How on earth can you predict who’ll be a successful artist?!
Being a successful artist comes down to the company you keep. More specifically, the range of company you keep.
Business Insider released an article called “Here’s The No. 1 Predictor Of Career Success, According To Network Science”, and while it’s focused on the more traditional mainstream business world, the main thread applies equally as well to artists.
The main point of the article (which is well worth reading on it’s own), is that the primary quality successful people have is an ‘open network’ not a ‘closed network’, that is, successful people don’t limit themselves to the same-old/same-old day in and day out. They’re part of numerous and varied groups of people, and this varied input is the impetus for success.
The article is written for the Protractor and Stats set (vis: nerds), so certain artists will poo-poo it offhand as not applying to them, but if we separate the message from the messenger, there’s quite a bit of gold in the article.
On one hand, we all sort of know that keeping an open mind is accepted as being a good thing, and we all know dyed-in-the-wool types that burrow into their ruts and for whom any sort of change or variety as a portent of doom (They’re the ones who, even though it’s tough to describe exactly, insist on ‘regular’ flavored toothpaste.) (ba-dum*tish*)
Let’s examine this from an artist’s point of view…
False modesty aside, statistically and by most measures, I could be considered a successful artist. I’ve been doing it full time as of this writing for almost 20 years and I have a cushy thing going that most other artists would love to have a version of too.
Depending on whom you ask, common thinking is that I’m “just lucky”, or that my art is of a certain caliber, or that I know and understand marketing, or that I’m a one-trick pony and have been flogging the poor beast to its knees, etc., but this article shines a light on another possibility, and one that may explain these other phenomenon.
You see, I know a hell of a lot of people and run in circles that people are often surprised by.
I went to high school in a farming community of about 500 people on the Canadian prairies, and I’m still very close to them. Yet I’ve lunched with Hollywood producers, dined with Inuit hunters, and hobnobbed with members royalty from three nations. I have close friends who’re farmers, dentists, oil rig millionaires, auto mechanics, top life insurance agents, mortgage brokers, engineers, an Air Force Major, and a chap who stocks bread in a grocery store. Last week a dear friend who has a PhD in molecular biology with whom I was a finalist on Canada’s Greatest Know it All on the Discovery Channel came to dinner at Mortgage Manor with her family (I got 3rd, she got 2nd).
What’s interesting is that most of these people I’ve met since I turned 40, yet my best friends are still the ones from way back in Wawota, Saskatchewan.
I foresee scads of artists raising their hands to complain that “that’s fine for YOU, but I’m an introvert and meeting people is difficult!”
For the record and despite appearances, I’m what we call a ‘gregarious introvert’. I enjoy people (in small groups), and consider deep conversation with worthwhile people and belly laughs and occasional tears to be among the highest of pursuits. I find myself on an airplane every 4 or 6 weeks for some conference (where I’m the only artist), or a holiday or gig. But after some of that, I need to be alone and quiet. Entire weeks will pass where I don’t leave the house and don’t see anyone other than wife and sons (though I recognize that’s not all that balanced either). One of the reasons I became the Drum Sargent with the local Firefighter’s Pipe Band was so that I’d get rooted out of my studio at least once a week!
But I’m curious. I enjoy a little chit chat. I don’t mind talking to the busboy or the bank teller or the gal behind the desk at the dentist’s. Without being intrusive, I like to hear about how things are done, or what’s new, or how people came to be where they are. (I draw the line at drama. I refuse to have anything to do with it.)
The point is that I’m not one of those backslappers who charge around pouncing on people and being the life of the party, nor am I afraid of interaction. Sort of in the middle, but mostly quiet (I’m an only child) with bursts of vivaciousness.
If one looks at my career and interpersonal interactions, the article seems spot on.
Of course having wide and varied relationships doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s an overriding trait seen across numerous industries.
In the article, there’s a quote from Steve Jobs interview from Wired in 1995:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
There’re some who will disagree, but they’re wrong because that’s right on the money! 🙂 And it’s also why having various personal and professional circles is SO beneficial.
You SEE things…
Okay, so you don’t feel like hanging out with a bunch of life insurance agents. For the most part, neither do I, but there’s a few things we can do to begin the process of expanding our experiences.
1. Read outside of your routine.
If your entire reading consists of Cosmopolitan Magazine and Harlequin Romances, you could try looking through a few easy “mom business blogs”, or pick up a gardening magazine, National Geographic, or read anything by John D MacDonald. Start looking for new things that catch your interest.
Often this will re-introduce you to something you used to find interesting but had set aside for one reason or another.
2. Learn outside of your routine.
If there’s a fountain of youth, it’s here. You needn’t start by trying to learn Mandarin Chinese; you could take a cooking class, or find a YouTube channel and try something new every few days (Alton Brown, Nigella Lawson, and Chow Ciao are three of my favs). Take an online course to learn how to build your website. You could take one of our courses *cough*.
Just be sure to set aside strict time for this, preferably daily, even if it’s only 15 minutes during a lunch break.
3. Travel outside of your routine.
Get out of your rut! You needn’t sell everything and live out of a backpack while you hitchhike across Asia, but try going for a daily walk and make a point of noticing things around you. Take a different route to The Day Job. Try a different grocery store. Go to different restaurants, different gas stations, different everything.
4. Meet new folks. Be friendly.
In these classes and new places, you’ll inevitably encounter new people. Practice your social skills. Say “good morning” and “hello” and “thank you” in an ingratiating manner. Seriously. If you can’t be pleasant to a stranger, how on earth are you going to manage yourself in front of new clients?! A warm smile is helpful too.
If you’re taking a class somewhere, make a point of saying “hello” and “goodbye” to everyone and if there’s any chit-chat try to be involved. Of course one doesn’t wish to inflict themselves where they’re not wanted, but society has conventions for these interactions and it’s important to partake in them and if the chemistry is right, nice acquaintances can bloom.
No one is going to eat you or decry you for being pleasant.
5. But don’t pitch them!
A common misconception is that I and other successful artists who sell a lot are constantly pitching ourselves.
NO NO NO NO!!!
I work my arse off to make sure that it’s VERY easy to purchase my art, and to insure that I present myself in a manner that instills confidence with the client. And that means NOT pitching them, especially in any kind of social scenario!
Have you ever been in a situation where you meet someone who’s just got a job selling insurance and they try and pitch you in a social setting? Gah! It’s awful… It can even be weird having them hand you a card.
So why would it be any different if WE tried to get business in a place that’s not appropriate?
The insurance chap has an office, and that’s where the business should take place. IF a chap was to say to the insurance agent “You know, I think I’m getting screwed by my insurance guy and I’ve been meaning to look around…” the insurance agent could dig out a card and say something like “Here’s my card, if you’d like me to have a look, just give me a call”. Depending on circumstance, it may be appropriate for the insurance agent to ask for a card from the chap, but not always. Then in a couple of days the insurance agent could drop a card in the mail saying something like “Nice meeting you the other day!” and include another card.
That’s it. No pressing the point or trying to pin the chap to the mat.
Being an artist is just the same. Make it easy to do business with you, but don’t be a pain in the fundament about it.
Now…see how observing ineffective insurance pitches taught me how NOT to present myself?
Get out in the world and soak it all in. Expand your world. You never know where the next breakthrough will be!
Here’s the Business Insider article.
Thanks to my buddy Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist who posted the article on Facebook!
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