Three Kinds of Courage Every Business Artist Needs
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Courage is grace under pressure.” I can’t think of many other words that describe the artist’s life quite as well as pressure.
When you’re using your creativity in a business context, you become a Business Artist. You face pressures from every side. There’s the pressure to meet expectations, ship products on time, make sales, and meet your company’s objectives.
There’s also the internal pressure that comes from functioning as a creative. You want to feel you’re making a difference and growing as an artist. You also want to operate from your zone of strength and meet your own stands–which, if we’re honest, we can sometimes set too high for ourselves!
Any way you slice it, you need to face every day with courage. But it’s not just any type of courage. There are three specific kinds we’ll explore in this post.
The Courage to Empathize
When most Business Artists consider what skills are essential to their profession, empathy probably does not make the top of the list. But I disagree with that point of view. Every successful salesperson I’ve ever met has a lot of empathy and can relate well with others.
If you’re in sales, you not only need to be able to make the right phone calls and say the right words. You also must have an implicit, empathetic knowledge of who you’re talking to. You need to be able to use all the resources in your natural environment, what we would call technology, to relate to that person.
Your goal is to move their business forward through a sale or a conversation that might lead to a sale. When you enter a conversation, you must figure out what that person is saying, doing, thinking, and feeling.
Then, you must pivot the conversation to where we would like it to go, all with the intention of serving your client or customer well. This is the essence of effective communication.
Empathetic selling has been the subject of many books and much research. It’s hard to do well if you have grown up in a data-driven world. If you live in a world tailored to your preferences, it feels like a lot of effort to focus on what someone else wants or needs.
You go home, and there is a Netflix recommendation about what you should watch. You visit a new place, and the GPS tells you the most convenient way to get there. A world of personalization and convenience means you explore less. As a salesperson, it’s, therefore, harder to put yourself in someone else’s shoes because technology is always putting itself in your shoes to make your life easier.
Every salesperson would benefit from going to a new city, renting an Airbnb, and then not using Google Maps to get around. There’s a lot of value in going somewhere you’ve never been, then saying to yourself, “I’m going to find my way back. I don’t know this city, but I’m smart and intuitive enough to figure it out.”
You end up going in different directions and heading down dead ends as you find your way. You’re not following a script. Instead, you’re discovering new places and using creative thinking to explore the world. You’re putting yourself in other people’s shoes and experiencing what it’s like to live there. That’s the essence of empathy.
The Courage to Create
As humans, we are wired to consume. We wake up thinking about what we will wear, eat, watch on streaming, or buy. Even though creativity is a natural human impulse, we are so distracted and oriented toward consumption that creativity takes intentional effort.
Creation requires courage. Consumption does not.
The more we rely on technology to give us what we want, the more it is a struggle to create. This is not only true in life. It’s true of the sales process as well. If you always have a playbook or process to guide you on how to talk to a CFO or a COO, then you haven’t learned how to do this on your own.
While it may be easier to always have a guide or proven pathway, it also takes away the joy of exploration. It’s no fun having technology do all the work for you. For example, it might be convenient to have every book in the world available for instant download, but then we’ve lost something important by not having to visit a local library or bookstore.
When technology only serves you what you have consumed in the past, there’s no discovery.
Creation requires courage because it means we don’t just rely on technology to do the work for us. We understand the value of getting our hands dirty and walking “among the stacks” of life.
The creative process must be intentional. The more we focus on consuming and making ourselves comfortable in life, the duller our creative senses become. It’s not an automatic process. As much as we would like to believe that age and life experience will make us more creative, it’s simply not true.
You don’t become more creative by getting older. You become more creative by making things, taking risks, dissecting other people’s work, and paying attention.
The Courage to Experiment
As children, we loved to play and experiment. We’re discovering where we fit into the big picture of life. Over time, we have a better understanding of our gifts and the unique ways we might be able to contribute to the world.
But once we gain knowledge in a particular career, we are less prone to experiment. We play by the rules, and most of us go to great lengths to avoid rocking the boat. As “responsible adults,” we do what we once thought unthinkable. We settle for the status quo.
Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was a good example of doing just the opposite. Although he won a Nobel Prize and was revered by people for his depth of knowledge, in his research, he also kept in mind what he calls “open problems” or open questions. As he went through life, he would always ask, “Does this have anything to do with my open question?”
It’s fun to take this perspective and find connections across domains that, on the surface, might not seem to be connected. He saw life as one giant experiment with questions still to be settled.
I encourage you to visit any contemporary or modern art museum. You don't have to like it all or agree with the experimentation, but you have to appreciate the attempt and bring that quality into your work. This goes beyond “thinking outside the box.” We’re talking about thinking forward and finding your creative style.
The very nature of being an artist is creating something that hasn’t existed before. We all have influences, and nobody is truly “original.” Everything is a riff on what’s come before. But at its core, all art is experimentation because you’re expressing yourself in a way the world has never seen in that exact way.
The “old masters” of painting typically focused on one style until they had taken it as far as their skills would let them. Change happened slowly. When change happens fast, people perceive it as “chaos” or “art expression.”
This experimentation is what Business Artists love to do. It takes courage to experiment and not constrain yourself to the pace the marketplace can handle. This is why many artists are considered “avant-garde” in their generation, but by the next generation, they’re considered “old school.”
The term “avant-garde” comes from the French and literally means advance guard, referring to the part of the army that goes forward ahead of the rest.
I can’t think of a better metaphor for Business Artists. We go forward and pave the way for others with empathy, creation, and experimentation–three kinds of courage essential for the demanding yet incredibly fulfilling work we do.