WARREN BUFFETT, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for calling his conglomerate his “canvas.” Perhaps we can’t all have a company of Berkshire’s stature, but we do have our cubicles, teams, departments, business units, or subsidiaries to run that we can call our canvases. What will they look like when we are finished painting them?
Imagine a blank canvas and that each daily action you take is a brushstroke. Every mark you make on the canvas represents your communication skills, tone of voice, training, compliments—and even snide remarks. The content of your potential masterpiece is an accumulation of your projects, product approvals, successful product launches, and sales targets achieved. Our actions speak louder than words in art and in the workplace, and a picture is certainly worth a thousand words. What are the brushstrokes on the canvases of our careers and companies? Are they colorful, purposeful, compassionate, and inspiring?The principles of building a great business mirror those of creating great art. Both practices must have beauty, skill, inherent meaning, uniqueness, and fulfilled intent.1. Beauty: As always, beauty is in the “eye of the beholder.”
Are you making a beautiful company? For some, the pharmaceutical industry is tainted with accusations of forging, suppressing clinical trial results to maximize sales of medications, or manipulating the market for their products by giving excessive gifts to doctors. However, most of us see the pharmaceutical industry improving and saving the lives of thousands of families every day. How can we make our workplaces, careers, and companies something beautiful?
2. Technical skill: The most comparable and measurable aspect of art is technical skill. How skillful is it created compared with other works?
Building a great company takes skill and discipline. Good to Great, Collins identifies three significant factors that most likely determine a company’s ability to achieve greatness: disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.
What are your technical skills? Have your people and leadership improved in the past 12 months? Are you setting yearly and monthly goals?
3. Inherent meaning: Art is powerful, not just for its beauty or the talent needed for its creation but because it can evoke emotion, make statements, or challenge preconceived ideas. Great art has an inherent meaning.
What is your inherent meaning? Great companies do not have stars per se but they have star teams. To true leaders, personal ego and individual financial gain are not as important as the long-term benefits of the team and the company.
4. Uniqueness: The aspect of art that relates not only to what the artist is depicting but also to how the artist is depicting it is uniqueness. Great art either explores new subjects or examines old subjects in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Are you just another employee or just another country manager for a subsidiary? It is interesting that some country managers are spoken of in Japan for many years after they leave, whereas others merely elicit the response, “Oh, yeah, that guy. I’d forgotten about him!”
5. Fulfilled intent: What is the artist trying to say? If the intent is to say something particular, the art shouldn’t say something else. It must have fulfilled intent.
What are your actions saying about your intent? Are you backing up the mission statement with actions? Do your customers remember you for the right reasons? What will your legacy be?
What will your masterpiece look like at the end of your career? According to Henry Ward Beecher, “Every artist [and, in our case, businessperson] dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”