When I was recently in Nashville, Tennessee in the United States for work with one of our great clients I had the pleasure of going to the Bluebird café. It’s a small, low-key venue where songwriters and musicians perform their own music, in the round, up close with the audience. There’s an informality and rapport between the artists that’s compelling, and the music speaks for itself. It was amazing! That night the artists were four acoustic guitar players and singers. One of them talked about the ratio of songs he had written versus those that had been published. He said that, in a good year, he will write about 100 songs, and if 5 get published, that’s good. So, only 5% of his work generates revenue. He joked that no one should become a songwriter for the money!
That comment resonated for me, in a week where I have had two conversations with Directors of different family owned businesses who stated that shareholder value is not the driving force in their organisation. I contrast this with other large organisations I work for, for whom shareholder value is at the heart of everything they do. This fundamental principle drives very different organisational behaviour, particularly when it comes to investment and acquisition. In organisations where shareholder value isn’t the most important thing, I see more exploration of interesting and creative opportunities, that don’t have an immediate value, but can lead to great things.
I can also draw comparison to my own experience. There is a lot of myth and legend about entrepreneurism. Organisations and business schools try to engender this quality in their leaders. The reality is that most entrepreneurs do a lot of hard graft, for little return, in the belief that it will lead somewhere fruitful. The driving force isn’t usually making money – for me it is a passion for the work I do. There is a rule of thumb that I hold onto which is, ‘would I do this work for free?’ If I can answer affirmatively to the majority of my work, then I am doing my best work, which leads to great and interesting things.
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