Artistry and being indispensable

I aspire to be an artist in my work. It's a lofty claim, and one that leaves me open to derision. But I mean it.

I mean it, because in my work I endeavor to surprise and delight people - to take projects beyond the baseline expectation and create value. And on a good day this might affect someone. It might change them. It might challenge them. And that is what art does.

I learned this ethos from Seth Godin, perhaps the most influential marketer and business writer in the world. I think his attitude is downright terrific (I get a hit of Seth-ism every day from his blog).

He writes in Linchpin: 'people do their art where they find it'. Shakespeare did not create the play, he wrote them because that was the sort of thing available for reinvention at the time. I don't think Elon Musk was born to transform payments systems. He was just born to transform things, period. Folks like that do astounding things across time. They pick up where the previous generation left off.

Shakespeare and Musk are spectacular examples of course. Their work plays out on a world stage. But art is possible everywhere. Yesterday I set the buzzer off going through airport security. A guard motioned me toward him for a search. I was so ready to sulk throughout our interaction. Before I had a chance, he smiled a wide, ironic smile and chirped 'welcome to my corner sir!' as if I'd won a prize. I couldn't resist that! No one could. I laughed and threw up my arms. He asked me was it still raining because he was planning on cycling home from work. Nope, clearing up out there. We parted ways, both in a better mood. That's art.

So, the passion to create art lives in people. The materials, situations and technologies at hand are transient. The instinct to make something happen persists.

So what gets in our way?

Deference. Treating your employer or client like a boss. Allowing your output to be dictated and constricted by another. Then you are a machine. Eventually, you might be replaced by an actual machine.

The alternative is to deviate and create. Dream up something beyond the brief. And get it out there. Don't let it languish in a folder. Take the risk and push your nascent idea out into the bear pit. It can be audacious on a Musk-ian scale, or just a fun customer interaction, like when the security guard seized the moment and lifted my whole afternoon.

And if you can do that frequently, you acquire a reputation as the guy who does that. And that's valuable, and hard to replace. And it's the right thing to do.


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