Lead with Art- How to Become Necessary
When you become NECESSARY to your clients, trust and freedom come naturally. Here’s how I learned this lesson when I learned to Lead With Art.
When I left my professional career as a landscape architect I didn’t know quite where I was headed. I was running away from a desk job, away from a machine that I felt was producing less than excellent quality, and running toward all the things I thought I needed.
One of those needs was a feeling that I needed to prove that my artistic skills and gifts were something that people wanted to pay money for. This was a big one because I knew I was talented but had never experience it valued.
No one had ever paid me lots of money for my artistic talents.
For speed and accuracy? yes.
For quality work? Yes.
For the ability to get a job done? Yes.
But no one had ever wanted to pay me lots of money because they valued my work artistically. And I wanted it to be VERY valued.
Because it wasn’t valued, I stopped offering it. Just stopped doing what I do naturally- find ways to bring different ideas and materials together artfully. And that’s when I broke down and broke out.
I wanted to support myself with my artistic talents and was set on figuring out how.
I’d never done it but I’d seen it done.
In college, I thought I would be a public artist so I got two degrees, one in landscape architecture and one in sculpture. I had the opportunity to be the assistant to a successful public artist for a few months. After working for him, I approached the Seattle arts commission (I think now it’s the office of arts and cultural affairs). I started a special project that would evaluate public art projects by landscape architecture design standards. Through those two experiences, I got to see how professional artists are chosen, how tax money is managed for major civic art installations, and how an individual artist placed on a build team presented to and interacted with the rest of the design and building team- so architects, city planners, construction managers, civil engineers, structural engineers.
It was fascinating.
What I saw was the power of maintaining a vision. Nobody wants to mess with the strange, mysterious artist’s vision.
In these meetings, after an artist is selected for a big project like a light rail station, The artist is on the design team to build out this project.
And what I saw was artists OWNING their art, OWNING its purpose and importance, and acting as a protector and steward for the kind of impact their art would have on the community.
Understanding, collaborative, but unapologetic.
For the most part, the engineers, architects, budget managers, would do what they could to make the artists vision possible. City code was reinterpreted, entries and windows were reoriented, ground was regraded, structures reinforced. They knew they didn’t need to fully understand why, they just knew that they needed to trust and find a way to fulfill this strange person’s request.
When I started as an art minded landscape architect, I thought, hot dog, I know how this is done! Let’s start making some earth art!
What do you think happened?
Suddenly budgets were too tight, construction schedules were too far behind, it didn’t work with the engineering approach, some other component cost more so my budget would have to be reduced.
My perceived value was different because at that time and place, I was not considered an artist. I was a mere landscape architect who had to obey the boring laws of all the other non-artists.
I see the EXACT SAME PHENOMENON working in floral design, and I imagine, every profession.
So now I know this:
LEAD WITH ART
I’m not saying that leading as an artist will get you everything you want; that everything you propose is not still flexible to your client’s needs, but in my experience an effort is made to get you what you need because art has value… to some people… my kind of people maybe yours too.
And here’s a story about how leading with art played out in Lola.
Early on I would really take anything. Even if I wasn’t a good fit. I could always do something creative with the job.
Now, Our big break project came in 2013 when we got a call for a tech celeb’s birthday party. He was eclectic and would need a lot of strange things made.
I would need to put together a proposal asap. I had minimal information about what was happening or who this was happening for. Oh and I had 4 weeks to concept, get sign off, build, and install this massive event. And I would never meet the actual client- the birthday boy.
I asked how I would be able to do this without some sort of info about the project- with no budget range. She said, give me a number that there’s no way this could ever go over, and that will be the budget.
I said 50K because at the time, I thought, there’s no way anything could ever go over 50K. (Palm to forhead…. Groan.)
I asked how they found me and they had said that they asked the catering manager at their venue and she had said that Lola Creative was the only people she knew that could pull it off.
And then it occurred to me….
….The reason for that is on all of those small jobs that were not quite right, I would make an extra piece that was totally represented our company.
I’d walk the catering manager, planner, anyone in the industry over to look at it, and say with joy why I loved it so much.
This catering manager didn’t see all the boring stuff I had made during my first couple of years. She saw all the stuff I asked her to see, all the stuff I practically shoved in her face.
Because of that, I am now the only person that comes to mind when she had a golden egg to hand out!
That particular kind of golden egg, anyway.
So whatever is your art. Whether that be an amazing service, or a unique technique- whatever you want the responsibility to be known for. Lead with that. Put it in people’s faces even when they don’t ask for it.
That way people will know, when they get YOU, they get THIS, and that is how it has to be.
That way when people want THIS, they know they have to have YOU. You are necessary for THIS.
Come with an artist’s mindset about that and start seeing a new freedom among clients who want that thing and trust you exclusively to deliver it.
Oh man I get pumped up about this.
Lead with Art!
If you’re struggling with leading with art. Sign up to our inner floral posse. We talk about this sort of stuff. AND we have an upcoming product (September) that may make leading with art in your company a little easier 🙂
Ps, The images are not from that special break-through event. I was under a non-disclosure agreement and could not take pictures.
The beautiful people that always lead with art include Jojo Dyckhoff (Bamboo Beats) and Carlisia Minnis (Mac Fashion House).
I still love these photos so much 🙂 taken by Alante Photography
Thoughts on Bravery and Fearlessness…
Recently, there’s been a slight shift in my outlook on life and business. Maybe, just maybe, brute force when it comes to life and business is not the goal. Maybe bravery and fearlessness is not about making things happen. Maybe most of it is just good ole trust. (first I blather, then I explain).
I’ve never feel at ease next to the ocean. Beach vacations, sandy walks, oceanside camping; there’s an undercurrent of, “the ocean wants to devour me.”
The ocean is teeming with life so different from my own that it’s hard to understand. A true mystery. It’s unpredictable, it’s destructive, it can take a tree and paw with it until it resembles the sun-weakened ghost of a great beast. A beast much bigger and stronger than I. At the same time, it’s alluring.
When faced with great uncertainties in business I tend to jump right in, however, not with the ocean. I’d prefer to NOT try and understand it. I’ll enjoy it sure, but I’ll be wary. That got me thinking… Where’s all my bravery and fearlessness?
Our culture values bravery, stubbornness, and strength. People that will things into existence.
Historically, my go-to method for experiencing life and business has been the ‘DECLARE, DROP, THRASH’ method.
Oh, you haven’t heard of it? Oh it’s very prehistoric.
First you DECLARE:
I’m going to be ______, I’m going to do _______, I’m going to get_______, I’m going to learn_____.
Then you DROP yourself into whatever lifestyle, work or environment you deem necessary to achieve your declaration,
Then you THRASH about something makes sense. Until a path comes clear.
And if it doesn’t, DROP AND THRASH ELSEWHERE.
It’s been brutal, but valuable in that I’ve learned a lot quickly. Eventually, I’ve learned what to thrash on, and what should be left alone. I’ve learned what is already working and what will not improve with enhanced thrashing.
This process is the opposite of ease, elegance, and organic growth.
The rewards are a quick lesson in testing limits. What limits are solid and what is flexible? What rules do I want to follow? I’ve learned what level of risk I can handle, gained trust in my own capabilities, and have gained a fine tuned compass of what works for me and what doesn’t. I know that I am capable and can figure out anything, but that I don’t need to figure out everything.
You may have heard me tout this method because, well, it’s badass, brave, and fearless. Take something uncertain, research the messy bits, and take action. Experiment. That’s been my motto- all in pursuit of conquering more unknowns and achieving a satisfying career and lifestyle.
However, I recently learned of another way. Fierce satisfaction with what one has…. and not striving for more than that.
Historically, I would have called this ‘settling’.
But recently, I’ve been observing and really appreciating those folks who find joy in what they have, only poke and prod at uncertainty when it crosses their steady path, make small adjustments as they are needed… people that prioritize tradition and what is important in the moment. Some of these people seem to be thriving… 🙂
I’m thinking I’d like to have a bit of that kind of bravery too. After all, it comes from the same place, TRUST.
Trust that things will work out. Trust that you can handle it. Trust that you will know what to do.
These statements are the same sort of trust foundation that makes someone brave/ fearless- just on a different path, or maybe looking a different direction.
So for now, I think less thrashing, more trusting.
BUT, if you’d like to take advantage of all the thrashing I’ve learned from in my journey as an event designer/ business owner thus far, you may want to sign up for our email list.
Tips to evolve your business when a ‘life volcano’ erupts.
Life is full of transitions and shifts. Same goes for our businesses. But in a time when we feel pressed to find a niche, express your super focused brand, and do that thing consistently so you don’t confuse your audience, it can feel uncomfortable to allow your business to evolve with you.
At Lola Creative, we’ve (ehem, I’ve) had a few. First, just transitioning from a well paid corporate career with years of experience and a big ole bill of student loans to a fledgling floral design business took some guts. Then realizing we were more of a full event design company that makes custom fabrications was another turn. My biggest life/ business volcano however was when, almost a year ago,my volcano of a belly erupted into an actual human being. That has been the most startling adjustment to my business.
There’s a lot of trash-talk out there about the greedy business person trying to scrape what they can, but a lot of the folks in this industry left higher paying work for their current business. Why? Freedom maybe, greater connection with their customers, greater responsibility, to be able to create something of high quality and value, to do something that makes their heart all big and juicy, to work hard and watch that hard work pay off. Check, check, check, check….To do something that felt right, every day. To have your work and life aligned. To feel like work is your ‘life’s work.’ PURPOSE!
Parenthood, business changes, the loss of a loved one, these things can take your precious alignment and smash its contented face in. So, if that’s happened, or happening to you, here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful when what you thought IS, is no longer.
- Practice Patience. I know the ‘be patient’ advice can make your eyeballs twitch. But practice again and again to be patient with yourself. You need time to get your bearings. Keep things bobbing along or lay low until you gain clarity. If you just had a life volcano erupt, you may need MONTHS, to get back to where you feel you are clear headed.
- Feel like your path has split into two? Be Curious and find Creativity in both. Get to know each with respect to the other. Can I go this way and still maintain this way? How does it feel to do what I was doing while also giving attention to this new path?
- Find Your Core Driver. For me, becoming a parent felt like I might have to give up my creative life. Being a present, not-frazzled mom was paramount, and early on, I felt I could not do both parenting and running a business well. If you find that change is necessary, try distilling what is essential about your business. In what ways does it contribute to your sense of purpose and joy? How can you still get those things while still thriving in your new direction? When you are focused on the purpose, the means is not as important
- Release your identity. It’s hard to accept your purpose and the changes that truly support it if you are locked up in identity illusions. Stuff like, “well I’m a ______, it’s what I do, it’s who I am.” Puhleeez. You are a shifting, spreading, throbbing hunk of life and passion. You are a creative force, girl, no matter what you change. It’s okay to be indescribable.
- Break the Rules. Maybe your path isn’t going to look like you thought it would. Maybe your way of doing things doesn’t look like the way others are doing it. Perhaps there are social rules that don’t really fit into your new world. Liiiiiiike, maybe your baby hangs out in a baby corral at the workshop and gets used to wearing noise canceling ear muffs when you have to use the power tools…. just an example.
- Accept the Seasons. If not now, then maybe later. Or maybe not. When later is now, maybe something else. It actually is all-good. It is okay to take a break. It’s okay to stop and it’s okay to start again. It’s okay to say no to one path to fully embrace the new one.
Messy. Pretty. Pretty Messy. Glorious. Puzzling. Filled with light. Pissing rain. Whatever. Bring it on.
Mad Science Themed Photoshoot and Weirdos.
The birth of my son had a dramatic impact on my business. I’m not talking about having less time (though that certainly is true as well). I gained a new urgency that every project I work on needs to be aligned with what our business is all about. It’s guts. It needs to be meaningful and for Lola Creative, that sort of means it needs to be…. weird.
Our clients… well…they are kind of weirdos.
Just like we are.
I’m not saying we all are wearing our underwear outside our clothing or working our Halloween costumes into regular work rotation. It’s just that our clients seem to want to connect with a little bit of the delightfully unexpected. They want newness and imagination. Something that on paper, might seem a bit odd.
I’ve always known this about our people, but I got to thinking… maybe we are not clear enough on this.
So, to make sure our freak flags are big and loud, we’ve put together some new imagery for our main site that exhibits the values of our company. They are:
Guts, Brains, and Imagination
This mad science shoot is photographed by Easton Richmond and features the concept of ‘Brains.’ The brains component of our values identifies how essential research and planning is to our process. Because weird without good planning can be, well, scary.
Enjoy the photos! I’m going to go nurture my inner weirdo.
Thanks to all who participated in this shoot!
Creative Direction, Set, Props, and Styling: Lola Creative
Photography: Easton Richmond
Hair and Makeup: Jamyrlyn Mallory
Location: Seattle Wholesale Grower’s Market
Model: Lauren M. Kulbeth
What Does Business Related Fear Feel Like?
Before you can do anything about business related fear whether that be fear in starting your new business or managing your changing business, you have to first be able to notice that it’s happening to you. This is difficult, because the signs are sneaky. I just wrote an ebook that delves into my own experiences in fearing and learning to manage my business related fear. How do you know when it’s here? What does fear feel like?
In my new ebook “Be
Fearless Scared but do it Anyway”, I talk about managing fear. A lot of it has to do with reorienting fearful or anxious feelings and sometimes recognizing when it needs to stop all together.
With the birth of my son, my husband and I are having to make some changes to how we live and work. I find that while my creative energy and ideas are at an all time high (joy= creativity?), my available time is at an all time low. I’ve estimated I have roughly 20% of the time I once did to dedicate any serious focused brain power. It’s forcing us to simplify and clarify our visions for our future and to strategize in new ways. With that, comes the uncertainty and unease.
I had never practiced managing fear much as it relates to my family life so I was surprised when I was barraged by a bunch of old, familiar feelings. Here’s what fear and anxiety looks like when it pops up for me:
Irritability– I’m irritated. I’m irritated at the dog, at the baby for crying when I’m not immediately in front of him. I’m irritated that I can’t get anything done, that dinner takes a long time, that the water is tepid because I used up the hot water doing massive quantities of laundry. I’m irritated at slow people in the grocery store, slowness with my computer. I’m irritated that I can’t find my keys, that I can never find my keys, and irritate that I haven’t found a system for managing my key losing situation.
Restlessness– always thinking- the inability to not turn off. Being lostin thought about your business. Pushing to go faster, be efficient- but perhaps for no clear reason than just to get to the next task. The feeling that you have to hurry through this tedious, uncertain part so you can get to the part that is meaningful/ profitable/ the actual work.
While I’m able to be present with my son, the few blocks of uninterrupted time are often wrought with these feelings. And obviously these feelings are counterproductive to working well.
I’m finding I’m having to reapply the tactics I wrote about in my ebook, readjust expectations, prune my efforts to maximize effectiveness. Some pursuits will be delegated, while others will be recycled.
I love this journey… even though the course is ever-adjusting.