Dare To Be An Icon

by seanlow on June 2, 2011

I have just returned from Engage! 11: Grand Del Mar, a semi-annual conference where the best of the best in the wedding industry gather to listen to trends, learn from each other, commune and combust with ideas.  Some of my favorite thoughts from the conference are Simon Bailey’s concept of Vuja De – see the future and create it for yourself.  Todd Fiscus’ glorious idea to lead your clients to success is an elegantly simple expression of what all creative businesses have to aspire to.  What Todd has created to make his “leading” happen is not too shabby either – take as an example the 77 point budget analysis he provides his clients to show just what they will be spending their money on.  Cindy Novotny spoke of focus, having the courage to know who you are, what you want, what you offer and to never stop until everyone you care about (friends, family, clients and colleagues) knows it.  And my favorite was the singular Marcy Blum telling everyone to look beyond the world you inhabit every day to enrich your world.  It is nice to see what your peers have done, but true inspiration is never derivative.

What I became more and more convinced of is that if you are unwilling to be an icon – to do things your way, without apology — you are going to get run over.  It actually does not matter what “it” is so long as it is your “it”.  The price of looking like a prettier version of everyone else is now too steep, no matter how good your art.  In a chorus, you can have the biggest, strongest voice, but unless you are out front getting the chance to show off that voice who can really hear you?  Does not mean you have to be Beyonce or Lady Gaga, just firmly away from the sea of sameness.

So how do you get away from the sea of sameness? Do things your way?  Start by listening to what works for others who have found success in creative business by being an icon.  If you have the time and wherewithal, go spend a day with Vicente Wolf.  Even if you are not an interior designer (and almost better if you are not), learning how Vicente approaches his art and his business is beyond valuable.  To give you a flavor of what I am talking about, here is a guest post I did for Vicente while he was on his annual trip.  Yes, Vicente travels the globe for at least six weeks (most years,eight) at the end of every year and he does not exactly live in a tenement so he can afford it.  Or you can buy Preston Bailey’s course and hear how he does things.  Insight into how Preston can imagine the environments he does and how he has put himself in a position to play only on a grand stage is nothing but inspiring.   Preston and his creative business live his truth every day.

If Preston and Vicente are just too too (expensive, intimidating, removed from you – you pick), check out the great material, including my workshop on the 4P’s, that Howard Givner has created for his newly-minted Event Leadership Institute.  As part of his ELI initiative, Howard has put together a series of talks to assist event professionals.  He is kicking it off this Tuesday, June 7th, with a talk by Sasha Souza in New York City.  Howard has written well about Sasha’s non-event questionnaire on his blog and hearing about the questionnaire is reason enough to go.  However, for me, the most important part of a creative business owner listening to Sasha (and, like Vicente, even better if you are not in the event business) is not so much the questionnaire, but what she does with it.  Having spoken to Sasha, I know that the questionnaire kicks off her process of event design and production and it forces her clients to make decisions in a way very much similar to any architect or interior designer.  Fascinating.  Sasha’s questionnaire establishes the foundation of how she will make her clients work – a concept I think every creative business has to embrace if they are to be iconic.

It matters not what you think of Vicente, Preston or Sasha.  They may or may not be your cup of tea – personally, professionally or even creatively.  What they share, alongside countless other successful creative professionals – Todd, Marcy, Cindy and Simon among them – is the desire and unflinching determination to be an icon – to do it their way.  For that reason, and that reason alone, you should pay attention.  And yet.  Once you have saturated yourself the various ways icons have developed their processes, put all of your notes, thoughts, materials, etc. in bin and burn them (hopefully, outside).  Take a page from Marcy and remember that true inspiration is never derivative.  If you have the Vicente Wolf, Preston Bailey, Sasha Souza or even Sean Low playbook in front of you, you may very well be tempted to say that that is the way.  Welcome to the chorus.  Better to clear your mind, embody all that you have learned and then walk an entirely new path that only you can.


1 Latrice June 3, 2011 at 1:22 am

Really great post, thanks for sharing.

2 Lisa June 3, 2011 at 11:45 am

This hits home….immensely. Thank you!

3 Heather Gardner June 4, 2011 at 12:26 am

Eloquent. Succinct. Truth.

Thank you.

4 Alex June 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Amazing post! I love it!

5 Las Vegas Wedding Concierge June 4, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Like that song, “I Got to Be Me”, it’s pretty scary being in the spotlight and not back in the chorus.

Takes lots of practice and lots of chutzpah (gumption) and a big risk to step out there: to stretch boundaries of thought, be controversial, shake things up, challenge the status quo and be confident in your process and results, regardless of the opinions that will come judging not only the product but the personality. That goes with the territory.

Glad you included in the Sasha in this great list of amazing ICONS whom I admire for inspiring me so much.

As always Sean, your posts continue to inspire and challenge. Congratulations on another great Engage event.

6 marcy blum June 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I am immensely flattered to be grouped with the others here-BUT most importantly, and i suggest everyone reading this do the same- i re-read your guest post on Vicentes’ blog that you allude to. Its a very valuable post, both because of your insight into the ever-intriguing Mr Wolfe, but also because the idea of organizing one’s business around the 4 P’s is a very enlightening one. Thank you for that

7 Michele Schwartz June 6, 2011 at 9:05 am

Thanks for reminding me! I’ve been nervous about those who are jumping on to my concept–now I realize it’s not the concept that matters–it’s what I put into it that makes it mine!

8 Donnie Bell Design June 6, 2011 at 10:17 am

You have to have your own style, methods, and vision, but when it comes to your clients you have to be able to find a middle ground. Sure, it’s great to be an icon, but it won’t do any good if you can’t pay the bills.

9 Natasha June 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Recently, WriteShot was tested. Our client hired us for what we do and how we do it–all the right reasons, so we thought. With the project underway, he informed us he had a “better” idea and wanted to change direction.

His idea wasn’t better; it was different. And, we were fine with that. However, in fleshing it out, we realized that our client didn’t fully understand the process in which we would have needed to engage in order to deliver on this “better” idea.

Once we explained our process in better detail, he came back around to what he had originally hired us for.

We’re open to new ideas; to changing course mid-stream. But the reality is that our process is rooted in expertise and delivering an artistic service and product of a particular quality and design. In this case our quality and design would have been compromised by changing our course at the client’s request.

As scary as the conversation was with the client, in the end, he got it. We’re moving away from being scared of openly sharing our process toward sharing it in a way that the client really understands the different pieces. We’re no longer worried about being exposed. Like Michael Schwartz says above, “It’s not the concept that matters, it’s what [we] put into it that makes it [ours].”

As we move toward icon status, we recognize the difficult conversations, tight jams, fearful feelings will give way to a better match between us and our clients and an increased ability to do our art as we envision.

Thank you for this post.

10 Clare Day June 11, 2011 at 12:50 am

Wonderful, valuable post. I have “dare to be an icon” now jotted in my business plan. Thanks for the inspiration.

11 OFD Consulting June 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Well said- appreciate the inspiration, as always!

12 Julia Barnickle June 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm

What a challenge! I like the way you suggest finding out how existing icons have done it – and then throw those ideas away! It’s always tempting to try to emulate others, but as you say, you have to do it your own way, or it’s not authentic – and if there’s one thing an icon has to be, it’s authentic.

13 Petronella May 29, 2012 at 12:17 am

When you look at why any one stands out (Richard Simmons, Nicki Minaj, Sinatra, Elvis, Oprah), they’re memorable because they’re unafraid to stand out in a BIG way. Thanks! Just what I needed today!

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