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Sometimes, you get the impression that business is basically robotic. You find a business idea that looks good to you; you research the market for it; you dive into it, if it looks likely to make you ‘financially comfortable’. Of course, there’s that bit about constructing a business plan, with dimensions of current prices and projected demand, product features and expected profits. You find a location, set up, run the business, and harvest mega bucks. Or you struggle to stay up on rough entrepreneurial seas, until you sink under the weight of debts and abysmal sales. Pretty straightforward, ain’t it? I daresay that business is a terribly uninspiring ten-hour swathe of our daily lives (at least), if the picture painted of it above is true. It’s probably this sort of dull narrative that causes many to start up ventures that they never manage to sustain for more than a year or two. What is there to inspire you in the really low points of business, if it’s just about exchanging your Ankara fabrics for cash? The best of today’s businesses have thrived because their founders set out to express themselves by solving people’s problems with their skills and talents. They didn’t begin with the idea of building money making machines modelled on the status quo of the industries they operated in. Behind the extended, tiresome, sweat-filled hours these entrepreneurs spent on their ideas, there was passion. It was ignited with the turning on of the idea lightbulb in their heads, and grew as they strove to make the idea come to life. Today, these flames are lighting up our world in many ways. Just like the great works of art.

Startup ideas: fill statue cracks or smash old paintings

The artistry of brilliant business can be seen in its details. The person who finds a need gap that isn’t being properly filled may move to fill it, just like a writer decides to tell a story that he believes people want to read. It takes the perceptive entrepreneur to spot this gap, just as it requires an observant artist to know what the audience will appreciate the most. They both go on to lay out their ideas in detail, by point, stanza and scene. But not all artists will set out to please their world all the way. Some will intend to rebel and disrupt, attacking the currently popular school of thought. Likewise, the industry disruptors of our age (and the ages before ours) redefine the way business is done by taking daring steps, aided by technology, novel ideas and a dissatisfaction with things as they are. More often than not, these brave new startups (like unusual painting styles or unconventional writing) will be flops and get mocked into oblivion. On the few occasions in which they succeed, they sweep aside the old ways and soon, become the new status quo.

Business plans, sculptors’ drawings and novelists’ digs

When you sit down to write your business plan, you sketch an image of your business as you intend it to be- as the sculptor would for his statue, before he gets down to the actual sculpting. The planning of the businessperson is akin to the outlines drawn by the writer in preparation for the writing proper. Here too, business mirrors art quite closely. I’m not forgetting the market research that goes into planning a business. The award-winning novelist sometimes finds that in order to create a truly great work, he has to dig into histories or theories of psychology or cultural ideas. Fine words are not the point of the work. Substance and accuracy are far more important. Carving the business out of location and capital will take attention to detail and translation from paper sketch to physical, functioning structure. Adjustments may be made along the line, but the company fashioned out by the entrepreneur usually follows the general outlines of the original plan. Sell art artistically. When your business is up and running, you’ll sell to spectators. The one who puts on the most convincing show for them really doesn’t put on a show at all. He or she reaches into the souls of the audience, feels what they feel, thinks like them, and talks their kind of talk. He mirrors them, till they get that he’s one of them. They can trust him to give them what they need. This is the art of the salesman, and anyone who’s good at this becomes a selling champion. The product you put out to the market can itself be art. Quality thought and great imagination birth creative expression; if it speaks loudly enough to people’s senses, they’ll value it enough to pay for it. True, the busts in museums and the paintings on the walls of our homes and public spaces don’t fill our bellies or fix our cars. But they satisfy our aesthetic thirst. This is why they still have price tags on them. Your fashion design or digital marketing business will thrive if it satisfies a public thirst. Turn your monotonous, boring enterprise into a passionately expressive craft; you’ll be pleasantly surprised what becomes of it. If there’s anything that hints at the underlying artistic nature of the business, it’s the concept of branding. You don’t just thrust your factory output into the market and watch them turn into heaps of cash. You send out a brand to the world. The bar soap cartons you ship out to the supermarkets aren’t mere ‘things’. With branding, they become a promise. You tell the world that the soap doesn’t only help with cleaning themselves up; its scent lingers on their bodies, and gives them the confidence to approach their day and conquer all odds. This is storytelling. This is art. Here’s my point I get it. The world spins on its axis so fast, you don’t have the time to make a Mona Lisa out of your business. Why can’t you just do the sharpish thing and hope for the best, as ‘everyone’ does? The hard fact of life is that it’ll give you negative rewards if you’re careless about its ‘fine details.’ You don’t have to be a perfectionist, who hovers over all the tiny dots. But you can be an artist who wants her painting to be the best of her work, as the world would pay to see. Why not have a business that strives for artistic brilliance, something that’s an expression of a dedicated you and the realization of your customer’s dreams?

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This article was first published on 13th February 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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