Ziggy Stardust & Business Owners: Different Rules?

Courtesy of Creative Commons
Courtesy of Creative Commons

In 1972, the post-Beatles music scene felt dour, pompous, overly earnest.

Then, came Ziggy.

Ziggy was a fictional character borne of David Bowie’s imagination, biography, and possibly his encounters with another musician obsessed with UFOs.

Bowie and his alter ego gifted the music scene with elaborate performance art, social poetry and commentary about the rock music scene’s drug abuse (at the time, Bowie wasn’t using drugs), and its phony glamor – all with a narrative revolving around the planet’s near-end.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars would later later be tagged one of the best, most important rock albums of all time.

Yet, at the end of the tour that brought the snow-skinned golden boy American fame, Bowie was nearly broke. Bowie cared about helping other musicians whose work he admired, he cared about music, and he cared about his future. What he didn’t tend to, at the time, was business.

By one account, none other than John Lennon – the backup voice to what would become Bowie’s first #1 Billboard hit “Fame” – sat the younger innovative muse down and steeped him in the business of music and of, especially, trusting the right people.

That sensibility perhaps helped Bowie continue to spread his musical magic for another several decades. Philosopher Simon Critchley calls Bowie the most influential, most important musician of the past 40 years.

Here’s the thing: The naive artist claims to be above business. For that matter, the naive if not philistine business owner or entrepreneur claims that art is useless.

Artists and entrepreneurs can – and I would suggest must if they wish to thrive in this time – learn from one another and contribute exponentially to the greater good.

So, are there different rules for artists versus entrepreneurs when developing business models with sustainable revenue?

Artist vs the Entrepreneur?

This question came up recently on a forum I participate in:
The Artist vs. The Entrepreneur: A query for you all. Businesses exist to solve problems (in my mind). If you’re not solving a problem then you don’t have a business. But artists (painters, dancers, sculptors, poets etc.) don’t ‘solve problems’ in the way that businesses do – and yet many of them are trying to make it as a business. I’m curious about your thoughts on this. 

Here are my unfinished reflections:

Artists in whatever culture are in a societal exchange whether financial or tribal. The artist who claims to work in silo asks to starve.

Business owners and executives on the other hand hunger to experience the freedom and aliveness they sense in artists. The business owner who shuns artful experiences potentially starves her soul and that of her customers.

Where do the two meet?

We work with this topic every day at Tracking Wonder because we call our heroes “business artists” – mission-centered executives, professionals, service providers, authors, artists, organizational team members who aim to bring forward their best work for the greater good.

In the past 100+ years, arguments have been made about whether artists need talent or practice to flourish. They need both, but they also need versatility – the real virtue.

That means they are able to experiment like scientists, create like artists (imaginative, social, emotional intelligence), and earn like entrepreneurs.

Experiment like a scientist. Create like an artist. Earn like an entrepreneur. (Tweet this. Thanks.)

Here’s the main thing I’ve been consulting on in this arena: The best artists not only sell records or paintings or sculptures. They create experiences. That’s what they ‘sell’ (driven by talent + practice). Same for some of the best, most artful businesses. They sell products and services. But they ultimately must create meaningful or delightful experiences. A part of our work has been to show our clients how to build-out forms of audience, customer, and community engagement year-round.

Artists give every phase, every moment they have, and when they’re ready – whether artist or business – they risk beyond comfort and beyond the bottom line. Compare Ziggy to Bowie’s Poe-esque “Drowned Girl” 27 years later, and you understand a master’s versatility.

Such flexibility and suppleness, such capacity to evolve is where business artists have the advantage over many big businesses whose bigness and stakeholders trap them.

Do artists solve problems? Do businesses create art?

We are suffering creatures, and we are yearning creatures. By our very nature, we seek to improve. That we suffer gives rise to problems, small and grand. The best businesses and art often arise out of the founder’s or artist’s nagging problems or discontent with how things are, personally or trans-personally. The best products I’ve studied lately arise out of problems that the founders, inventors, and staffers experienced themselves – and then those teams sought novel, useful solutions (core definition of creativity in psychology: novel + useful approach).

Consultants are in the business of tracking problems and seeking innovative solutions.

Consider this scenario at Samsung Turkey. A Samsung customer service rep has a deaf friend. The deaf friend obviously cannot call in for customer support. So, he constantly emails his friend at Samsung support for assistance. The Samsung rep shares the problem with others at Samsung who can track the problem and seek novel, useful solutions.

The result: The Samsung Hearing Hands Center – a video call center where deaf customers of Samsung can call in and interface with Samsung agents trained in sign language. To me, that’s beautiful, elevating, touching.

But the Samsung team didn’t stop there. Their next creative challenge – How to announce this new solution in a true way that conveys its beauty? A Samsung team created yet another level of wondrous experience. They found a Turkish neighborhood in which one of its deaf users lived. For a month, they taught neighbors – taxi drivers, store owners – sign language. Then with hidden cameras, they captured this surprising morning for a young deaf man named Muharrem.

At one level, that solution and video might not be art, but it is artful, and it is business as art and business as unusual where the heart line trumps the bottom line.

Do artists solve problems? Some. A musician is constantly is tracking musical problems. The 2014 film Love and Mercy directed by Bill Ohlad traces Beach Boys’s Brian Wilson’s ongoing struggles to resolve musical problems aligned with his own integrity and vision versus those voices who insisted he play it safe with the existing market. Does much art respond to our inherent woes and yearnings in the human condition? Constantly and in ways the best businesses cannot touch.

The innovative business artists – whether they lean toward art or business – with whom we work and who are thriving become astute problem-trackers and innovative makers of solutions and artful experiences.

They become versatile in how they view revenue and get smart within their respective fields and industries to see what they will create for revenue and not.

These are challenging and exciting times to approach artful making with business acumen and to approach business with artfulness & integrity. If you’re an artist who’s ignoring business, you risk your art not reaching its full impact. If you’re a business owner ignoring artfulness, you also risk your message not reaching its full impact.

Business + artfulness can lead to greater impact for the greater good.

You still have to produce excellent music

But both artists and entrepreneurs also thrive because they are not amateurs fueled by passion alone. They have studied to excel and they insist on quality – art, service, experience. Bowie still has to produce fresh music. A business still has to produce exceptional products. A thought leader still needs to craft exceptional content or books.

It’s kind of hard to deny that Bowie’s come back hit “Where Are We Now” has an inescapable, delightful ear worm refrain.

 Ziggy’s still got it.


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