What if tomorrow’s successes are not built in order to copy and unify, but built on the ability to decode the world, merge existing technologies and have a flair for detail based on an experience that takes years to build up? And instead of focusing on production, location, price and promotion we focus on people, meaning, magic and mastery?
Leave the rat race. Do something unique. Invest more time, energy and resources in what you feel passionate about. Build the foundation for a sublime organisation.
By Anne Skare Nielsen, Louise Fredbo-Nielsen and Liselotte Lyngsø
What does it mean to be sublime?
For academics who can handle long sentences:
Through the ages, philosophers, artists and many others have had a common understanding of what the sublime is; e.g. “when the experience of nature’s grandeur and violence evokes conscious understanding of a spiritual set of values.” Or “through rhetoric to achieve an effect that far exceeds the possibilities of the tool.” Or “when something, in an aesthetic context, blows the boundaries and overwhelms.” The sublime is something desirable, almost magic and spellbinding, the very best man can create.
For the rest of us who need the simple version:
You experience something so beautiful that it gives you goose bumps, brings tears to your eyes or makes you laugh out loud. You get the feeling that life is meaningful, and that this – this magic moment – is what life is all about. You remember these magical moments forever. It might be that split second of the soccer player’s supernatural footwork leading to the winning goal. Perhaps it is when you and the other engineers solve the riddle in a steel construction, when you see your first working prototype, or the day you placed the final piece in an enormous puzzle.
Illustration: The Sublime-Production Star
The five points of the star:
- Meaning: What I do is meaningful
- People: We meet people’s need with a wow-effect
- Magic: You hit the nail on the head – it is pure magic
- Mastery: I am good at what I do; I master something
- Money: We are making a lot of money so we can do it again and this time even better
When we add up those five points the contours of the sublime appear. Visualize it: Your familiar compass and what informs your leadership are meaning, people, magic, mastery and money.
What people who live the sublime have in common is that they are seasoned players, who have tested and found the classic model for success less than fulfilling. Once obtained or achieved, money, productivity and superficial material status quickly become boring. They have all let go of that and now chase the sublime. But what you need to know is that nowadays it means extremely hard work. It is an adventure that wears and tears and kicks and screams. But these pioneers chose this path, because they had no choice. Some say it is a kind of calling, others that the alternative is to die of boredom.
All beginnings are hard, and if you want to become one of these few hard-core ones, now is the time to commit fully to the sublime. If not, keep an eye out for the sublime in your everyday life, because the sublime is the future.
Thanks to new technologies and lifestyles, we will see an increase in the number of seasoned players who will reorganise and design their ready-to-go success and drop a bomb on the established order. It is happening in your industry, too. So either join them, or prepare to be disrupted.
And just what might all that look like in practice?
Kevin Spacey’s Dent in the Universe
With the TV-series House of Cards, Kevin Spacey and Netflix created – as Steve Jobs put it – a “dent in the universe”. Led by Francis Underwood, the most evil, meanest and despicable politician in the history of TV-storytelling, House of Cards is a radical transformation of how a TV-series is created. If you want to understand the future sublime rules of the game and create your own dents in the universe, stay put. What is it that Spacey and his House of Cards tell us?
Clue 1: People. It is all about creating that wow-effect or the aha-moment. It is about being seen and understood and to be met right where you are. Follow the ones who know what people want next.
Kevin Spacey pitched his idea for House of Cards to all the well-known giants of the industry, who waved their short dinosaur-arms in excitement. Sex, politics and corruption – what’s not to like? And then, in a collective voice from the past, they all asked for the usual: A pilot-episode. And that for a series that had already been proven successful in another country.
Spacey couldn’t be bothered. He had a dream, and he was so well-established in the industry that he could take a risk. So he approached Netflix instead and created something sublime: a masterful TV-series that circumvented all the network and cable channels and was delivered straight to the longing hearts of the audience. Spacey sensed where the industry was headed, and he knew what people wanted. And since Netflix monitors where viewers stop or skip within the episodes, the optimal development of the series over time is already in place.
The sublime can also be a well-placed copy. Success does not mean creating something from scratch but putting a twist on something that already exists and adding your unique expression. And, like Spacey and Netflix did, knowing what people want even before they do.
Clue 2: Magic: Is what happens when what you have created takes on a life of its own and the special power that makes it unique. A sublime product creates so much magic that nothing else matters.
The film industry was magical in its earlier years. Then it became an industry that made a fortune on sequels and mass production, producing one Blockbuster hit after the other. For years, the TV and movie industry has been pseudo-parenting the audience, deciding when the children… sorry, the audience can watch what. “Now, kids, here’s an episode of this exciting TV-series, but you will have to wait a week for the next one; otherwise your head might fall off” – or something along those lines. Netflix put an end to the delusion that it is possible to own your audience.
Sure, there is a lot of junk on Netflix, but there is also House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Prison Break, Orange Is the New Black and Scandal. Consider banks: they are full of crap, but they also have apps that you can use to pay with – the most sublime financial experience for people in modern day.
Clue 3: Mastery: Is the way in which you can use the little inspiring everyday stories and personal experiences to help get an idea of where society is headed right now. When you meet people who are masters in their profession, cling to them.
Netflix didn’t just buy an idea. They bought Kevin Spacey, the man behind the idea. An idea is like a baby: it is helpless on its own, but the right parent, who never gives up, makes all the difference. Spacey has experience, commitment, toughness, a network and extensive knowledge about his chosen industry. His sense of what was coming was a combination of knowledge and insight but also a kind of street-smartness, something that can not be learned at any school but only by working within the field.
The man is simply brilliant, and when you master something, you sharpen your finely-tuned instincts – what the uninitiated recognize as some sort of a sixth sense. And that’s when you make the right decisions. Now, that is leadership.
Clue 4: Money: What your clients spend to tell you they want more. Go for the money. Greed is bad, but money is good.
Money needs to be in flow, in motion, and should be used to create new sublime magic for more people and new mastering of skills – for the world is constantly changing.
The old model says: It is cool to be non-commercial and to be able to live on a rock, and that it is primarily evil people who become rich. That is not necessarily true – money is just a way to facilitate your great ideas. Kevin Spacey needed a lot of money to create his magical and sublime TV-series, and we give a lot of money in return to ensure that we get the next season. In the sublime world it is OK to make money. Lots of money: This is how your clients tell you that you are a wonderful human being whose masterful approach solved a meaningful problem for them in a magical way. They will gladly help spread the word if you ask them to.
So take the money. Be proud that you want to make some more. If you don’t take it, the evil ones will – as usual. For example, the publishing industry keeps the lion’s share of the money that a writer makes – even though it is the writer who creates the magic and really has the most value.
Clue 5: Meaning. When you are so inspired by your own world that you can’t help creating the sublime.
The need for meaning (“What the heck am I really doing and why?”) forces you to consider who you are, why you do what you do, and what it really is that you need.
Kevin Spacey is smart, and a smart man knows his limitations. He is the shoemaker who sticks to what he knows and uses his expertise, where it makes most sense. People no longer want to wait, they want the entire TV-series all at once. Now! Why wait? House of Cards has paved a brand new way for how to launch entertainment, a new way that does not feel patronizing or overbearing or is controlled by gatekeepers. Instead it is proactive and in tune with what makes sense for its many viewers. This previously changed the music industry, it is happening right now in the book industry, and it will happen in education, the health sector, retail and all other industries that have followers in the other end.
The strong call to do something meaningful will make life much easier for us by filtering out nonsense, sources of irritation and noise. Then all will be quiet. We will start to think and feel, and that is precisely what we need to do, because only one in seven Europeans find their jobs meaningful!
“Lead by moments of magic”
So where do we go from here? The short answer: ”Lead by moments of magic.” Begin by having at least one magical moment a day from now on, and ask your co-workers or colleagues or your partner to do the same. We collect our daily magical moments on Pinterest, but a simple notice board will suffice. This will train your brain, so that with time, you can create the sublime: meaning, people, magic, mastery and money. Seriously, it does not get any better than that.
How can you facilitate the sublime right where you are now? Sometimes we have to stop doing something in order to make space for the new, so what is it that you need to stop doing? And how can you bring more magical moments into your organisation today?