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The Art of the Experience

“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best kind of art.” – Andy Warhol


When we were all kids, we were lied to about what the world would value from us later on when we would be grown ups.

We were told to get jobs where people would tell us what to do. We would manage our part of a process, move whatever we were working on through a process (a widget, a student, a patient, a project) and get paid for it. Mix in a little blind compliance and adherence to the rules, and you’d probably get promoted. And although nobody ever said so, the unspoken understanding for getting promoted was that you’d protect the status quo and not rock the boat.

So yes, I just threw your boss and manager under the bus. You might be lucky and work in an innovative or entrepreneurial environment, but it’s more likely that whoever tells you what to do is a professional cog in the machinery, a rule follower and status quo defender. As they say, people love the company, but quit their boss.

The world doesn’t need managers. The world needs leaders, and leaders are artists.

Once upon a time, artists were mostly actors and singers and painters. Curiously, while we worshipped them as our heroes, as the people we most wanted to be, it was also universally accepted that you didn’t want your kids to be one.

Being an artist was too risky.

What a wonderful world we live in now, where the greatest risk you can willingly take on is not being an artist.

The greatest value today is not created by people who move things through a process, but by people who see the opportunity for what is missing, for what comes next, and they make it. That is art.

In the Experience Economy, which is the economy you live and work in, art isn’t a thing – it’s an idea. And that idea is to change the people who your work is for. I say this over and over again in my talks: the experience has nothing to do with the offering.

Work that matters, work that is art, work that is talked about and shared and celebrated is work that leaves the customer better than when you found them, and so in this way, the customer themself is the product. Your work isn’t about your offerings; your work is about the effect it has on other people.

I don’t write blogs just because writing blogs makes me money. I write blogs because you read them.

I don’t talk to rooms full of people because I get paid; I do it because people are listening.

Tom doesn’t work with our clients because he gets paid; he works with our clients because he knows a secret that they don’t know. And that secret isn’t “how to do it;” that secret is “what’s going to happen as a result.”

Your work, your art is about changing another person.

Selling them goods and services is not art. It’s not even interesting, and that’s why commoditization happens – because people don’t want goods and services, they want to be changed. They want to be delighted. They want to be better.

If all you do is sell them stuff, you shouldn’t be offended when they choose to pay as little as they can for it. Remember that being a commodity is a choice you make and a self-inflicted wound.

I know that thinking of yourself as an artist might be difficult for you. You think artists are weirdoes and for good reason – they are weirdoes. But mass marketing – appealing to the middle, the majority, the status quo – is dead.

Mass customization is ruling the day, and mass customization is just getting started. In the not-too-distant future, you are going to have a choice to customize every single thing you spend money on, from your running shoes to your cars to your education to your investment experience. Everyone and everything will be a custom job.

Richard Branson didn’t invent airlines or music, but the risks he was willing to take to do it differently clearly shifted him over to artist from industrialist. Same thing with Steve Jobs.

Does everyone have to be an artist?

No. And while the industrial economy is no longer growing, it’s also not going away. We still need people who want to have jobs and be told what to do. The question is, does it have to be you?

Does your audience need (or want) you to be an order taker or an artist? I will point out that we never have a shortage of cogs, but we always have a shortage of artists (or leaders, if you prefer).

Earlier I said that for something to be art and for you to be an artist, you had to be willing to do things that might not work out. You had to be willing to fail.

Consider Dell computers. Nobody has made any mistakes at Dell, and they make great products and have made a lot of money by focusing on the tight management of costs and product cycles. Meanwhile, at Apple they insisted the key people at every level acted as leaders and artists. They did things that Dell could have done, but chose not to.

So are you Dell or are you Apple? Who do your customers want to be?

Here are three questions to ask yourself about the work you are doing to help you make the serious shift to being an artist, celebrated by your audience.

  1. Are you a human being? Are you investing your humanity into your work? Can people feel it?
  2. Does your work have an impact? Is your work changing your audience?
  3. Is your work generous? How can you make it more so?

Okay, I guess that’s seven questions but I was on a roll.

Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot to me.



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