The Picasso Principle

There’s a story (true or false, I don’t know) about the famous artist, Pablo Picasso.

It seems a woman came up to him and asked him to sketch something on a piece of paper.
He sketched it, and gave it back to her saying: “That will cost you $10,000″.

She was astounded. “You took just five minutes to do the sketch,” she said. Isn’t $10,000 a lot for five minutes work?

“The sketch may have taken me five minutes, but the learning took me 30 years,” Picasso retorted.
And of course, we’re all horrified when someone tells us it may take several months, even years to be successful in our business. We know better, but we still fall for the super-duper-trap of ‘learn how I made $4 million in 24 hours.” We still want to know the quick and easy way of doing things.

Next time someone gives you that crappy pitch of how one tweet made them $7000, or how they made $2 million, or how they have twenty thousand surfboards, remember the Picasso Principle. That they’re hiding the years of toil and slog. And that you will end up paying the $10,000— only to find out that hard work is indeed inevitable.


Comments

  1. says

    Surprisingly, this post has actually motivated me…

    Seeing all the “make millions in 0.2 seconds” floating around keeps me wondering what the hell I’m doing wrong, according to this post – nothing, I’m actually on the right track!!

    Thanks Sean

  2. says

    Ok, ok. So the surfboard commen….might you give a hint as to whom you’re referencing there ;)

    Inspiring post. I love “but the learning took me 30 years”. It’s a great headline.

  3. says

    Your post made me realize that I probably could and should charge more for my work. I often have trouble justifying to myself what to bill a client if I was able to complete the project in a relatively short amount of time. As you point out though, it’s the years of hard work and learning that made the job so easily doable for me. And that’s where the true value lies.

  4. says

    However, you can’t give the client the work in a short time. The client needs to feel value, and while Picasso would have gotten away with it, you are most likely to run into trouble. So even if it’s going to take you a day, suggest to the client that it’s going to take a week.

    This is not unethical at all.

    In our brains we associate value with something that takes time, or effort. And if you do things too fast, then the value is reduced in the mind of the client. So reacting at a speed that builds value is important indeed.

    • Andrew says

      yes yes yes yes. Or like Montgomery Scott said to Jordie LaForge when Mr. Scott guested on the Next Generation tv show “you never tell them how long it REALLY takes to do something, how else can you perform miracles?” (or something similar to that) :)

  5. says

    Had a prospective client email me recently. He wanted a quick turnaround sales copy rewrite as he had a mailing going out in the next day or two. I didn’t respond until the end of the day and he already got someone else lined up.

    I shudder to think what the project paid. Quick turnaround translates into less than stellar results as a general rule.

    It’s not how fast you can write the copy, it’s how much critical thinking and attversumption process applied so you can actually do the project properly.

    Like Sean says, the client perceives value based on a number of factors, one of which is how long it appears to take to do the work.

    Anyway, the point is clear. If someone makes a million dollars in a few minutes after a launch is initiated, there was probably months of prep involved. And lots of affiliates all with lists of their own, also cultivated over months and years.

    If it were really that easy, why aren’t they all billionaires?

  6. Geoff Pound says

    Sean

    I was attracted by your Picasso parable as my wife and I are in Barcelona holidaying and we visited the Picasso Museum last Sunday. Barcelona was one of his homes for a great part of Picasso’s life.

    The gallery is designed in stages from his early work to his last. I was a little disappointed that many of his well known paintings were not there but I had seen them in London, Paris and Madrid.

    What intrigued me was Picasso’s vast output. It took him years, thousands of sketches and drawings, much experimentation, efforts that are nothing to write home about and collaboration with other painters to produce the art work that Picasso has become known for and those paintings that are worth millions.

    Thanks for your post and the stimulation of thoughts.

    Geoff

    • says

      @Geoff:

      I was attracted by your Picasso parable as my wife and I are in Barcelona holidaying and we visited the Picasso Museum last Sunday. Barcelona was one of his homes for a great part of Picasso’s life.

      I was there just a few months at the very same place. I hope you didn’t end up buying the very same t-shirt as me as well. :)

  7. Geoff Pound says

    One other thing about the Picasso story is the interesting question of Why he painted.

    He did get to the point of discovering a gift for art and he was eager to sell enough to keep bread on the table but he painted to stimulate, to share ideas, to express himself, to be prophetic and for the love of beauty.

    Sean, your blog is intentionally about Why Customers Buy, but so many blogs about blogging these days are about making money, including enough buzz words to get Adsense cheques paying more etc.

    There should be more about developing the other and more enduring motivations for writing and painting but not to the exclusion of financial and other rewards.

    Geoff

    • says

      It’s like the Sting song: That you play the game to find the answers, more than just the money or the respect.

      He did get to the point of discovering a gift for art and he was eager to sell enough to keep bread on the table but he painted to stimulate, to share ideas, to express himself, to be prophetic and for the love of beauty. There should be more about developing the other and more enduring motivations for writing and painting but not to the exclusion of financial and other rewards.

      • says

        @Geoff Pound

        He deals the cards as a meditation
        And those he plays never suspect
        He doesn’t play for the money he wins
        He doesn’t play for respect
        He deals the cards to find the answer
        The sacred geometry of chance
        The hidden law of a probable outcome
        The numbers lead a dance

        This is why many of us should be in the business. As Picasso seemed to be–without a doubt.

  8. says

    Where is this story originally from? I heard this story years before this article but cannot find the source. I tell this to my students often with a slightly different rendition and was called out on it the other day by a student; Where did you get that story from?

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