Art and Business

Creative Entrepreneurship – Going Beyond the Business Plan

This is a post written for my Business Acumen for Artists students at UCT GSB.


Much of the criticism levelled against the use of a business plan for artists has been that many wanting to start a business have neither a need of venture capital nor a bank loan. Traditionally, business plans have been viewed as useful for these kinds of endeavours. I have changed the nature of this session to be focused on Creative Entrepreneurship because I do think there is a difference in how you should approach your business plan but am also in agreement that this kind of conceptualisation and planning are needed to start something which has validity and durability in the market - notwithstanding that it helps you build credibility with potential suppliers and customers.  Thinking hard about what your business is really going to be about more clearly defines your offering and helps you notice the blindspots.

A business plan has been described as a roadmap – a way to plan how you get to your destination. Inherent in this thinking is the understanding that there is more than a singular way to get someplace. What are the resources, maps, means of transport you would need to get to where you need to?

Although a roadmap is important there are certain other things which I found to be as important. Firstly it is to understand the fundaments of what you are going to build. If your foundation is not strong enough, no manner of effort and determination will make it lasting. So the key question you need to ask yourself before you plan your journey is WHY?

What is the PURPOSE of what you want to build?

Next relates to the VALUES you will drive in your business.

What are the non negotiable in terms of what you want to build?

What are you going to stand for – what is the MANIFESTO behind what you are building?

What would make your business not worth doing?


What makes your product/service special and different to other people operating in the same markets?

Define what you and WHAT YOU WON"T DO – by not being all things to all people, you generate a manageable lens for others to understand what your offering is and make it easier for them to choose you. don’t do everything.

What resources do you have?

Critical is the understanding of what your cashflow will look like. No matter how phenomenal your business is, without cash it will collapse.

What is your BURN RATE – how much does it cost to keep your business going?  Daily, weekly, monthly and annually.

As this business plan is an EVOLVING document, it is important to revisit it monthly and ask yourself:

Where are we?

Are we on track – what do we need to do differently?

What have I learnt – what assumptions am I holding to be true which aren’t anymore?

Thanks to Dave Duarte for helping me formulate the questions for you!

How Gaming helped me become a better strategist

In the last five years, I can safely say that the majority of what I have unlearnt and relearnt, as far as strategy is concerned, comes from Gaming. I have learnt many things about strategy from the world of work and higher learning but Unlearning and Relearning have come from a different place. When I understood that the rate of change was happening faster than my ability to respond to it strategically, I started looking for another place - somewhere I could dismantle my well worn paradigms and see with a fresh pair of lenses. I think this desire to find an alternative space to improve my strategic capacity was also the need to embrace a way of thinking which was far more collaborative in nature and one which could take me as far away from Strategy as War as possible. I started losing my interest in beating the competition and all the metaphors tied into strategy as something which assumed generals on a battlefield planning the mighty overthrow. It didn't feel real anymore and was certainly not what I was seeing playing out in the markets I operated in.

Frankly, I am no longer that interested in the idea of competitors as a thing to study. Not because they don't exist but more because they come from places I am finding less likely to fathom. I believe that Executive Education is learning as a lifestyle. If I were to think about who my competitors really were, I would be more inclined to think of  travel agencies offering exotic destinations or the hard choice our customers have between a homeloan or a student loan. For these are often the choices people are faced with when decided what to do with their hard earned cash and its relationship to their own personal development. I love the story about SABMiller and their realisation that their competition wasn't just Brandhouse but Vodacom because both of them were hustling for the same R20 - a prepaid voucher or a quart of beer.

Games have given me an extraordinary place to experiment. I would like to share the insights I have gained from four games I have played and unlearnt and relearnt from.

The first is Fable2. I have a particular fondness for this game because up until then I had been playing mobile games. A games console was not something I had ever considered owning and it was only after my partner and I decided that it would be amazing to play together rather than alongside one another on our phones that we bought an XBox. I genuinely believed it was something I would do intermittently to relax and never believed that it could add real value to the work that I did.

What Fable2 taught me about was the need for kindness and generosity in commercial exchange. The more of this behaviour I showed the cheaper the weapons became from traders who liked me, the more followers I could call on to help me battle all manner of dragon and rascal and the more accessible and affordable the potions became. A far cry from holding your ideas close, going it alone and screwing your competition.

Next is Dragon Age2. This taught me about the importance of Agility and the capacity to change course mid direction. As long as I was prepared to move off the well worn path and try other alternatives I would be rewarded with surprise treasures and at times rare weapons. It taught me that being adaptable wasn't being wishy washy and that it in many casees saved my life and that of my team. Here, too comaraderie played a role and the value of building trust in a team.

Lego Batman showed me that if I wasn't prepared to work with my partner that we would get nowhere. As the game doesn't allow you to move too far from one another, my partner and I had to focus on what we were trying to achieve together. It created a real trust in one another and we became sensitised to always checking whether the other party was okay or whether we needed to help them get to the place we both needed to be. This I think is an invaluable lesson for teamwork.

Final Fantasy XIII taught me about Grace in Failure and the power of persistence. So much of our fear of failing is the belief that if we make a choice that the consequences will play out for the rest of our lives. I learnt here that choices, sometimes brave choices would result in me dying but that I could always respawn. In the real world this means that the risks I take might not always play out the way I want them to but that the possibility of reinvention is a real and energising one.

To my mind, strategy is inextricably linked to leadership development. The time I have spent gaming has genuinely helped me to develop as a leader and I think as a result, a better strategist.

The Art of Noticing

Noticing is a skill which is seen as central to creative literacy. Could it also be that it is a practice which is critical to business success? I think that it is. The problem though with the rate of change happening faster than our ability to respond to it is that many of us just seem to want knuckle down and get on with it, using the well worn filters and models which worked in the past and pray they serve us well in the future. The challenge is that we are living in a world where "time sickness" (the belief that there is not enought time and that it running out for us) is a real anxiety generator and thus any extra time required to practice a way of seeing things differently is viewed by many as just too overwhelming. In an informal poll done with delegates on our executive education courses at UCT GSB, many stated that they were working longer hours, taking shorter breaks and multi tasking just to try and keep up with the sheer volume of information they were confronted with daily. As many of you will know, I am working on the notion of Curiosity as an enabler of learning and as a filter for our attention. But what of the art of noticing? What has become clear for me is that conscious noticing is not easy. It requires energy and practise. In it's own right, noticing is an act of attention. Noticing, like Curiosity, is an appreciating asset. What I am particularly interested in is the way in which how we notice things differently will start informing our own leadership practices.

It is my belief that other discplines often provide extraordinary insight for crafting and understanding questions we might not have fully birthed. In the current world of augmented reality, designers craft avatars and characters that live not in the full focus of one’s vision but to the side – at a glance (Slavin, 2009; Cerveny, 2009). This can be much more efficient than fully parallel approaches to pattern recognition. The art of the glance is a useful exercise to practice when attempting to notice things outside of one’s normal area of perception. In fact, according to Schmidhuber (1991), humans and other biological systems use sequential gaze shifts to detect and also recognise patterns. This peripheral vision gives rise to residual objects which exist alongside of us but which are seldom noticed. Simply put, what are you noticing from the corner of your eye that you would usually filter out, but could possibly give opportunities for seeing differently? How can this way of seeing improve your capacity as a leader - when so much of the literature tells us to have a clear and uninterrupted focus.

I don't have the answers to these questions but I am priviliged to be working with Dave Bond, who is the Director of the Leadership Centre at Ashridge Business School in the UK on a new three day programme entitled The Art of Noticing - Fresh Eyes for New Opportunities which will be run in October at the GSB and explore some of these challenges. 

I am genuinely excited by the possibilities this can generate for more effective leadership and the opportunities it can help us as leaders  generate in our own businesses and practices.

STICKY IDEAS... catalogue of some artists

So, the course is finished, and by tomorrow evening the final group exhibition will be on.  The artists who are exhibiting tomorrow have put together a short catalogue of what they do, providing some reference material of their work.  I thoroughly enjoyed this course, both in lecturing and in participating as a student.  It has been a life changing experience for me, and very special to be in a class full of talented individuals, with a direct, honest and heartfelt approach to their work, and in communicating with others. 

This is the start of continuing the network...

Thank you all for the impact on my life course,


Sticky Ideas Catalogue

Art and Business Stereotypes Revealed

This morning Lisa Maddison received an email from Jess Henson, who seems quite sceptical about the work we're doing with the BAA programme. I almost shot off an emotional response, but then I thought that perhaps a more credible response would come from the delegates and lecturers on the programme.

Please have a read, and if you feel inclined to respond to Jess, please leave your comments here.

Subject: questions about biz acumen for artists course

dear Maddison

  • your breakdown for the course says "Transfer knowledge from other creative thinkers from across the creative industries, cultural sectors and associated professions". isn't that just a long winded way of saying "steal other peoples' ideas effectively"?

and "Generate possibilities through Improvisational Theatre and exposure to the skill of Active Listening"  - does that mean we get to play house? (erm, or office, i should rather say)

  • your established arts practitioners - are they participating in this course because you pay them kick ass rates, or because they can't afford to feed their pets on their life modelling salaries? who are they? and how do you gauge their creative and financial success?

  • how do you guarantee relevant processing if you're opening the course to any creative practitioner? you might end up with one poet and seven graphic designers. PR and marketing is very different for a rock n roll band than for a fine artist.

  • do you not provide a drop-in option for the course(or some other stratified approach) - someone may not need to go through the motivational work shopping, but might be looking for help with their admin...

  • i'm interested in knowing what research prompted (and supports) the information you share on this course, how the course has benefited participants in the past (if it's a rerun) and, considering it's a UCT initiative, how academic your approach is. i'm  weary and wary of  academia's myopia and  relative  unhelpfulness in the  working world... 

 many thanks for your time jess

My own comment: Firstly, neither the business school, the mentors, nor the lecturers are accepting any payment for their involvement in this programme. All revenue generated by the course fees goes to the renovation of the Obs Community Centre. This is a new project which I have personally undertaken to direct and design free of charge, because I care very deeply about the sustainability of artistic and creative endeavours in this country. If there is any doubt as to the credibility of the organisation behind the content on the programme (UCT Graduate School of Business), perhaps Jess should look at our standing in the international education and business community.

I believe that this programme cross-pollinates both the business and creative sectors, and that the economy of the 21st century is built on global collaboration and the spirit of abundance rather than that of scarcity and fear.

Lastly, I think that the best reflection of the value of the programme would come from the feedback of the delegates who are on this journey together. Sorry, but none of the people involved in this programme fit into the stereotypes you've constructed here. 

- Elaine Rumboll  MA (cum laude), MBA (Wits)

Director of Executive Education

UCT Graduate School of Business

(and Programme Director of Business Acumen for Artists)