Artists Seeking Patrons

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” — Oscar Wilde

Be yourself.

It might be one of the most common pieces of advice we all get. And who really disagrees that we should be who we are? After all, who else could we be?

In fact, this advice is so common that we often fail to unpack it, to plumb its depths, to really reflect and take action.

When I heard the Wilde quote recently, I had one of those small moments of insight we all wish we could conjure up on demand.

It was this: My business is about helping other businesses to be themselves.

I’d always tried to apply Wilde’s insight to my personal life. But now I can see that it applies to the business world equally as well.

Let me explain.

Chasing butterflies

I firmly believe that there’s a lot of me-too-ism going on in the world of business. A part of all of us wants to keep up with the Joneses, to not be the weird kid in school who chases butterflies on the playground while everyone else is playing kickball.

Somehow when we run businesses we feel safer if we’re following an established path or a paint-by-numbers system that a guru or vendor tells us will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.

This kind of “safety” is a mirage. Customers are craving authenticity, and authenticity isn’t something you buy off the rack, like an inexpensive business suit. It comes from inside you. Accept no (cheap) substitutes.

What we don’t do enough of as business owners is to think: What makes my business special? What do we do that’s special or unique? And who is our tribe?

The truth is that your company, every company, should be itself. There’s already an Apple, a Microsoft, a Google. But there isn’t [fill in the blank].

That’s where you come in.

Who we’re meant to serve

I invite you to ask two core questions about your own business:

  1. What are you in business to solve?
  2. Who are you meant to serve?

If we have deep, rich answers to those questions, if we focus most of our energy on serving who we’re meant to serve, we might just discover something deep and profound about each of our businesses. We need to respect and appreciate our own journeys, understanding that authenticity is driving profitability in the new economy.

Indeed, as we go along on our journeys, we’ll discover that all of us in business should really be artists seeking patrons — not blueprints seeking photocopiers.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn blog.

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