An Apple Tree Updated

by seanlow on February 14, 2019

I wrote this post six years ago this week comparing the arc of a creative business to the growth of an apple tree. The analogy is as good today as it was then.  That is why I have copied the whole post here. A few thoughts that have come since then:

If you do not focus on the shiniest apples you do not understand the power of niche, the power of community.

If you act as if the tree might die, you are, almost by definition, undercutting the essence of who you are. At a certain point, the hustle ends and you do not need to prove yourself as worthy.  Instead, you have to own the power you have earned to be worthy of the shiniest apple.

If you keep acting as if you have something to prove (i.e., the tree might die), you will erode the very trust you are trying to build.

If you are not focused on the shiniest apple, the power of niche and community, likely is that you have the wrong horse on the wrong course.  So employees that were awesome as jack-of-all-trades, get it done whatever it takes wilt when specialty talent is required.  Having the right horse for the right course is what makes champions, today more than ever.  It is why there have only been 13 Triple Crown winners since the Triple Crown started in 1875.

Have these thoughts in mind when you read the post again. Find your shiniest apple and then let it lead you to the next one and the next one.  Ignore the rest.

An Apple Tree

Due respect to Isaac Newton, a very apt analogy came to me last week – your creative business is like an apple tree.

In the beginning, you plant the seed and then work tirelessly on the (blind) hope that the seed will grow.  When the sapling breaks the ground, when you land your first client, you are simultaneously relieved that all your work has not been in vain and fervent in the notion that the sapling will become a tree.

You redouble your efforts to protect and nurture the sapling.  You are tireless with your clients, going far beyond what is asked of you, your art and your creative business.  You are desperate for the sapling to live to be a tree.

Your efforts pay off and the sapling becomes a young tree, still not bearing fruit, but also not all that fragile either.  Your creative business now has employees to help you do what you do.  Clients, vendors and colleagues respect you and you can move through the inevitable FUBAR.  The FUBAR will hurt, but your creative business will not die because of it.  Two FUBARs, however, probably would kill it, just like a strong storm would the young tree.  So you remain ever vigilant and protective.  The tree could still die.

Then the apple tree starts to bear fruit. More apples than can be processed.  At this stage, killing the tree would be hard, much harder than anything necessary to keep it alive.  Reputation, respect, experience, wisdom and depth of relationship means your creative business can survive almost anything.  So the focus shifts (or should) to what to do with all of the apples.  You and all of your friends cannot eat, bake, make applesauce with or freeze dry all of the apples from the tree.  And even if you could use all of them, there will be ever more next year.

This is where the analogy gets really fun.  Most creative business owners get stuck in the idea that their role and that of their employees is to keep the tree alive, far past the time when the tree needs that level of vigilance.   Sure, the tree needs appropriate care, but not hyper-vigilance.  It is a tree after all.  Stuck in vigilance mode, you really do not pay attention to the fruit and what can be done with it.  You might even be incredibly frustrated when a delicious apple rots on the ground.  The new business opportunity, new client, etc. falls away because you just do not have the time.  Arrrggh.  If only you could stop having to do the (you choose the day-to-day task), you could really go after x, y and z.  Hmmm.  Are you sure the tree will not die?  Irony of ironies, the very thing the tree needed to survive in the first place (i.e., hyper-vigilance) is the very thing that could kill it now that the tree is a tree.

Even if the practical is that you have to do the task, attitude is everything.  There is a HUGE difference to believing you have to do it and knowing that the business will survive (thrive?) if you do not.  If you know the tree will not die, you will move on to other things – like seeing what is to be done with all of that fruit.

Now let’s talk about the apples.  If you believe the tree might die, seeing apples on the ground will be terrifying.  So you will over-invest in doing something with all of them, stretch yourself and your staff too thin, work tirelessly on every idea regardless of timing.  Mouse on a wheel.  Move beyond survival and you will know that some apples, even beautiful ones will go unused.  Your focus will be on what you do with the apples you can use.  More importantly, it will be on knowing what to do with the most beautiful apple when it falls from the tree as it inevitably will.

Nobody said it was easy to let go of what got you where you are.  Then again, staying there serves no one, least of all the tree.


The Fyre Festival

by seanlow on February 8, 2019

Snake Oil Salesman, Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff, The 2008 Financial Crisis(just go watch The Big Short) and now Billy McFarland. The story of a grifter, con man/woman able to convince those of the glory around the corner if only they pay up now is old and, although evergreen, not all that interesting. Billy McFarland used social media to create the illusion and preyed on FOMO of the fabulous but that is nothing new, just a new tool.  And, yes, Jerry Mediais totally complicit in the effort in my opinion.  The Netflixand Huludocumentaries are both awesome in the exposure of the fraud for what it was, not so much for those who were paid to be better.

No, the interesting part are those real players who should have known better and/or gave away their integrity for up front money. Mark Musters,Andy Kingand all of the other event and music festival professionals are legitimate and will be forever brushed with their decision to continue down the road with the charade.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but when you know what you know, it is your obligation to stand up and say no, we are not doing this and we are going to tell everyone what is off here. The point is is that people got hurt. Yes, ticket buyers lost their money, and in some cases, had to experience a not very fun at all day and night in the Bahamas. Some sympathy for the scammed, but true sympathy and empathy for those that did all they could but did not get paid; those who tried in vain to be stand-up in a sea of moral slime. To those people who are the forgotten (GoFundMecampaigns notwithstanding), that is the tragedy.  And because that tragedy could have been averted had those who knew better stood up and said no, we need to point the spotlight there.

In the Netflix documentary, Mark Musters talks about what it would take to pull off the festival ($35mm) and gives the appearance of confidence. Then, though, there was no statement whether he knew the money was there, whether key ingredients were secured —venue, infrastructure, etc., basic due diligence. The image was that he said what it would take, was given assurance that the money was there and then went down the road, presumably with fee in hand. Andy King comes off as woefully unaware of the size and scale of the disaster he is participating in and clearly out of his depth. Pulling off a great event in NYC for a few hundred people is not the same as doing a music festival for 20,000.  Never once in the documentary does he stop and say that this is just not what he does.  Instead, he plays the martyr, figure it out entrepreneur to the tee.  That is the real con.

Let me be clear, every event has uncertainty and a feeling like it will never happen until it does. The difference here is that real experts have to be able to say what is uncertain versus what is impossible. An elephant will never sleep in a crib no matter how cute that might look.

Greed, both in the delusion of what the Fyre Festival could have been — it was an awesome idea, perfect for a millennial scam — that is what made it so enticing.  Pulling off something so cool would indeed have been an achievement of a lifetime. And the dollars were big given the scale (also perfect for the scam). Process though has to take over. Evaluation of what is possible and what is not has to be placed in the context of those entrusted with their expertise.

What we saw was that creative businesses took a real hit in the Fyre Festival documentaries. Jerry Media for its continuing manipulation of the public and Mark Musters and Andy King for not stopping the whole thing with a voice that said no to what was happening.  You can hold your hat on the idea that these players were victims too (as Jerry Media is trying to prove with its Netflix documentary) and I refuse to go there.  I have been part of events for thousands of people (one done in 72 days start to finish) and in every instance there were experts that said what could be done, how much it would cost and then the money flowed to make it happen. Had the money not flowed when it was supposed to for the mega events I was involved in, they would not have happened.  Period.  When you are talking about millions and millions of dollars, when money does not flow, it is not only a red flag, it is full stop and walk away. Even if your bank account is full.  Such is the responsibility of those in charge of production.

No one of consequence in creative business stood up with Fyre and we as creative business owners will suffer the consequences. When experts belie their expertise it is very hard for the public to value the power and depth of that expertise. What we all do as artists and creative business owners matters.  The lesson of The Fyre Festival is that when you lose your integrity, strength of vision and character as a creative, we all suffer the stain of illegitimacy.  We can do better and we have to, no matter what.


What To Do When You Are Wrong

January 31, 2019

A good friend of mine is one of the founders of WageStream– a new service that lets employees in the UK (who get paid monthly) “borrow” against their future paycheck for little more than an ATM fee. As opposed to payday lenders who create such havoc in peoples’ lives because of how they work and […]

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People Like Us Do Things Like This

January 24, 2019

People like us do things like thisis one of Seth Godin’s mantras. But what happens when the people you seek to serve live lives that you cannot begin to comprehend? How then are you to relate your art, your vision to what they seek?  How can it be possible for you to meet them at […]

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The Red Pill Or The Blue Pill?

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 […]

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The Emperor’s New Clothes

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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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