The connection between creatives, value, and survival

A few weeks ago I gave a talk for CreativeMornings on survival, being a child of immigrants, and what I've learned about networks and value. 

I rarely give public talks like this one, but it got me thinking about how we tend to frame startups, founders and tech as creating and uncovering value, while art, music, writing and other forms of creative work need "support," or are tagged as philanthropic activities instead of core parts of both our society and economy. 

We recently conducted a survey for ABQ Creates (which I've been running for about a year) that covered responses from 369 creatives in a variety of industries. 40-percent of respondents listed their total household income as $35,000 or less, with 25-percent making $25,000 or less.

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How pattern matching builds over time

It's been a while since I wrote about choosing your work in the midst of turmoil.

Some of that is because of the normal hustle of building a new thing from scratch (I'm currently working on ABQ Creates), and some of it is because I'm feeling the same political / structural extremes we're all being subjected to right now, and trying to figure out what type of value I need to deliver to help with the situation. 

One of the things that entrepreneurs of any sort struggle with (the good ones anyway), is not just the value of their own work and/or company, but what it means in a broader ecosystem.

If you're designing a matching platform, for example, you may be able to make money and grow a company, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're doing a good job. Uber's continued struggle with both their business model and (lack of) ethical structure internally illustrates how good things can look while simultaneously being a trash fire that threatens to overwhelm any value provided. 

The best founders that I've met care a lot about pattern matching - that is, making sure that the company's value is clear in both directions to audiences, customers, and employees.

If your value is aligned correctly, you can easily say "Cool idea! But we are working on something else" or "Let's run a test for the next 6 months growing this product area that our customers are consistently asking for." 

If your value is not aligned correctly, if someone gets to your landing page, product, event, etc. and it turns out you were telling them one thing but delivering another, there's almost nothing you can do to fix the situation. Even if you quickly pivot to provide what they expected, you've already created a pattern mismatch.

Mostly, pattern matching is about knowing what you are testing vs. what already works, and making sure that what you say or present matches what you actually do. Over time, pattern matching correctly builds audiences, customers, fans, and helps you grow individually and as an organization/company.

It's also a hedge against bad ethics, one-hit wonders, and non-sustainable business practices. 

On choosing work in times of deep change

We live in strange times.

I’m not sure how it compares to the intensity of other eras, but it seems significant when looking at a longer timeline.

My grandmother, for example, walked hundreds of miles to escape work camps during World War II, got on a boat to Israel that promptly sank, and somehow still made it through. And that’s an abridged version, with none of the suffering mentioned.

Syrian refugees have been facing the same kinds of problems for the last several months. But we can’t seem to do much about it because we’re angry, upset, or grief stricken for what feels like a minute or actually is only a minute. Then we either forget or become too overwhelmed to do much about the problem. 

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Do free work on your own terms

Usually, I tell people not to do free work.

It’s especially important if you’re a programmer, designer, or writer and the value of your work isn’t as obvious as what someone might assign to a pair of new shoes. 

But that’s not entirely accurate. Some of the world’s best and most talented creatives do free work, and quite regularly. Free work can be a good way to stretch, to try something new, to take a risk. 

Often, where the problems arise in free work are with people who don’t understand or care about what matters to a creative. 

This is best summed up in a tongue in cheek price list that graphic designers share every now and then. Basically, if you’re doing free or low pay work, you’d better also have the creative freedom and opportunity to experiment with it. 

Someone that doesn’t understand this balance isn’t likely to appreciate your best work, either. 

In other words: it’s ok to do free work, as long as it’s on your terms. 

Doing the work is more important than celebrating entrepreneurship

There’s a great phrase that a friend of mine from Boulder uses often. 

She calls it “doing the work.”

It’s one of those things that seems obvious, but isn’t well understood by startups or founders. 

Sometimes that’s because of ego and/or too high a degree of self-awareness, and sometimes it’s simply because “doing the work” can be a slow, painful process without much worth celebrating. 

Doing the work isn’t about appearances, it’s about the value actually delivered or created. 

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