Diligence: the beginning of good fortune

I recently started mentoring and business coaching two artists – a Fine Artist (a cartoonist) and a Visual Artist ( a film maker). I am spellbound by the way their individual minds work.

Both are dedicated to creating rich, original, creative art – developing compelling ‘scripts’ which inform their audience, query narratives, and empower with fresh insights. One, having worked in The City of London with 2 global investment banks is determined to make a business of her artistic work; the other, sceptical of the profit motive, seeks to protect her inspiration by creating fine art that is not for sale – it’s sole intent is to prod and nurture a seed of change within and among society.

In different ways, both are demonstrating diligence.

What they sought from me was some support in thinking through a strategy for the expansion and sustainability of their art. I was as impressed as I was flattered. Artists form the last category of creators that one would imagine would want to horizon plan and develop a strategy – especially in Africa where they are not readily celebrated because of their work is often erroneously seen as an expensive hobby, one which one cannot readily make a living from. I for one completely disagree with that notion – artists world over continue to unmask the unseen through their work, whether film making, photography, painting, re sculpture, and even as they do so demonstrate that they are indeed deeply thoughtful and of course intellectual disruptors.

So they seek a ‘business’ strategy. For the fine artists a strategy is sought to advocate the importance of satirical art in presenting and querying contemporary social and political narratives, and for the visual artist and film maker a strategy is sought to build a compelling business model from which the art can have credence, make profit and hence have longevity.

What impressed me was that, from the outset of their work, they saw an end, a good end; they had a compelling aspiration which they wanted to preserve through strategy, and essentially, diligence.

Regrettably many set out in business without a roadmap – without a business strategy. Whilst we may do the SWOT analysis and provide some statistics to bolster our assumptions, a good strategy to my mind starts with deeply defining what it is that you want to achieve and do with your art, your work, your business. Quite often this is vague for many start-ups and, unfortunately, even some established businesses. Aspirations are ill-defined, limited to statements which articulate that we to be the ‘leading’ this, the ‘best’ that and the ‘number one’ this.

Not disregarding ambition, I am convinced that this cannot be enough in defining an aspiration and putting that aspiration in pole position – in pole position with the highest quality business case and execution strategy. Hope is not a strategy and culture eats strategy for breakfast. Starting a business on a wing and a prayer, and dreaming of business success without a clearly thought out road map (even though that in itself will be challenged by the dynamics of the market, an ill-thought out strategy) will mean that one starts the business journey swimming against the current.

The best of strategies come with tactics – and yet tactics, without strategy, are arrows without a target. The tactics of business will include your business’s unique capabilities, your resources (including people, expertise, technology and innovation etc), your organisational culture and the compelling focussed leadership of the business. Not thinking through these and forming a unique bespoke strategy therefrom can render unimagined frustration in business operations.

And that is why I am spellbound by my two artists. They both demonstrate a diligence to do and a determination to be that is often missed by the usual business people, and yet, they the artists, are ordinarily perceived to be the least likely business people.

Unfortunately the odds are usually stacked up against you anyway when you start a business – from your finite resources, to the economy, to even the everyday challenges of living and working in a developing economy. Add to that navigation without the compass of a strategy, and then one is really set up for hard times.

A business starts on a whim and a prayer, and lo and behold, enjoys financial success as their product seems to be well received by the market. The business thrives. Year 3 hits and still doing business on a wing and a prayer even though the marketplace is now yearning for a varied more responsive product, the business begins to struggle. Staff are pressurised into working harder, selling harder to make up for financial losses. True leadership is absent. Morale diminishes. Staff begin to leave.

Financial gains can mask the absence of diligence but it cannot do so for the long term – even the medium term. The art of running a successful and sustainability business demands diligence. The best way to predict the future is to create it but if you do not create a future through strategy and diligent strategy execution one may well create a future with frustration and disappointment. To quote Samuel Johnson, what we hope to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.

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