The Legitimacy of A Business of One
Many of us creative people fail spectacularly in business. There is a reason for that, and I want to discuss it, and perhaps offer a…
Many of us creative people fail spectacularly in business. There is a reason for that which I want to discuss and perhaps offer a solution.
Welcome to The Reflectionist, a daily dose of reflection on the nature of the self, personal reality, creativity, life and work, submitted to the public record for posterity. Read personal essays and articles on the psychology of creativity to help you nurture and broaden your creative prowess.
In a recent letter to readers of The Creative Mind, I wrote about creativity and business and asked if they were compatible with one another.
The answer is debatable, but to me, they are ultimately compatible. In fact, creativity and business can be said to be polarisations of the same thing — two extremes — it’s just most of us settle at either one end or the other. What is that thing then? For me, it’s the inner world of creative inspiration and the outer world that we, the collective, have made. Being in, and experiencing the extremes of both is what this life is. For many creative people, however, traversing both and turning their labour of love into money is a struggle if not an impossibility. And if you are introverted like me, then marketing selling yourself can seem like self-betrayal.
Despite my life long distaste for business and its predominant inclination towards advantage taking of others, I managed to build a reasonably substantial small business from 2001. Although I held myself to high ethical standards, I struggled to assimilate myself into the business world. Or was it assimilate the business world into me? Either way, it felt like a bridge too far, so I began to second place these ethical standards for the sake of financial gain. It was then that things started to go south and prove my instincts accurate.
I worked in traditional trade-related services, providing labour to construction companies, engineers, architects, private businesses and homeowners. And although my daily work perhaps would not have been considered a creative endeavour, I didn’t see it that way. I saw the technical work of the job as an opportunity to express my creativity. I had a primary desire to do the best job I could, and I also expected that of my staff. Creative integrity was high on my agenda, and the hands-on technical work was what I enjoyed most. But the people that worked for me, most of them anyway, didn’t see it as I did. As such, every day was a struggle to have them meet my exacting standards. It was exhausting, and eventually, I gave up.
I despised attending networking events and seminars, but I forced myself to go because someone somewhere told me it was necessary. The idea that I needed to chase after new business, to push and hustle for the sale, was the unwritten first principle of business, and I followed it.
Everywhere in the rooms of these pretentious business meetings and get-togethers, people like me were selling a story, a fib, a lie. Like me, they mingled, they laughed and cajoled. They painted a picture of themselves that they believed would help them sell more shit that people didn’t need. We swapped business cards and added each other to mailing lists of which we didn’t want to be a part. We pretended to be interested in what the other person had to say while our shitty cups of coffee went cold in our sweaty hands. My skin crawled, and I ignored it.
Businesses come into being to serve businesses, which serve businesses that make stuff for people who are hypnotised by bright shiny things. So it goes like a fractal, a room of mirrors, a kaleidoscope of illusion, a fairground attraction. It is a house built on sand. The modern global economy is the grandest most hypnotic pyramid scheme the world has ever known. It’s a perfect surface-level world illustration of the emperor’s new clothes, and hardly anyone sees through the illusion until it’s too late. So the illusion endures until it collapses and then everybody cries and stockbrokers throw themselves out windows and fathers hang themselves from the rafters in their garage. I hated the counterfeit nature of it all.
After the 2009 economic collapse, a friend of mine asked me as we were having a few jars, had I ever considered suicide. I was a little surprised with the question and struggled to find an answer that didn’t embarrass him or me. “No”, I said. “It never entered my mind”. I thought about the question afterwards, I still do. I wondered which was more remarkable; that he was asking me the question, or that he thought I might have contemplated it and never picked up the phone. I wondered if I would have been brave enough to call him if our places were reversed. Maybe it was he who was fragile and was merely voicing his own inner turmoil. To answer your question honestly then; no, I never did.
Business is all about playing a game. It looks serious, it feels serious, and by Christ, you’d better take it seriously. But under the thin surface layer, there is nothing substantial — it’s like playing Monopoly. If you go deep enough, just like in the pursuit of that thing out of which the universe is made, you’ll find nothing which you can call material. Democritus was wrong. There’s nothing there.
You’ll see this if you look back at any major global economic collapse, just as you’ll see it in the midland towns of Ireland. Towns that have been decimated by the departure of talent to the east and the west in pursuit of dreams. People believe wholeheartedly in the arbitrary concept of money, and they invest themselves in it, what it can buy, and the businesses that create it. The entire thing is a superficial game, but we can’t see it. And when the house of cards comes down with us holding on for dear life, we are destroyed.
You see in my book, sales, marketing and the execution of all those intelligent aspects of a business, is simply the manipulation of gullible people and “favourable” conditions. The sales, marketing and advertising departments of corporations know more about our behaviour than we do ourselves, and they take full advantage of that. They spend billions every year bombarding you and me with slogans and images of pretty people using their product.
Take the shoe manufacturer that rhymes with Fletchers — they sell the shittiest shoes on the planet that disintegrate after four weeks, yet through clever ads with beautiful people, they fool millions into buying their piece of shit products. Supermarkets put high margin, and often low-grade, products in your eye line and sell fruit and veg that spoils in the fridge in less than three days.
The nature of sales and marketing is built on the premise that people can be convinced to buy something even if they genuinely don’t want it. All you need to do is find a way to hack into the psychology of joe and jane public. Understand their needs, wants and desires, then frame your product in those terms and et viola! Deliberately selling to people’s emotions is the capitalist model for success. The modus operandi of the many businesses in our western industrialised society is to trick you, to get you to put your hand in your pocket and buy.
Manipulation and dishonesty have become normalised. No wonder then the solo creative like you and me, holding to a high degree of integrity, is at odds the pretentious rituals of the business world. How can we possibly take part in this charade? Is there no one real any more? Is there nobody in business prepared to tell the truth?
How can we sell with integrity and not become lost in the bullshit?
The reality is, there’s nothing we can do about the conniving and conceited in this world, so we should let them be. Some of us will succumb to the lure of bright shiny things, and there will be those ready to manipulate us for profit. So we need to get wide, learn to avoid it, and remain centred and focused on our daily work. This is all that matters because in the work we can forget about the Trumpeteers and the rascals. They’ll still be there, but they will be out of sight. That’s not a cop-out by the way. Fact is, you and I are responsible for our own state of mind, nobody else, so we’d better get busy focusing on the important things closer to home.
Get into the work, get into it every day and make something. Make something for someone who cares — that’s what operating a legitimate business of one is about. Take pride in your business of one, and once your work is done, get it out there, show people — it’s that simple. Go to shows and showcase events, send your work to every publisher you can find, be prolific and relentless and then one day someone will take notice. Show them as often as possible and trust that the work will speak for itself. Forget about the future; it doesn’t exist; all that exists is now.
Eventually, we begin to figure out the best places to show our work and the best people who have the money to support us. It’s not easy; it’s not supposed to be. So get stuck in, trust the process and build a sustainable business of one around your creative work.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters