern California on the early flight and thought I would get a few hours of sleep before getting home. In […]

Read the full article →

The Distance Yet To Go

November 14, 2018

We only have $25,000 for our project, will that work?  So sorry, no, to do what you are asking would be at least ten times that. Oh ok, let’s do it.  In the end, they spent $850,000.  High fives and smiles all around. When anyone asks me what is wrong with creative business today, this […]

Read the full article →

The Stories We Tell

November 8, 2018

In many areas of our lives, we make decisions based on emotion, tribalism, community and intuition, anything other than logic. Often, we make illogical, irrational, counterintuitive decisions because we are, well, human. 63% of North Dakotans voted for Donald Trump. North Dakota is solidly Republican. Yet, because of his trade policy (war?) with China, North […]

Read the full article →

Scope Creep

November 1, 2018

When I was a teenager, I used to visit my grandparents in Florida for Spring Break. We would go out to dinner frequently and my grandmother would bring an extra large bag.  She would put rolls, crackers, breadsticks in the bag every time. Each restaurant would see it and then just refill the basket without […]

Read the full article →