I Think of Business as a Craft, not an Art (Frank Rose)Billee Howard
Frank Rose is an award winning author and senior fellow at Columbia University in New York City. Frank was among the first to recognize the age of immersion that would drive the age of WeCommerce by marrying the physical and digital worlds in ways that create groundbreaking innovations and experiences.
Frank is one of the Wecons highlighted in Billee Howard’s book WeCommerce. You can read more about the book on the launch page and here is our Q&A with Frank.
Billee: Do you believe that technology today, and the sharing economy is bringing us closer together and making us more caring and connecting, or just alienating us from one another even further?
Frank: If Uber is an example of the sharing economy, then sharing and caring might not have all that much in common. Look, I believe that everything is constantly in flux, and yet nothing really changes. People are constantly talking, often in a negative context, about how digital technology is changing the way we think. Well, everything changes the way we think, but I don’t think digital technology—or any other—really changes anything fundamental.
The human species is programmed (metaphorically speaking) to have certain needs and desires and to respond to stimuli in certain ways, and technology either accommodates that or it doesn’t. Google isn’t making us stupid—it’s augmenting our brains in the same way that written language did thousands of years ago. Facebook isn’t making us lonely,—it’s just giving us another excuse to wallow in the existential angst of loneliness, and to comfort ourselves with the thought that it’s all technology’s fault and not our own. And before that, the telephone and the telegraph—well, don’t get me started.
Billee: Do you think of business as an art?
Frank: I think of business as a craft, not an art. Art exists for its own sake; craft is artistic creativity applied in pursuit of some goal. A beautiful lamp. A smoothly functioning corporation. A brand that speaks to people in some deep way.
Billee: How would you describe the role that disruption is playing in business today?
Frank: Change is the nature of the universe. There’s a natural human tendency to resist change because we want reassurance. Even as we seek novelty, we crave stability. But at the most fundamental level it’s not there. This is why earthquakes are so unsettling.
Change is the only constant we will ever know. So the only way to survive is to embrace it. It’s not about disruption for its own sake. It’s about seeing, and seeking opportunities for disruption—opportunities that exist and are going to be seized, regardless of whether you embrace them or not. It’s disrupt or be disrupted. But this is nothing new—it’s always been like that. The history of business is the history of disruption. That’s why we no longer have the Pony Express—though Wells Fargo did manage the transition rather nicely.
Billee: Can you name a CEO that exemplifies creative reinvention?
Frank: At the moment I’m extremely taken with Burberry. Angela Ahrendts, who recently left to head up the Apple stores, became CEO in 2006 and immediately set about reinventing a 150-year-old brand that had clearly lost its way, lost its meaning, lost all sense of itself. My favorite story about her is that shortly after she took over she called a meeting of all the top execs from around the world—and not one of them showed up wearing Burberry!
Like Steve Jobs at Apple, Ahrendts cut back a bloated product line and put all product design in the hands of a single person—Jony Ive at Apple, Christopher Bailey at Burberry. After cutting away everything except the iconic trench coat the company was founded on, Bailey—who’s now CEO—gradually expanded into a full-fledged luxury line. But unlike many other luxury goods companies, Burberry’s mystique is grounded in something real—in British tailoring and craftsmanship, which the company’s marketing celebrates single-mindedly. It’s not just expensive—it’s expensive for a reason. This is something millennials in particular can understand.
Billee: What do you see ahead for media, given the current disruption going on in that industry?
Frank; Well, the media industry is totally different, and still changing in ways that can’t entirely be predicted. Advertising as we’ve known it is clearly not going to survive, and that puts all ad-supported media at risk. And media is becoming participatory in ways that most denizens of industrial-age mass media are never going to truly understand. So the economic basis and the product itself are both changing utterly. The good news is that we get to reinvent the way we communicate with one another in a way that we haven’t been able to in 180 years. The bad news is there’s going to be a lot of chaos until we get there. Though maybe that’s good news too?
Billee: What is your favorite Andy Warhol quote?
Frank: “I don’t know where the artificial stops and the real starts.” During the summer of 1966, Andy did a series of interviews with Gretchen Berg that were published in The East Village Other. It’s generally considered the best interview he ever did, though eventually it came out that his words were heavily edited and even combined with the questions, so that what he was supposed to have said was very smooth and quotable and what he actually said was kind of bland. Which of course is very Andy.
Andy said (or didn’t say) a lot of great things in this interview, but this is my favorite. He was talking about his films, but as a general observation it’s brilliant. I mean, who does know? What is artifice? What is real? They’re so mixed up it’s impossible to tell. And he was talking in the ‘60s, when artifice was still a cottage industry compared to what it is now.
As a writer and interviewer and thinker I like to worry away at certain points, and this is my favorite. I don’t think it can ever be settled, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is the central question of our time. Digital media. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence. The boundaries are blurring—and they’re not going to get any clearer.
Billee Howard is Founder + Chief Engagement Officer of Brandthropologie, a cutting edge communications consulting firm specializing in helping organizations and individuals to produce innovative, creative and passionate dialogues with target communities, consumers and employees, while blazing a trail toward new models of artful, responsible, and sustainable business success. Billee is a veteran communications executive in brand development, trend forecasting, strategic media relations, and C-suite executive positioning. She has a book dedicated to the study of the sharing economy called WeCommerce due out in Fall 2015 as well as a blog entitled the #HouseofWe dedicated to curating the trends driving our economy forward. You can read more about “WE-Commerce: How to Create, Collaborate, and Succeed in the Sharing Economy” right here!
PS – You can download a FREE chapter of We-Commerce: How to Create, Collaborate, and Succeed in the Sharing Economy here!
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