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

by seanlow on January 3, 2019

In no particular order, here are my wishes/fantasies/pipe dreams for creative business owners for 2019:

  1. 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 the same as you who charges the equivalent of $500/hour.  Entertaining the comparison just creates confusion and validates someone who is not yet worthy of the comparison.
  2. Being the “best of” is important only if a) the person compiling the list matters, and b) if not being on the list prevents your clients from showing up.  For most of us, giving our power to another is a surefire way to cut a corner. Do great work without compromise and be radically better at being outrageous.  The rest will take care of itself. And if that does not get you there make up your own list.
  3. Learn VR, 3D Rendering and AI as if the life of your creative business depended on it. Because it does.
  4. Redefine value.  Stop talking about dollars.  It is boring, overdone and irrelevant to value. Know what you need for both your creative business and to produce your idea (i.e., the definition of design).  Get that — no more, no less and then move on to what really matters — filling an emotional void as only you and your art can.
  5. Eliminate “the list of services” from existence.  Tell me what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and why I should care.  And then do just that.  Where are you, where were you and where are you going.
  6. Be kind and expect kindness. Respect and expect respect. Money is not power, intention is.  If you are doing all that you can because a client tells you to, you are doing it with the intent on proving your value.  You have just proven the opposite.  Do what you do with the intention of doing great work for those that care.
  7. Take a walk. Every day. Make time to think.  Have an answer beyond “just because” always.
  8. It is crazy until someone buys it.
  9. Marginally better isn’t.
  10. Starving is a state of mind.  Hunger and starvation are not the same thing. Always be hungry. Leave if you are starving.
  11. Look at your smallest projects of 2018. Ask yourself why you did them?  If the answer is because a) you needed the money, b) it was great marketing, or c) you really liked the client, promise you will never ever do something like that ever again.  Do you what you do or quit.
  12. Quitting is not failure, it is a choice for those who need to be brighter somewhere else.  For the rest, there is no such thing as half quitting.  Be all in.  Every. Single. Day.


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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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 […]

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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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