How Human Are You Willing To Be?

by seanlow on July 22, 2016

In 1988, my brother, 10 months younger than I, died. He was 20, my very best friend, full of life and dreams, a free spirit to my intensely narrow, driven nature. He fell from a roof. Gone in an instant.

The end of his life shaped mine forever more. I became more driven, more intense. Angrier. What I did not become was softer, able to own the pain my heart feels every day without him. That would come later, after many years of driving ever further. The pain was weakness and only age has taught me the wisdom of its strength.

I share my transformative moment because we all have them. They are there to teach us, shape us, bring us to our own humanity. I am forever richer for having suffered the loss I have, knowing, without question, that I would do just about anything to make it not so. My brother’s death brought me to the path I likely never would have taken. No unicorns and rainbows on this path, only confidence that I am the man I was meant to be.

My gift is to see creativity and the possibility that exists with its expression as a business. The wisdom my brother gave me is that art and creative business lives beyond the rational. Intellectual grounding and foundation is a must, but it is only the runway to the sky.

Three things compelled this post. Bill Baker’s last blog entry talking about the power of a personal narrative in business, Dane Sanders and a client of mine, Kevin Isbell, who had the courage to be vulnerable to the world on a podcast. Dane told the story of the moment he lost his father as a young boy at Engage! over a year ago. I have carried the feeling and Dane’s message every day since.

Kevin talked of overcoming cancer as a young adult. Jumping into design because it called him home. I know him incredibly well, but it made me want to know him more.

At the end of the day, I come to this: humanity, connection, our willingness to allow others to see our tapestry – our pain, our joy, our hope and our fear – is what binds us. Your willingness to bring this aspect of yourself to your creative business is a choice. I will not stand here and say, if you do not, you will not be successful. All I can say is that it is the place we all search for – to be seen, experienced and held as who we are. Most of your clients want that from you, your art and your creative business. After all, in so many instances, they are trusting you with some of the most precious times in their lives.

Clients believe in your talent, sure, and maybe that is enough for you and your creative business. But if you are willing to go one step further, to be that much more revealing, that much more human, that much more present to the experience, perhaps everyone would be richer. And if you believe you, your art and your creative business exist to transform, to compel hope and vision, satisfaction and confidence, value, then your vulnerability, your tapestry might just be the best place to start.

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Who Defines Success?

by seanlow on July 13, 2016

Your creative business did exactly everything you promised. You executed flawlessly, there were no hidden anythings. Yet your client was underwhelmed. The “Wow” they wanted did not appear in their eyes. Was the project successful? Who gets to decide? Does it matter?

Easiest question first, of course it matters who gets to define what success is. If everyone is underwhelmed with your creative business and your art, you will not be around for long. The better question is whether you can let your reveal be judged without interest in any definition of success other than your own.

Here’s the thing: building a creative business on the ability to deliver a subjective “Wow” is impossible. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all you can do is put “it” out there. If you believe in your process and all that you have done to get to here, nothing more you can do. Unless.

If you have not spent the time to define what success is and have not earned that success along the way, underwhelming at the end is a huge indictment you need to take as the wake up call it is.

Clients have their own definitions of success. For corporate projects, it might just boil down to money. Was the investment in you, your art and your creative business worth it? Did they make (enough) money on what you did for them to validate their decision to hire you in the first place? Most often, though, a client’s definition of success, even in the corporate world, is much more ephemeral than that. To stick with the corporate market, was the sales force properly motivated, the press/social media on the launch big enough? Traditional yardsticks just do not work. No straight line between your work and money. Success then becomes like the old definition of pornography, you cannot describe it, but you know it when you see it. Just not good enough today.

This then is where so many creative businesses have gone lost. Truly, it is not up to your client to define success. You have to define it for them. And to do that you have to honor the power of the journey. The milestones you achieve along the way have to be your focus. Whether you highlight the milestones by getting paid (which I hope you do) or receive some other recognition for the work achieved to date, is up to you. It is impossible to do if you, your art and your business are only focused on the finished product.

We all want the client to have their “Wow”. You will do all that you can to make it happen. However, if their “Wow” happens to not be yours and vice-versa, yours has to be the one that counts. For that to happen, you also have to be willing to share what your “Wow” is with your client and live with any disconnects. “Our process will get you here, and we will be more than satisfied when we get there. To us, a project is successful if [someone cries, dances, screams, smiles… you fill in the blank].” If success to them is that everyone cries, dances, etc., you simply cannot care.

Everything is measurable if you choose to measure it. In a nod to Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin, some things are better off unmeasured. Is it absolute number of eyeballs, number of clicks, time on a page, bounce rates, etc. that matter in social media today? Or is it about meaningful connections?

For our purposes today, you, your art and your creative business have to define the measurements that matter and allow your clients, colleagues and employees alike to believe in them. Success is how you see it and can prove it. The end is hopefully inevitable, but, even if not, the journey has to be, with every step measured to illustrate its (building) value.

 

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Will You Ever Acknowledge Your Blind Spots?

July 7, 2016

Hubris is a bitch. If you have even a modicum of success in your creative business, you might live in the notion that your way is not just the best way, but the only way. You might perceive the world order as defined by your own version of success. You hear those with other worldviews […]

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What Will Motivate You To Change?

June 20, 2016

I had the very good fortune to attend Engage!16: The Breakers last week. I have been each Engage! (this was the 17th) and it is remarkable to me what can come if community is allowed to flourish. None better in the luxury wedding world to create and grow this community than Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn […]

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What Do You Do When Business Slows?

June 9, 2016

Rainbows and unicorns, perfect sunsets and idyllic days. Were this a description of our businesses. The reality is is that there are good days and bad, up and down months, even years. Sometimes, no matter how much effort you put into your marketing, business development and social media, the projects just do not come. You […]

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How The World Has Changed

June 1, 2016

Google “Purple Couch” on your phone. You now have literally hundreds of options to choose from in less than ten seconds (including the time it takes you type “Purple Couch”). Is this the death of design?  What has your creative business done to evolve in this new world order? Do you dig in and stick […]

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Will You Dare To Be Early?

May 25, 2016

One of my favorite Henry Ford lines: “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Yes, you get tasked every day to create for clients. For your creative business to move them with your art. If you are lucky enough, you are busy doing great work for respectful, appreciative clients. […]

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Conviction

May 20, 2016

The price of success is conviction. You have to leap. You have to crash. You have to get back up. You have to stand in your own shadow. You have to leap again. And again. And again. If failure terrifies you, owning a creative business is not for you. You, your art and your creative […]

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Only Fools Answer Dumb Questions

May 3, 2016

We have been trained to listen well, respect what clients say, answer their questions. Especially if you are trying to make a sale. Sometimes, sometimes you have clients who actually understand the why, how and what of your creative business and value the process you take to create the art you do. Most often, though, […]

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Consider The Source

April 26, 2016

I am basically tone deaf. I love joking with my kids about how awesome of a singer I am. They laugh every time because of how silly it is. I literally thought my son was using his own creation when he talked about his head voice and his chest voice. And I am a better […]

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