This is the first in a series of posts I call “Break to Fix,” in which I give you examples of how to fix a common business problem by breaking something—breaking with convention, breaking the rules, breaking the way things “have always been done,” breaking up with people you think you need but really don’t.
So here’s how these “Break to Fix” posts will go. I’ll come up with a type of business, the problem, and the fix, and then tell you a story about it. Yes, a made-up story, but just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it it’s not true. (Ponder that, why don’t ya?)
I’m going to kick off the series by focusing on an often-overlooked entrepreneur—the artist. In this story, we’re talking about a painter.
So Wolfie, our artist, has been at it for years—painting pretty landscapes and trying to sell his wares to random strangers at the park, to gallery owners, and to art lovers online. The problem is, no one knows who he is. And because no one knows Wolfie or his work, no one cares. And because no one cares, no one buys.
Business is difficult for Wolfie, and it only gets worse when people pronounce his name “Wolf-ee,” as in a scrawny, inadequate, sissy wolf. His name is really pronounced “Volf-ee”—you know, the old German W-V switch up. So, on the few occasions he meets a new prospect, the meeting kicks off with a confusing discussion of how to pronounce his name and why any parent in their right mind would call their lone son a "pussy wolf?"
It’s almost impossible for Wolfie to get noticed amongst the sea of painters and other artists who all want to develop a following, gain notoriety and make it big. (Heck, he’d settle for a chance to get off his PB&J diet for good. Volves eat meat, after all.) There are just too many of them.
Wolfie’s about to toss his brushes into the river and move home with Mom when he gets the idea that will change everything:
He will only paint on one canvas. Period. Ever. Like until death, or the apocalypse… whatever comes first.
The idea comes to him when he realizes he will either have to stop buying canvases or stop eating. He asks himself the great question, the big “What if…” and he comes up with a fix to his problem that defies convention in every way.
The objective of the painter is to sell a painting, right? So it makes no sense to paint on one canvas for the rest of your life. How can you sell the same painting over and over again? (Now THAT is a genius question.)
Wolfie figures he’ll paint on one piece of canvas, take a high-res photograph of the painting, sell the photograph as a limited edition print, and then paint over the painting and start again. He’ll repeat this over and over again, until his canvas is covered with layers and layers and layers of paintings.
By breaking the most basic rules of commerce for painters, Wolfie will no doubt generate buzz and interest in his work. And now that he’s eating all things medium-rare again, he comes up with more brilliant ideas to help him get noticed.
He paints in public—first on the street, then at a friend’s studio (which he films and puts on YouTube), and when business gets better, in his own studio (NOT mom’s basement) with a sitting area where guests can come and watch him paint his “One Canvas” at any time, for a small fee. When he’s about to finish a painting, he hosts a live event on Livestream, and lets those who are watching bid on the prints.
Soon, Wolfie’s prints are in high demand. He’s featured on Sunday morning news programs, and on Oprah’s Christmas list in O Magazine. Orders and accolades come rolling in, and Wolfie couldn’t be happier. Really, he couldn’t. He gets to do what he loves, you see, and make a killing doing it. Can’t get any happier than that.
Wolfie’s story is made up, but there are artists who broke rules to get noticed. Think about Keith Haring, one of the most famous painters of the 20th century. He got noticed not just by breaking the rules—he broke the law. He was a graffiti artist in New York, and a damn good one. Fast forward 10 years and his stuff is on T-shirts, postcards, posters, you name it.
So the fix is—do the ONE thing you shouldn’t be doing. Do the thing that, in theory, would stop your industry from functioning. You know, like painting a lifetime of work on one canvas.
How does this apply to your business? What could you stop doing or start doing, what could you pay attention to or completely ignore, what could you promise or offer or give that would be totally unconventional?
What could you break to fix?