When building a business, the customer comes first. When creating art, the customer comes last.
A business can only sustain itself if it has paying customers.
Therefore, the way to build a business is to:
(1) identify a significant customer problem
(2) create a solution that adequately solves that problem
(3) attach a price to the solution that customers are willing to pay
(4) ensure that what customers pay you exceeds what it costs to operate your business
That’s the ABCs of making a business.
And that’s why the customer must always come first when building a business. As Steve Jobs said, “One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward toward the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”
The process of discovering a customer problem is an intellectual pursuit. You apply the powers of observation, inference, reasoning, analysis, and conscious thought that are the hallmarks of the neocortex – the modern apparatus of the human mind. Analyzing markets, assessing customer research, contemplating business models, and designing financial plans are all elements of business building, and they stem from our cerebral capabilities. The mind is great at solving business problems. It’s the right tool for the job.
However, that’s not how art works.
Art originates from The Source beyond the intellectual mind. It doesn’t come from an analytical thought process. Art emerges from somewhere else entirely. Where? It’s hard to say. No one can tell you for sure. That’s why I refer to it as The Source – an ambiguous nod to a form of intelligence that lies beyond our intellectual abilities.
Gary Larson, the artist and creator of the Far Side cartoon series, said it well when asked how he does what he does:
"I don't know where my ideas come from. I will admit, however, that one key ingredient is caffeine. I get a couple cups of coffee into me and weird things just start to happen."
Hilarious, and accurate.
Art is an act of original, spontaneous creation that can only take place when the intellectual mind is moved aside and The Source is allowed to come forward and begin its work. That’s why many artists have a difficult time describing how a piece of art came together. It wasn’t something they thought about. They simply act based on feelings and an intuitive sense of where to lay down the next brush stroke.
This is unlike a business where the origin of a business can be rationally and concretely explained.
The Source comes alive and art is created when the mind goes quiet. The idea may make a pit stop in the mind as it originates from The Source, but that is not to confuse it as having originated from the mind.
There is no customer in mind for an artist. Only the desire to express something that originates from inside them. To ignore The Source within them is to deny themselves. To abide by The Source, and express something simply for the sake of expression, is at least part of what art is about.
Although various forms of art may impress you, it was not created for you or because of you. There is no customer for an artist. It was created for the sake of being created. It just turned out that you might have liked what the artist created. The artist did not have you and others like you in mind.
So, here we are with two juxtaposed ways of being. On one hand, you have the tool of the mind to analyze objective measures of reality. On the other hand, you have the tool of The Source to express things that don’t have a basis in rational thought. Two opposing forms of human competency that convey two contrasting ways of living.
Yet there is a shared throughline between them – both are an act of creation.
To create a business is to create a unique entity that hasn’t existed before. It may be similar to other businesses, but still, it is not identical to other businesses before it. It is new.
To create art is also an act of original creation. It may be similar to other forms of art, but again, it is not identical to other forms of art before it. It is also new.
So, here we are again with two juxtaposed ways of living and creating. One that is rational, objective, measurable, and that arises from a known source. The other is irrational, subjective, immeasurable, and arises from an unknown source. Yet both can be used to create. And they can be used in parallel to balance the trade-off between business and art to enable forms of sustainable creation.
I think the advice of “follow your passion” is too generic. It lacks wisdom and practicality. I would amend it to say, “Follow your passion. Then, figure out a business model that sustains it.”
The act of sustainable creation is the art of knowing how to balance the two sources of creation. There will be times when building your business will require an emphasis on your intellectual capabilities. And there will be other times when you should engage in the desire to create something for no reason other than The Source nagging at you to express what it is that you want to express.
Learn how to cultivate both forms of intelligence and allow them to flow through you. Balance is the answer, as it is with all things in the Universe. And with the balance of two forms of creation, you may find your way toward sustaining your own contribution to creation.
What inspires me right now
Meet Marc Rebillet AKA “Loop Daddy.” He’s my favorite musician and Youtube creator. He composes his music on the spot. Both the beats and the lyrics are made up in real-time. It’s a spontaneous act of creation that comes from Marc’s one-of-a-kind Source. Marc then leaned on his intellect to figure out how to monetize his music by streaming it over the internet, directly from his living room. To me, it’s a beautiful dance between The Mind and The Source. He’s found a way to sustain his original form of creation.