Right-Brain Business Plan

On January 25, 2013 I wrote a post entitled “Lost In the Details” in which I discussed my proclivity to avoid the micro-details that come with starting a business and more specifically creating a business plan. At the time I bought a book (mentioned in the post) that I believed would help me with the pesky details that I was so inclined to avoid. It didn’t. I fell asleep every time I tried to read it.

This is a problem that a lot creative types have with creating a business. They are bored or overwhelmed by the business side and thus end up abandoning the whole project or going on without a business plan, both of which are problematic.

When I started working on my business plan (which I did abandon after a while) I tried many different tactics to convince myself that despite how much I hated the process creating a stale, static, business plan was good for me and a necessary endeavor. While it is good to push oneself and creating a business plan is crucial to creating a successful business, it shouldn’t bore one to tears.

In my first business plan attempt I went in with the mentality that this was for other people. My business plan was to show others that I had a viable/functional, intelligently composed, highly detailed business and not just a hobby. I used language that was foreign to me and completely uninspiring. The format was a dull, black and white Word document that, much like my résumé, made me want to throw up.

Needless to say, I abandoned the endeavor all together.

Then I found this book:

Find it at your local bookstore or library!

Find it at your local bookstore or library!

It shocked me. I had no idea that constructing a business plan could be a fun and creative process. It also made me realize that a business plan is for the person creating it, not necessarily for the rest of the world. Sure, it is not encouraged that one take a hand-constructed collage, or poster to a meeting with investors or potential clients, but it is necessary to articulate to oneself what needs to be done and what one wants from one’s own business.

When I was taking that grant writing class (as mentioned in previous posts, including the aforementioned “Lost In the Details”) I must confess that I really struggled with the class because the jargon used did not construct a clear vision to me of what was essential to the organization and grant proposal. Sometimes the professional world uses overly-complicated language to mean the simplest of concepts and it can be a hindrance to those who don’t “speak that language.” That’s what I appreciate about “The Right-Brain Business Plan;” it encourages artists and creative types to use their own language to describe the concepts that are necessary to understand for a successful business. After the right-brainer constructs their own version of a business plan, with all the elements that a traditional business plan has, it will make it much easier to create a more formal plan to use in meetings with investors or clients.

So if the idea of writing a business plan sounds like a grueling, tear and sleep-inducing process, check out “The Right-Brain Business Plan” and/or http://www.rightbrainbusinessplan.com/.

Discovering Picasso’s Genius

Picasso is the icon of a successful artist. When a child draws a picture, or dedicates themselves to art others often say: “you could be the next Picasso!” (Although this may also be said out of irony on account of Picasso’s child-like style.)

Pablo Picasso

By Revista Vea y Lea (cuadrado por Juan Pablo Arancibia Medina) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As a kid, I remember being in awe of Picasso because of this. I thought: “If only I could be as good of an artist as Picasso -everyone knows him and it must be impossible to actually see his work in person.” Like many, when I eventually became acquainted with his work, I was perplex by a style that I could not understand. His paintings were child-like, he used colors that were off-putting to me, and I simply couldn’t make sense of what he’d created.

As I grew and got more involved in artistic study, I became repulsed by Picasso. First of all, I saw what the man actually looked like, and he frightened me. His eyes were those of a madman, and he had this general wildness about him that made me uneasy. I also discovered the incredibly awful things he said about women and the way he depicted them in his paintings and wanted no part in condoning that behavior. Finally, I (like many others I’d suspect,) really didn’t find his style that compelling and his pieces often left me wondering what the big fuss was about.

Then I travelled to Spain –Picasso’s homeland. While I was in Barcelona I found out that the “Museu Picasso” had free admission on Sundays. I went, perhaps compelled by that same child-like reverence I felt years earlier, and discovered the many sides of the legendary painter.

Viewing such an extensive collection of his work allowed me to see him as a man and not just a figure or legend. The museum was filled with not only some of his more famous stylized paintings, such as those from his blue period, his cubism, and african style, but also some of his earlier more realistic and far less distinguishably “Picasso” pieces like this one. This experience communicated to me that Picasso’s fame was not a fluke, he was highly trained.

Surprisingly, the next place where I found appreciation for Picasso’s work was in a documentary about 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (most famous for his work “Girl With the Pearl Earring.”) Vermeer and Picasso’s style couldn’t be more different. Vermeer’s paintings are extremely realistic, especially, as it is often noted, for a time that was long before the invention of the camera. The documentary I saw was about a man who had a profound fascination with the fact that Vermeer’s paintings were so realistic. After a large amount of studying Vermeer’s life and work, the star of the documentary, Tim Jenison, sought to replicate one of Vermeer’s paintings despite never picking up a paintbrush before. Tim came to the conclusion that Vermeer used a system of mirrors to create an almost paint-by-number style painting. By the end he did, indeed, replicate “The Music Lesson” by recreating the room in which Vermeer painted. What struck me in this film and gave me more of an appreciation for Picasso is how possible it was for Tim to achieve all this, and yet if someone used the same method to try to recreate a Picasso, it wouldn’t work. Anyone who looked at what Picasso looked at would not be able to depict that image the same way he did. This is what makes a genius.

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Johannes Vermeer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the end, what is truly astonishing about Picasso’s work is not that he painted like he did because he lacked the technical skills necessary to paint realistically, but that he could paint realistically but chose not to. Picasso’s genius lies in his ability to not care. He made whatever he wanted and if people like it, cool, if not, that’s still fine. His genius is in his ability to portray what only he sees, which is the epitome of creativity.

Picasso once said of his own style: “It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

If that doesn’t sum up his style and brilliance, I don’t know what does.

"Turkish Delight"

While writing this post, a story about this painting I did in high school came to mind. I had entered it into a contest to have it travel around to area schools with other works of art by students in those schools. This piece was chosen as a finalist, and as I admired my work (as well as the others) in the display case, some classmates of mine came up and started getting excited about another piece: a very large, life like rendering of a scene from the movie 300. One remarked that he didn’t understand how an image like that was at all the same caliber as mine (not knowing it was mine.) I’m proud to say that I took ownership of my creation immediately, although I did feel dejected and started to agree with him (whether he was right or not was irrelevant.) Just then my art teacher came up and defended mine saying: “It is a lot easier to draw something exact from a photo than it is to create something more abstract.” I was so grateful to her for standing up for me, but I don’t think I really believed her until I watched Tim’s Vermeer.

 

The Impoverished Humanitarian

My senior year of college I took a grant writing class. One day one of my classmates said that he believed that everything, even non-profits, should operate like a business or a for-profit venture. Eye-rolls abound in the classroom, his sentiments were shrugged off and even passionately rejected by much of the class (myself included.) Two years later his words still reverberate through my head -but I’m no longer rolling my eyes.

So what has changed for me in those two short years?

-Looking for a non-profit job in the proverbial “real world.”

Like most recent college grads, I was not born into the privilege of money. I have loans, I need money to eat, for shelter, for transportation, etc. UNlike most recent college grads (or at least some of them) I am really passionate about fighting poverty and would like to apply my talents, knowledge, and abilities to the cause. This means getting involved in the non-profit world. The issue that arises from this is that it is hard to get a job in the non-profit world as most non-profits run largely on volunteerism. While volunteerism is not completely a bad thing, for me it is almost completely out of the question because of the aforementioned needs that can only be met with a position that pays.

Furthermore, I have found that there is some level of hypocrisy to be found when an organization that is trying to help people get out of poverty is forced to doom a large portion of their workforce to the same fate.

Dan Pallotta, in a talk he gave for a TED Conference, expounds upon this idea further. He too believes the stigma placed upon non-profits that pay their workers decently is stunting the growth potential for these organizations, and is driving out some of the most talented people to the for-profit world because of the inability to earn a decent living in the former pursuit:

We have two rule books: we have one for the non-profit sector, and one for the rest of the economic world. It’s an apartheid and it discriminates against the non-profit world […] We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money NOT helping other people. You want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids -go for it, we’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine, but you want to make half-a-million dollars curing kids of malaria and you’re considered a parasite yourself.

He makes an excellent point. It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a company to make as much money as it possibly can exploiting people, animals, and the environment, but placing monetary limits on organizations that are set to help protect those same potentially vulnerable things. Essentially, it is like rewarding a child that destroys a room for his own personal enjoyment, yet punishing a child that tries to clean up the mess for the betterment of those who occupy the room.

I understand that the idea of paying non-profit workers larger salaries is an idea that opens up a whole host of potential complications. Many would argue that human nature is to be selfish, and that non-profit employees would exploit their position for their own profit. Honestly, this could happen with some organizations. However, just as non-profits have a strong obligation to their patrons to provided services that help them with their plight, conversely, businesses have an obligation to their customers to provide an excellent product. If a business has a crummy product and/or crummy service, the business fails. What’s wrong with non-profits operating similarly?

 

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Title: Traditional Business, Social Entrepreneurship, and Non-profits
Watercolor on paper by author

MLK Day

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If Google and social media didn’t clue you in, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day -a day that is often riddled with postings on social media of quotes made famous by the great orator himself. Many of these posts focus more on abstract themes like love, sacrificing for others, standing up for “things that matter,” faith, and change among others. While I find these quotes to be important, relevant, and inspiring, I am also really inspired and empowered by the quotes where he explicitly calls out and stands against the status quo. With that being said, here are a few MLK Jr. quotes that I find very inspiring:

On Poverty:

“There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’ These are words that must be said.”

Economic Systems:

“…communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”

Society:

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

I urge you to reflect on these words of King and how he used his life as an agent of change for the greater good.

“Where There is Despair, Let Me Sow Hope.” -St. Francis of Assisi

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 12.36.01 PM

While I have written a lot about Kiva in my posts about micro-finance, there are many other organizations that do micro-finance work that deserve recognition. One such organization is Sow Hope, a non-profit located in my surrogate hometown, Grand Rapids.

After my seasonal job ended in November, I went on a trip through several parts of the country including Pennsylvania, Maryland, and eventually ended up in Chicago for a weekend. While there, I had the opportunity to attend a showing of the documentary that Sow Hope produced and to participate in the question and answer session afterwards. I learned a lot about the good work the organization does; it has helped nearly 40,000 women globally to become empowered through programs in healthcare, micro-finance, literacy training, and clean water initiatives. I also learned that despite the volume of women it has helped, it is a rather small, and streamlined organization: having a small, volunteer board of directors and two paid staff members. I was drawn to that aspect of the organization because it reminded me of an organization that I interned for my sophomore year of college, ANSWER. What drew me to both of these organizations is the transparency that they offer as well as a stronger emphasis on community.

So I urge you to check out Sow Hope, and if you feel compelled by its story, find a way to volunteer your time, money, skills, and talents to further its cause.

I’m Back! With a Creativity ATTACK!!

I happened to log on today (after taking a rather long hiatus) and realized it is my blogging anniversary. What a year it has been! I also feel the need to explain my absence for the last few months. In addition to working overtime since August, I also decided to take an informal sabbatical in order to focus more on reading and just absorbing the world around me (a necessity for any writer or artist.) But now I’m back, enriched by the books and articles I read and the observations I made during this time. With that being said, I am revisiting some familiar topics in this post-sabbatical post highlighting some articles, cartoons, and websites about creativity that have inspired me.

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Taking the creative path is certainly not easy, which is why many either give up on it, or else don’t even consider it because it’s not “practical.” Those that do end up following it find themselves facing a lot of obstacles, mainly: time, inevitable failures, and even their paradoxical selves. So what do these obstacles look like?

Time: According to Malcolm Gladwell, true mastery of an art takes 10,000 hours. (What does that look like? Here is a great diagram that plainly illustrates that!) Time is the first thing that people must understand when they are working on a new medium. With that being said, sometimes it seems like society is plagued by the idea of the prodigy. People see other people “come out of the woodwork” to achieve enormous success for their talent and believe that it can happen to them. What they often fail to realize is that those people had probably been cultivating their talent for years, but the reveal is all others see. Everyone thinks that talent is placed in a vacuum and if you’ve got it, all you need is to be discovered and the rest is history. In fact, it’s all about taking what little talent you do have and running with it: immersing yourself in the successes of others in that field, learning, growing, absorbing, trying, and yes, of course, failing.

Failure: Although I know I have mentioned it here before, it bears repeating that failure is a huge component to any creative process. (This cartoon does a great job illustrating (haha) this point.) I failed epically recently. My brother and sister-in-law just had a baby and they wanted me to paint/draw/create in some way, some artwork for his room. After finally deciding what I wanted to make (scenes from Narnia!), I set out to draw some preliminary sketches. In all honesty, they were pretty awful. They looked like a fourth grader drew them:

This isn't embarrassing at all...

This isn’t embarrassing at all…

I knew that I couldn’t give up, though, because my siblings were counting on me. Of course there was a voice that crept into my head saying plenty of negative things, but after I abandoned the original sketches and honed my vision a bit more, I, in a nearly effortless attempt, created these:

If I didn't know any better, I'd think these were drawn by a different person than the first picture.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think these were drawn by a different person than the first picture.

If I had given up after the first few attempts, renouncing my ability to draw, these images would never have happened and I would have had a false view of myself. My initial issue was not that I couldn’t draw, but that I had to release myself from all the preconceived ideas I had attached to myself and drawing. I also had to realize that that day/headspace I was in, for whatever reason, might not have been right for the task I was attempting to undertake. This leads me to the final obstacle:

Paradoxical Self: Creating great art is all about finding balance. As this article highlights, creative types are usually paradoxical: they are often equal parts introvert and extrovert, proud and humble, and even have a sense of androgyny. Thus, art is created often by straddling the line between seemingly conflicting parts of the self. It is harmony. It is yin and yang. People who are seen as creative have been able to find this balance by exploring the extremes in their own lives and then marrying them in their work.

Now at this point it would be nice and fashionable to say that true success in a creative field means overcoming these obstacles in one great and final battle, but that approach is both simplistic and unrealistic. Creativity is not about overcoming obstacles so that one can create; rather it is about creating in the midst of and often because of obstacles. As I alluded to in the part about the paradoxical self, it is the tension that makes art so spectacular. It’s figuring out how to flirt with failure but not take yourself too seriously when you are successful. If you want to be creative, you must realize that you are both better than you think you are and worse than you think you are. All you have to do is keep pushing yourself through the hours of failure and self and gently coax the genius out of you but not giving up when that genius seems to suddenly disappear.

Why Raising the Minimum Wage Is Good for the Economy*

mcdonalds-budget

With the proposed minimum wage bill gaining some press as well as the laughable sample budget that McDonald’s has produced and has now come under fire for, minimum wage debates have begun to take place in the country once again. While some believe that minimum wage should be increased because it has not kept up with inflation, others believe that an increase would only hurt workers by making lay-offs and job shortages a harsh reality. While there is no real way of knowing how an increase in minimum wage will affect the economy until it is in place, with some careful analysis of the current economic climate and spending habits of the minimum wage earners, a clearer picture of a solution to this issue can be painted.

Being an economist/social scientist means predicting human behavior. This often proves difficult because humans are not very predictable. So while economists say that based on the law of demand and past behavior an increase in wages will not lead to an increase in spending, it is merely an educated guess. Therefore, those who argue against raising minimum wage have claimed that in the past raising the minimum wage has not boosted the economy, and are correct; however, their current predictions are rooted in past attitudes and behavior which does not necessarily reflect the present climate. I believe that a better way of predicting human behavior is to not look at the past, but rather the current attitudes

With that being said, here is my prediction based on what I have found to be true (or at least mostly true) about today’s workforce. I predict that an increase in minimum wage, given the current economic climate, will lead to an increase in spending. I believe there are two assumptions that are being made by economists about the workforce today that do not seem pertinent to the times. One of these assumptions is that raising the minimum wage will only hurt millennials because it will make unemployment rise. This may be the case to a small degree, but I believe that while a rise in minimum wage would lead to a temporary dip in employment at first, when these workers begin to earn more, they would begin to spend more and thus create more jobs. It will also free up jobs as these workers will no longer need to work multiple jobs in order to get by.

The second unsubstantiated claim about the current minimum wage workforce is that an increase in pay will not mean an increase in spending. While this has been true in the past, I believe that today the cultural climate is right for spending tendencies to be affected by an increase in wage. So what makes the cultural climate different? The main difference is generational. In the past, other young employees (i.e. when the Baby Boomers were young) were more likely to save extra money while the youth today are more focused on spending and material gain. Seemingly every week there is a new report out dedicated to millennials and their materialistic tendencies (usually cast in a bad light.) Many of these reports neglect to mention, however, that although these materialistic tendencies may not be completely commendable, they certainly can help the economy.

So what would more money in the hands of the younger generation look like? In 2012 there were 284,000 college graduates working minimum wage jobs. If their wages were to increase by $3/hour, given the materialistic tendencies of these workers, that would mean an increase of purchasing power of $120 per week (although this does not factor in taxes). Then if that number is multiplied by the number of millennial-grads in these jobs that would generate approximately $35 million more revenue every week. Even if these workers only spent $1/hour more of their wage increase, they would still spend $11 million a week. Furthermore, these figures don’t even take into account those millennials who are working minimum wage jobs and don’t have a college degree, although it does assume those who have college degrees are working 40 hour work weeks.

The industrial revolution happened at a time when the exploitation of workers became too extreme. Young children worked in factories, people lost limbs on the job, and many developed health issues such as respiratory problems as a result of a lack of concern for the workers. While the physical safety of the workers is protected today, a lack of concern for the financial safety of those workers is a harsh reality. We need a new industrial revolution -a service industry revolution. Today we need to reevaluate the economic structure of this country in order to help it grow and protect the workers at the bottom. Economic inequality as staggering as that which exists in the US today will only make the country weaker and less stable. An increase in minimum wage will lead not only to a more stable social and economic climate, but could also lead to economic growth and potentially an end to one of the greatest recessions our country has witnessed.

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*I wouldn’t be a good journalist if I didn’t admit to having a bias with regard to this subject. I am a millennial who has a minimum wage job. While this makes me partial to an increase in wages for my own benefit, I believe it also makes me more qualified to speak on the subject than a successful “boomer” because I am living this reality.

For more on this debate and to see the articles I researched in this process check out the following links:

http://washingtonexaminer.com/op-ed-raising-minimum-wage-will-kill-jobs-for-young-millennials/article/2529084

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/01/millennials-cost-basic-needs_n_1468938.html

http://ourfuture.org/20130405/the-sinking-american-electorate-young-and-in-peril

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/05/15/Millennials-Young-Broke-and-Spending-on-Luxury#page1

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/05/10/How-Millennials-Are-Saving-the-Economy#page1

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/09/young-underemployed-and-optimistic/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesdorn/2013/07/22/the-minimum-wage-is-cruelest-to-those-who-cant-find-a-job/

http://www.raisetheminimumwage.com/facts/entry/amount-with-inflation/

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/mcdonalds-ceo-try-living-on-mcbudget-of-25000-2013-07-25

http://blog.acton.org/archives/58278-appreciating-mcdonalds-beyond-minimum-mindedness.html

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/02/05/low-skill-jobs-with-the-highest-concentration-of-college-graduates