by seanlow on 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, we desperately search for both the causes of cancer (tobacco, asbestos, defective gene) as much as we do cures. Progress is painstaking, effective, but certainly never fast enough.  In the end, if we can avoid the devastation that cancer might bring and cure (or dramatically slow down) the disease if it does befall us, we should do just that.

For creative business, cancer is commodification and marginalization and our willingness to live there.

Take an email one of my clients (a wedding planner) received recently. In this context, it is about wedding planning, but could just as easily be about interior design, fashion, cooking, even graphic design — any creative business where the work looks possible to some looking in.

“I really enjoyed talking to you and I just love your work, but I am not sure I need the full service (oh how I loathe that term) you offer. I have just gone part-time and I have a lot more free time, so I am thinking that I just will need some day-of help and maybe someone to point me in the right direction when I get stuck. I know you tilt towards full service but if you would like make a custom package for me my budget is around $6,000.  If not, I completely understand.”

Of course, I have set the stage for you to see this as a gross email and it is.  Do you really though? $6,000 is a good amount of money and you might even be able to get to $8,000 or $9,000. If you need the money and/or are not booked for that date, are you really in a position to say no? Who knows, you might be able to convince her to allow you to do more once you are in there, make a little bit more by way of commissions and direct sales.  Who are you to turn down what is right in front of you?

So many creative business owners bite and the cancer continues to grow. Just as bad, other designers get indignant and offended and say things like “you do not have the budget” or  something along the lines of “don’t you know who I am.” What does not happen is a completely non-defensive response of who you exactly are, why you chose this to be your life’s work and why it matters so much to you, your clients, employees and colleagues alike.  This client then lives in the idea that she can be you now that she has the time.  And maybe she can from an execution point of view, but from a life’s purpose perspective?  Never ever unless she decides to go all in as you have.

Yet we spend all of our time talking about price, working on strategies to be like everyone else, just a little bit better. Unknowingly, we spread the cancer, give it room to grow, silently, consistently, exponentially.  There is massive money trying to get you, the creative professional, to be on a level playing field, just a little better than the rest.  On the interior design side, there is Houzz/Ivyand all of the back-end systems (Design Manageretc.). In weddings, Wedding Wire, The Knot Proand 17 Hatscome to mind.

Nothing wrong with these businesses or their mission.  There is huge profit in scaled commodification and marginalization.  However, for creative businesses that want to matter, to have any kind of future though, you have to own, live and breathe authenticity, integrity and purpose.  Yes, what you do is bigger than you, your art and your creative business.  Such is the creative business of transformation.  You have to know that the amount you receive or the size of the project (in terms of dollars) only matters if it is the right number, no matter how large or small it is.  Do what you do, how you do it with what you need to do it. 

Authenticity, integrity, purpose and unyielding conviction are the only cures for cancer in creative business, but like any cure it does not come without its own pain.  Change sucks and fear of change just makes it worse, especially when there are so many that believe there really is nothing eating the very fabric of creative industries.  The nature of cancer is that, too often, when you recognize its devastation, it is already too late.  Same here. How about we as creative business owners not let that happen and resolve to do better now?

Specifically, here is what I think is wrong with the email: 1) you are awesome, but I can do what you do given the time (i.e., what you do is not hard, just time-consuming); 2) I, the client, get to decide what I am willing to pay for; 3) your value is my decision; and, most important, 4) how this goes is my decision, not yours.  No, no and no.  If seasoned creative business owners with a real reputation permit her voice to be validated by actually negotiating with her, to contemplate what they can do to “make it work” we are all doomed.  We have to make it so that those in the position of leadership actually act like leaders and do the work of educating and redefining what it means to truly be an artist in business today.  From there we can all do the work of excising the cancer of commodification and marginalization from the creative universe.  Not a day too soon.



by seanlow on 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 a huge nod to Cindy Novotny, you never know when life is going to smile on you on a plane.

Before closing my eyes, I see my awesome friend Michael Benevillewalking down the aisle. A few favors later and we are sitting next to each other. I figured we would catch up for an hour or so then both check out for a little bit. When the captain announced we were getting ready to land, I was like, “but we are just getting started”.  We had literally talked for five hours straight and it felt like five minutes.

Here is the deal: the best way to describe Michael is that he is a futurist. He imagines the world as it might be and shares that vision with his clients. He is the force behind IHeart Radio’s corporate offices in New York City, the Empire State Building’s new observatoryand the coming Area 15 in Las Vegas. Oh, and he does incredible personal bespoke projects for private clients that are mind-blowing in their combination of media and state-of-the-art technology —think juke-box as a 50th birthday present in a way you would not think possible — holograms, video mapping, etc.

Michael is very deep into the possibilities of virtual reality, blockchain (still trying to wrap my head around it) and bridging the gap between our world and the digisphere.  He is working with companies like High Fidelityto figure out how to create a real, real time experience for everyone globally and virtually. Crazy.

Here is an example. Take Jeff Antoniuk’s Jazzwireand its function to bring together a community of avid adult amateur and semi-pro jazz musicians to learn and get better together. Even though it is only two weeks old there are members from literally thirty countries —everywhere from the U.S. and Canada to Hong Kong and Singapore to Europe and Australia and New Zealand. All musicians evaluated by Jeff and placed into communities at their playing level. Imagine for a second if Jazzwire was a members only club in High Fidelity (to play, not listen — anyone could do that) where, if you wanted to grab a set, you just walked in, entered a room at your level and started playing with others who were there — all in real time, with no lag and with avatars that looked exactly as you did in reality.

You might think this is a distant fantasy but it is not.  More like next year than 2025.

So what does this mean for you, your art and your creative business? The size and scale of human interaction is going to shift immeasurably. The convergence of digital life and reality is only going become exponentially more integrated.  Pokemon Gotimes a thousand. Knowing your role as a creative in this space is singularly expansive and narrow.  You might be the proprietor of Jazzwire and also simultaneously host workshops, camps and meetups. Value in the digital world will transfer to the physical and vice-versa.

Think about what that might mean for deeply personal events like weddings and how that will play out. Will the wedding occur digitally and then be experienced physically a week later? How will we tell the difference?  Will we want to? This decision is something those in the event business ought to be thinking about today.

Given the state of our world, how important is it for temporary shelter to offer VR so that those families displaced can still eat dinner at their table in their home as they always have until their actual table can once again exist. If you are an interior designer, what is your role now?

Now you can see why five hours felt like five minutes with Michael. Hopefully, you can also see the work ahead for all of us as we seek to (re)shape what community means from a creative perspective. No doubt tomorrow will look nothing like today and it is high time that we kiss yesterday goodbye.  Truly, it is a brave new world.


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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Who Would Buy Your Creative Business And Why?

October 23, 2018

Most creative business owners do not ever consider who might buy their businesses. Most consider themselves and their artistry (or artistic vision) the very lifeblood of the business.  Without them, there would be nothing is how that thinking goes. On the one hand, I very much understand the sentiment.  Your creative business is the very […]

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Metrics Of Success

October 18, 2018

You order a pizza from the local place for dinner as you have many times before.  You have never talked about how long it should take but it usually takes 25 minutes. Today, the delivery takes 35 minutes.  You call to complain.  The restaurant says they try to make it within 30 minutes but are […]

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How Do We Decide How To Shape Tomorrow?

October 10, 2018

Polarized. Divided. Angry. Distrustful. Depressed. Motivated. Sad. Scared. These are just a few words to describe how most of us in the United States feel these days.  And no matter which side you fall on, these words certainly apply.  In the mix is that somehow we have lost, or at least forsaken, our ability to […]

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What Problem Are You Solving?

October 4, 2018

You are not your job description.  Your creative business is not its industry category.  If the problem you solve is only being the source for the need, you are lost.  I need a florist for my wedding, a designer to help with my kitchen renovation, a graphic designer with my website.  A need is not […]

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Risk Revisited

September 27, 2018

Every creative business is about communication and risk and most often about communicating risk to clients, employees and colleagues. The difference between creative business and other businesses, however, is that, at its essence, risk is emotional, entirely personal and wholly irrational (and perhaps illogical). If an interior designer needs to focus on the flow of […]

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