What Matrix Guides the Artisan Entrepreneur?

Recently, I read the story of a graduate student in her first arts entrepreneurship course. She recounts that the first assignment her class had to complete was to analyze The Matrix with a view towards entrepreneurship. The instructor wanted the students to analyze a.) four key components that converged, and b.) the value created as a result of the convergence. The four components were:

  1. factors within our control,
  2. ones outside our control,
  3. inspiration, and
  4. time.

MatrixUnderstand that the paradigm from which the class was operating had far less to do with the thought of a start-up business venture than the combination of behaviors, attributes, qualities, propensities, and actions requisite to think entrepreneurially. Prior to the assignment, the students had come to a place of agreement that key qualities of the mindset would likely include innovation, discipline, vision, and leadership.

In yesterday’s blog post, we studied the comparative mindset of artisan versus opportunist entrepreneurs. Clearly, the ability to recognize an opportunity is critical to either group to attain optimal revenues. In like manner, organizational skills with regards to people, tasks and ideas are important to possess or acquire. Planning, which is envisioned differently in the mind of some, is a discipline that helps the entrepreneur anticipate and become prepared. Thinking of both conventional and unconventional ways to fund the pursuit of the idea is also generally agreed to be important.

As you look at the paradigm, mindset, skills, and habits listed above, a system emerges. Yet, the system relies on the artisan entrepreneur’s ability to observe a competency model that is unlike any at work in corporate HR circles. This competency model values:

  • intellectual and personal entrepreneurial skills,
  • basic professional skills, and 
  • a general understanding of arts culture, policy, and management.

Students in the class mentioned above pursued their respective competency models through a series of exercises administered by the professor. They were encouraged to develop a vision, produce a comprehensive feasibility plan, write a series of process papers, and prepare “pitches” of their proposed ventures to mock audiences of various forms. The assignments became more challenging when the students found out that they had to work interdependently with one another for the work products. For the average participant, this was an unwelcome wrinkle, as most artisans enjoy their individualism. This is not unlike other types of entrepreneurs, but is a personality trait that we documented in the artisan versus opportunist dichotomy that becomes significant when you think about the components the students had to analyze in their Matrix project.

In order to address factors outside one’s control, there has to be a letting go that is ever so hard for an entrepreneur. Without admitting defeat, one must admit the need for help. Realizing that help may be needed forces the individual to think in terms of team development–not just development, but additional sub-processes like recruiting, training, nurturing, and vision casting. If you’ve had no prior experience doing these types of things, they can become your undoing in an enterprise.

The factors that appear to be within one’s control seem not to present a problem. Yet, as we think about these factors, we realize that we must be delusional to honestly think that, as complexity arrives on the scene in terms of additional team members, the external demands upon the enterprise, and the need to divest ourselves of tasks that don’t match out motivated ability, even the internal environment becomes dicey.

Inspiration seems to come naturally to the creative mind. Finding a way to balance newness and executing on prior thoughts is significant, because being able to do so can determine ultimate success versus floundering. Time is an asset that gets swallowed up despite out best intentions. As we build teams, boards, advisory experts, etc, we are able to free up time to focus on the truly important. 

Value has been created, but not without some proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears.” Please don’t be dismayed. You can do this–but you need to embrace a competency model that guides the members selected for your team to collectively represent the diversity you will need to pursue your vision!

Reliquary, Hajj, or Commons – Choose to Engage

In analyzing the entrepreneurial contribution of artisans, we scratched the surface of an underlying question as to what constitutes the arts business. Some would argue that there is a defined business model that has worked for many artists and artisans for decades and that newcomers should kowtow to the tradition. Others proffer that art is not to be seen as a profit making enterprise, but as creating an aesthetic that serves the individual and/or community psyche.

Doug Borwick, immediate past President of the Board of the Association of Arts Administration Educators, queries in his blog over the weekend whether art is an ….

Individual or Community Resource?
A good (and valuable) preliminary question might be “Are the arts an individual or a community resource?” Trick question, of course. The arts inevitably serve both. However, I think much of our focus is on the individual, both as creator and consumer. I certainly believe more attention should be paid to the arts as a resource for community improvement. And, of course, by community I mean any collection of people who are bound–intentionally or, sometimes, de facto–by a characteristic they share: geography, certainly, but also culture, interests, concerns, preferences, background, etc. We speculate that this service to community was one of the origins of the arts but their binding or healing power for communities has been, in my opinion, under-appreciated, under-valued, and under-utilized by the arts infrastructure. 

He then suggests that the community service contribution of the arts has not been valued and monetized properly. The definition of community is interesting–in addition to geography, he references culture, interests, concerns, preferences, background, ans other contributing factors. In admitting what artists and artisans focus on the individual as creator and consumer, it is unspoken that the creative individual understands the consumer’s needs. In my own experience with friends and family members who are highly creative, as well as artisans who participate in a boutique/incubator I advise in Raleigh, NC, I am stunned that very little thought appears to be given to buyer personas. 

Buyer personas are what helps the entrepreneur figure out what may sell. Knowing as much as possible about the thoughts and values of your target buyer gives you the best opportunity to tailor your works for sale. While I understand that consumer sales are not the motivation of the typical creative, it does factor into the computation of how not to be a starving artist. There is also room to create works for the cultural enrichment of the community if, as Borwick points out, one can find a way to monetize it. In fact, Borwick uses a series of metaphors to try and explain the business of art:reliquary

Reliquary, as in a shrine or container of relics. The only focus here is on the relic. A reliquary would still be a reliquary if no one looked at it. Arts organizations that are “all about the art” are reliquaries whether they deal in visual (fixed) or performing (variable) work.

Hajj, as in a regularly occurring pilgrimage to a holy place.. A pilgrim is required for a hajj, but the intent is for the participants to be uplifted by objects or experiences. In the arts hajj, it is the audience/visitor who is transformed or edified; the art is fixed and not altered or affected by external concerns, interests, or influences. 

Commons, as in a resource accessible to all members of society. The commons belongs to everyone, even those who do not take advantage of it. .. if a work of art is not speaking to the community, that’s not the community’s fault; their response is either community-focused education or selection of alternative works.

Think through these metaphors in your own creative journey. While you may not consciously think you are creating shrines or a “city on a hill,” the question remains whether the community for whom you claim to create appreciates your work. If not, back to the proverbial drawing board to  rethink the buyer persona for something that resonates more powerfully!