Archive | December 2014

Those Little Tales That Spark…thank you

News usually depresses me. Dealing with business transactions sometimes elevates my blood pressure. The senseless spending in my small town sometimes makes me despair. When I feel down, a few of the sites I visit or listen to for a boost of energy, sanity, and a few good laughs, are:, TED Talks, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! (a hilarious NPR news quiz show),, or music radio stations. Recently, Washington Post added a weekly “Optimist” news collection, and I find at least one worthy story every other week. A few weeks ago, the story/video on “Recycled Orchestra/Landfill Harmonic” touched me enormously; it’s a lovely story for the holiday season. There is such joy, beauty, innovation, creativity…and life, packed in a video clip less than four-minute long. Please make sure you read the postscript.

Did you feel some sensation coursing through your body and soul when the young man struck the chords on his cello? If so, please share this video with as many people as your social media will reach.



If you travel for the holidays, be safe. Wherever you are for the holidays, enjoy your time with your beloved ones. And have a wonderful New Year.

I will resume in this space 1/4/2015. Till then,

 Be joyful.

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Artist-Entrepreneur Nexus

The knowing-doing gap infects the majority of us, at least occasionally if not frequently.   Sometimes, it’s a matter of exercising our will to push ourselves into action, but more often than not, the stumbling block transcends willpower. Recently, I came across a short article in a small town, advising artists to treat their artwork as a business enterprise. Self-promotion, learning different 21st century tools to market the art, attending to tax issues, hiring an accountant or bookkeeper, and so on. How can you refute such good-intentioned common sense suggestions? But, do artists really not know about business models? Is it as simple as a knowing-doing gap for artists?

The stereotype of the disorganized, haplessly head-in-the-cloud, constantly creating out-of-box artist is just that, a stereotype. But often there is a fundamental trait carried by artists who are truly creative, as they generally have different brain structure from others. The distinction between left-dominated and right-dominated brain function is not a myth, and artists are by and large right-brain dominated. While I don’t know what percentage of people are comfortable moving from left brain to right and back to left constantly, without “thinking” about it, I do know most people have one side dominating over the other side most of the time. Natural inclination does not preclude learning, understanding, and functioning well in areas that do not come to us easily. The difference (and the resulting tension) is that when we work in our naturally gifted areas, it’s almost effortless and joyful, and when we work in areas where we have learned to overcome the “shortcomings” of our natural inclinations, we spend much more psychological energy. The art-vs-business tension is a perennial issue, and artists are only too painfully aware of this tension.

grace over arch

I believe that the majority of artists have thought about how to organize their “enterprise” for sales and profits. I know plenty of artists who try hard, very hard, to market themselves and their work. Of all the professions, artists might be one of those who face rejection most frequently, daily, weekly, monthly, annually. They know what they need to do, but I ask, Is willpower their only stumbling block to becoming better businesspeople? For every successful published author, high-demand visual artist (of any media), talented musician, often-cited poet, there are probably 1,000 (most likely more) struggling artists. How many market niches are there for all these artists? How much time can they afford to spend on the business aspects without feeling starved, spiritually, artistically, or physically?

One of my artist friends is a quintessential right-brain-dominated artist through and through; she cannot help but create all the time. She also has an MBA, is very savvy about marketing, and is not shy about self-promotion. Yet, she struggles financially. Listening to her stories about dealing with the business aspects of producing her work and occasionally following her on her transaction runs, I am blown away by the “stuff” she has to deal with. Gossip, back stabbing, jealous barbs, tempers, rumors, dramas – all present, but less intense, within other organizations – litter her path. Are there manuals on dealing with these “soft” but emotionally charged issues? How does she find, in her limited budget, funds to hire an accountant, bookkeeper, web designer, etc.?

I know another artist who is also multi-talented and “mind-blowing” creative. She is impeccably organized, in her workspace and in her mind. She understands the needs of, and tolerates the effort required for, marketing or self-promotion, but manages to do them very well. Because her genres are not designed for mass market, she has to work overtime to promote her work. While she’s highly regarded for her art and pulls in decent income, her safety margin could be ulcer-inducing narrow. In fact, when I reflect upon all the artists I have met and known in my life, they are all multi-talented and organized, but few could live comfortably on income from their artwork alone.

My point is that artists know what they have to do to sell their art and to treat their artwork as an enterprise. While all know, very few succeed in making a comfortable living being an artist; most of them have a patron in their lives, e.g. their significant other with whom they share the financial bounty or woe. It’s amazing to me that artists, even single artists without a patron, still dream and pursue their ideals, without drowning in cynicism from dealing with the business aspect of their operations.

The traditional entrepreneurs’ business ventures are often considered a form of creativity; however, the starting point in their operations is product development, so it is in their interest to find and hire people who can organize the process. More importantly, societal and economic structures readily facilitate entrepreneurs. In comparison, for those artists whose work requires some production of, let us say, sculptures, vases, etc., the operation is so significantly smaller that hiring assistants just may not be feasible. Don’t even get me started on introverted artists! Economies of scale are rarely, if ever, in artists’ favor. How many Dale Chihulys are there?!

Exhibit of Dale Chihuly's work at Denver Botanical Gardens.

Exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s work at Denver Botanical Gardens.

I don’t have ready advice to offer. If I could, I would find ways to organize a business community that would provide the necessary operational support for artists at a small fee. That’d be real assistance most artists would welcome. Otherwise, 21st century technology notwithstanding, artists’ struggles to sell their work remain an ageless problem.

So, when you consider buying artwork, a good novel or a collection of poems, or some heavenly music, don’t try to bargain, just buy the work for you and for the artist.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Versus, Either-Or: It’s a lazy way of thinking

blue ballsIn management talks, one common framing is “leaders vs. managers,” or, “leadership vs. management.” Many managers like to think that they are leaders when they can’t even manage well. And most self-proclaimed leaders think that managing is beneath them. Clearly, in our minds we assign values to these two roles. Yet, true leaders, with humility, spend valuable time understanding the people around them, their work, and the context; wise managers value the knowledge of how work is done and think holistically. In great leaders, we see their managerial talents, and in great managers, we see their leadership qualities. Pitting one category against the other feeds small-minded egos, and often results in unfortunate decisions and counterproductive policies.

More importantly, leadership qualities and management skills can be manifested in anyone without carrying any titles, depending on the context and situation. One doesn’t have to be a team leader to lead a project. There are many aspects involved in executing a project, and at any given time, someone, anyone, can seize the opportunity to lead with her suggestions or ideas. Or, one can take the lead in networking, scouting resources, or trouble-shooting during any phase of a project. Someone with impeccable administrative talents would be a godsend to me in my team!

In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, his “level-5” leaders exhibit and appreciate for detail, fact, and evidence, spend time to understand how work is carried out, do not seek credit or spotlights, have the courage to make risky decisions instead of hiding behind process and procedures, and give staff room to develop. My point is that true leadership and great management skills overlap quite a bit.

However, in today’s ever-increasingly stressful work environment and our push for specialization, people feel they don’t have enough time to ponder and make distinctions. Putting everything in neat categories, assigning a value to every variable, or codifying every procedure appears to save us time, but we all pay the ultimate price of being boxed in, having little room to maneuver, or feeling neglected for our special talents.

Just look at some basic aspects of our daily life. When you call a business with a question or a problem, be it an airline, wireless company, doctor’s office, etc., the gauntlet you have to go through to get to the “right” channel is maddening. By the time we are motivated to call an outfit, our needs may be so specific and individualistic that we can’t seem to find a fit with their system’s pre-determined categories. I usually just randomly choose an option and then explain my reason for calling; it seems to matter little just who I initially get hold of. Have you noticed that at each gauntlet “station” you have to explain your reasons to each agent all over again?

Not only we are limited by the categories from which to choose, we contribute to the overall constriction by thinking we can choose only one of the two choices. Just two, either-or!

art in nature

When someone thinks that she’s a “leader,” and therefore only needs to focus on making big plans, dreaming big dreams, coming up with big visions, and attending strategic planning retreats, she often makes unrealistic demands on the lower ranks by imposing counterproductive deadlines, authorizing arbitrary budgets, or constraining staff power. Think of a leader you admire; I’ll bet that he knows his industry, his company’s capabilities, and his people’s skills, very well. He doesn’t just espouse lofty ideas. However big the dreams these admirable leaders have, they know how to push their dreams to reality, and they know what people they can rely on to help them realize the dreams. Knowing all the facts can paralyze an average leader or manager, and making a wise decision and driving it to execution isn’t limited to either management or leadership.

To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right.”  by Bob Sutton, co-author (with Jeff Pfeffer) of The Knowing-Doing Gap & Hard Fact, Dangerous Half-Truths, & Total Nonsense.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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