Getting Big vs. Being Great

Differentiation: a song about the balance between entrepreneurship and artisanship

I want to reflect upon experience I gained during my first entrepreneurial startup endeavor – my first band. It explores the balance that is required for most any endeavor if we hope to enjoy the fruits of the outcome as opulence. The balance I am referring to is for prioritizing the entrepreneurship of getting big against the artisanship of being great.

The trendy set list..

My story begins with a debate between me, the drummer, and our lead singer, Donny. We argued over the set list we were developing for our live shows, along with the arrangement of the songs we were composing at the time. Donny proudly exuded the mindset of the dedicated artisan, pure to his core in terms of rendering originality from our artistic essence. On the other hand, I had the mindset of the proliferative entrepreneur, focused on doing whatever it took to expand the band’s popularity. At that time, this entailed investing energy into practice time on cover songs by bands that were popular at that time (such as Pearl Jam and Van Halen), and incorporating elements similar to other prominent artists into our song arrangements. As you can imagine, this clashed with Donny’s artistic vision for the band, which pushed to invest more energy into our original sound.

A related debate at Apple…

A clash over vision that escalated to a firing, portrayed by Ashton Kutcher in a scene from Jobs

Prior to the release of the Macintosh computer in the 1980’s, we could only enjoy one typeface on a computer screen. It was Steve Jobs arguing as an artisan to invest big energy into developing the typeface features that were invented during that time, seen by some colleagues as pretty fonts that were not being demanded by a huge user population. Like in my little band endeavor, this led to debates about vision, which in Apple’s case sometimes led to people getting fired. Ironically, this very decision to invest in the typefaces contributed to the eventual firing of Steve Jobs himself because it resulted in significant economic challenges around Apple’s short-term profitability outcome for the Mac. It would seem in this case that putting the artisanship of building something great ahead of the entrepreneurship of building a big company was a huge mistake, in the short run at least.

What I learned…

While neither Donny nor I got fired from the band over our debate, I ended up learning a valuable lesson from my lead singer – it is that in both art and business, you need a balance of entrepreneurship and artisanship to be successful. Together, we found our balance between the two, and had a successful band into our college years. If the artist in all of us could have their way in every endeavor, I believe that our natural disposition as artists is to pour all of our energy into our new creations right out of the gate without wasting one iota of energy on ways of old. Balance becomes critical, though, because it takes time for people to integrate new ways into their thinking, whether introducing music, technology or any other new offering. Bands who want to play for a living start out playing cover songs because they need people to show up in the first place – it is hard to get people to come and listen to original music from artists they have never heard of. In the beginning, we need to survive before we thrive, whether we are a small rock band or a big computer firm.


Interpretation of intent rendering degrees of artisanship embodied in the chops of raw human energy, compared to the entrepreneurship in economic energy

Apple’s economic challenges from cost overruns and profit woes with the early Mac offering are case and point to how an early over-investment in artisanship can put economic strain on an endeavor. At the same time, a lack of focus on artisanship around an offering in the long run can lead to the failure of an entire endeavor (leading to Apple hiring Steve Jobs back to make them great again, after they almost went bankrupt from lack of innovation). Getting big is about providing people with something they want. Being great is about showing people something they never knew they wanted. The degree to which we change the economic world blends a balance of both.

I also got a good song from this life lesson, dedicated to Donny, my lead singer. Differentiation from the album Manifesto is about our debate, and his ambassadorship to the depths of artisanship for me early in life – thanks Donny.

Michael David is the founder of the Humanity Economic Institute, a singer/songwriter, recording artist and is the author of the Humanity Economics Model. He writes expository pieces that reflect on the economic inspiration rendered through the prism of art.

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