Incremental Change Is An Oxymoron

by seanlow on July 25, 2017

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you want to fix it, you have to break it.

Every time I hear a creative business owner say that they are going to raise their prices ten or twenty percent a year and hope to make fifty percent or so more five years from now, I want to scream in my pillow. At the top of my lungs.  Aaaaacccccck.

Art is about breaking things – rules, standards, norms, culture, even laws. We, as patrons, so often want to be shocked awake, transformed by the experience. Sure, guilty pleasures, fluff, is a distraction and fun for all, but at the end of the day candy will never be a meal.

We live in the age of disruption where technology has changed just about everything from taxis (Uber.com) to hotels (Airbnb.com) to retail shopping (Amazon.com). Do you think the folks running these businesses thought that it would be a home run if they just tweaked the way taxis, hotels and retail worked. Of course not.

So why oh why are the most creative, innovative artists on the planet, owners of businesses capable of imagining a world we do not yet inhabit, act like timid little mice afraid of the big bad business elephant? It is just silly. You get paid to dare for a living. Please dare with your business.

Just because you cannot imagine charging three times what you do today or running a business ten times as big as the one you run now, does not make it any less possible. What does make it impossible though is incremental change. You cannot triple your price unless you can prove to clients (employees, colleagues, even spouses) why you are worth it. This means changing your model, getting paid for what you REALLY want to get paid for.

And that is the best part of creative business. There are no rules and the more you constrain yourself with the fiction some other (not very smart) creative business owner made up as THE rule, the more you live the lie you were never meant to live. Break the rules not because you can, but because they were never rules to begin with.

I love Blue Ocean Strategy as much as the next person. We should all chart our own course. However, what I am talking about is much deeper than simply a strategy to find uncharted territory. I am talking about being true to your soul as an artist, where there are no boundaries of possible only the imagination of what could be. What would your creative business look like then?

The beauty of the world we live in today is there is an audience for everyone. If you own your voice as an artist, a creative business owner, those who care will find it. Do not disappoint them by looking exactly like the next creative business in all ways except for your art. Be iconic as a business with the understanding that you actually do not have the choice not to be.

As if all of the above were the most insidious part of incremental change. No, the most insidious part of incremental change is it creates the illusion that change, even incremental change, is reversible for a creativ business when it is not.

If I raise my price ten/twenty percent, I can always lower it if nobody pays it. A) If your creative business is that price sensitive, you do not have a creative business, you have a commodity. B) if you are established, raising your prices incrementally without doing anything else, only legitimizes the competition below you. (Shameless plug: if you do not understand how B) works, you need to join The BBC Collective to find out). And C) if you raise your price incrementally, all you will do is anger those expecting your former price and create confusion as to what your actual value is. Hey, if $8 was good enough yesterday, why do you need $10 today?

You can charge a little more, tweak things, put lipstick on the pig all the way into oblivion. Or maybe, just maybe, you can look inside to the artist you actually are, the one who had the courage to start in the first place, and live that truth. Be fearless in the notion that, if you can imagine the possibility, it exists and will be valued as you need it to be. Live the fantasy we pay you to dream for us. In your world, let “creative” rule “business” in the context of creating your business. Be disciplined in the outrageous and confident in its value for your business above and beyond your art. Let this be your voice.

The place for incremental change is at the bottom (i.e, in the abyss) of your very own blue ocean. Leave it there.

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