As a young kid I wished I could have been a writer, singer, painter, musician or anything ‘artistic’. I just knew I wanted to create something. Something that would make me feel good and that my life had a purpose. I’m still not sure why I had this need, but as an emotional kid, I found it magical whenever a song, book, movie, poem, play, dance or even nature could evoke a strong emotional response that I often could not control.
So I would try to write, draw, cook, bake, sing, knit, sew, garden, learn piano, etc… but to no avail. I quickly learnt I could not really write, draw, play piano, dance or even remember the words of songs. I had no art.
Until I discovered programming.
I learnt that I could take a blank screen and make magic happen. I could make text blink. I could make images rotate. I could make something where stories, pictures, music, logic and all types of other art could be manipulated and delivered to people all over the world. I felt like that blank screen was my canvas and the keyboard was my paint brush. Cheesy – but I loved it. I still do. I’m a good programmer and I always just ‘got it’. I’m no software Da Vinci, but I know I can create with programming. It was my first art.
I then discovered – Presentation Skills and Top Down Thinking – my second art.
In three magical days at the start of my Management Consulting career I learnt that I could tell stories via logic, science, words, tone of voice, pace, silence, gestures, imagination and wait for it… even powerpoint (or Google Slides today). It might sound totally un-artistic, but if you ever give that perfect presentation/pitch it will be one of the most creative moments of your life. It is drama, noise, narrative, choreography, dance, suspense, visuals, sound, sales, conviction and pure emotion. I’ve only ever achieved this three times in my life. Three perfect moments. It was addictive and a skill that I now love teaching and trying to share with others.
I then discovered product – my third art.
Coding and story telling helped me discover the art of creating a product. For me, Product is turning a gut feeling, data, code, design, rational thought, emotion, idea, napkin sketch, hypothesis, subconscious niggling into something real, coherent and tangible. J1Summer and Datahug allowed me to transform ideas into real products that users loved. Like artists in other fields I quickly had to learn the ‘business skills’ around how to monetise, protect and scale my products. I often failed in these entrepreneurial areas but I learnt a lot about how art, people and business work together.
Most recently I’ve discovered my 4th art – my ability to spot and support other artists.
This is all about discovering other artists. People who have the ability, drive and belief that they too can create something from a blank canvas. People that in the tech world are often called Founders (not to be confused with Entrepreneurs). The art here for early stage investing is being able to spot these emerging artists before their art is anything more than a vague emotion or idea. I remember clearly the magical gut-feelings that I got while mentoring in Munich, lecturing to an MBA class in Dublin, walking around an industrial park in Bulgaria, having a drink in a Berlin Park, watching Bohemian Rhapsody being sung in a Finnish pub or seeing several badly pixelated smiling faces over Skype. That moment when you just know there is SOMETHING here. That feeling when you come across art that moves you. It is magical. It is even more magical when you can then invest, coach and help these emerging artists develop their art. From a career perspective, it is at the intersection of what I think I’m good at and love doing.
Along the way I’ve learnt that I love spending time with ‘artists’. Creators. Founders. People who have that creative mindset and obsession to create. To change things, to be different, to maximise and develop their art. Whatever that means :)
Here’s to the artists.