I would like to tell you two stories that I recently heard.
The two stories are very similar… And yet they are very different.
One story, I saw late at night on TV.
It was a featured story on the financial news, which I watched while lying in bed at our hotel in Tokyo.
The second story was on National Public Radio, and I listened to it in the car, upon our return back home to Colorado.
Both stories take place in China.
But first, let me take you back in time a bit…
The cultural revolution in China, led by Mao Zedong, clearly looked down on the Western world, and believed that capitalism was the root of all social evil.
After Mao’s death, the country was left in complete disarray.
30 Million people had died during the extreme measures of the cultural revolution, and major changes needed to be made, to recover the heart of China, and to restore the spirit of the people.
With the years’ passing, the communist regime in China became somewhat more relaxed, and gave way to a new era.
Deng Xiaoping, the new Chinese Chairman, became very popular with his vision to restore prosperity to the people and to the country, by allowing Chinese to own businesses and property, and allowing foreign investors back into the country.
When multi-national companies looked at the fact that China has 1.3 Billion people living in it, each getting richer every year…… they rushed into China, trying to establish themselves first…..seeking to enjoy the potential of huge financial gains.
The first story is the story of “Best Buy”- a major electronics and appliance retailer from the USA, with successful branches in many major US cities.
They moved into China in 2006, in a huge rush to be the first to corner the growing Chinese market.
But they did not understand the mentality of the Chinese people AT ALL.
And the list of mistakes that they made, is very long…
I will not get into all the details here, even though they were very interesting.
Briefly I will mention that they came into China with an American mentality, thinking that if you give people good quality appliances for a good price, you cannot go wrong.
But the average Chinese person still earns a very low salary compared to the West.
Young couples often live with their parents for many years because they do not own their own apartments, and they save over ten years before they buy a single appliance.
A small saving… Any saving…. Even one of a few dollars, will sway their minds in the direction of a cheaper brand.
Best Buy failed to make huge financial gains in China.
The second story is the journey of the “Oreo Cookie” into China.
The Oreo cookie is a major success story in the USA, and it is a cookie that is much beloved by many Americans.
But when Kraft Corp brought the Oreo cookie to China, it did not sell AT ALL.
Instead of TELLING the Chinese people that they SHOULD love this American treat, they ASKED the Chinese people WHY they do not like the cookie.
The answer that they got was that the cookie was way too sweet, and also too bitter for Chinese tastes.
As it turned out… the cookie had developed much sentimental value among those who loved eating it in the USA.
Americans ate it during their childhood…. Sharing the experience with their loved ones….
Kraft understood that the ritual of HOW people ate the cookie, made it successful in America.
Twisting off the black sandwich cookie, licking the white middle cream and dunking it into the milk…… It was the ritual, and not necessarily the flavors, that made people love the cookies.
So Kraft turned back to the Chinese public, and again ASKED what they were doing wrong… And asked HOW to make it better….to appeal to Chinese tastes.
They listened to the comments of the Chinese people, and made all the suggested improvements.
After lowering the sugar content, changing the color (getting rid of the black and white), making the cookie square and not round, and offering it in favorite Chinese flavors like green tea and more… They doubled the cookie’s sales.
After Kraft was convinced that the cookie does appeal to Chinese tastes, they started an advertising campaign on Chinese TV, to “educate” people about how to eat the new Oreo cookie…
Most of the commercials showed a little boy, showing his father how to twist, lick and dunk the Oreo cookie, just like they do in America….
The appeal to “Be Like The West,” is HUGE in newly developing China.
Our Chinese guide told me recently that many commercials for goods in China today have slogans that say something like: “Buy this coat, it is what every American LOVES!” or: “Buy this, it is very popular in America….”
After improving the Oreo cookie to match Chinese tastes, and adding the effective advertising campaign, the annual sales of the cookie doubled yet again…. And then doubled once more….
To me, one of the biggest differences between those two stories, is humility and being willing to ask: “What am I doing wrong?….” and then listening, taking it to heart and changing.
Now….. I will share something from my own career as an artist…
There was a time in my art career, when I painted in very thick oils.
I was working ceaselessly.
If I were not painting, I was framing, or doing art shows, traveling or submitting applications to art shows, or following up with my art collectors.
Because I was working in very thick oils, the paintings took a very long time to dry.
The minute the surface of the oils just hardened, I would frame the paintings and take them to art shows, where I would sell them.
I told the buyers not to touch the surface of the paintings, and not to dust them for at least six more months, until the paint hardened.
Often, other artists commented to me, that most artists have a hard time selling any of their art, and here I was, selling all my work BEFORE it was even dry….
I thought about their comments often…
You see…. I never believed that artists should starve and experience rejection constantly.
I am however quite aware that learning to deal with rejection and with people not liking you or your style, is simply part of the artist’s path….
But all of this does not mean that an artist should not be able to prosper at their art.
I always assumed that if my art was not selling, it was my own fault.
What I mean by that is, if my art was not selling, I must be doing something wrong.
Maybe I was not doing effective marketing…
Maybe I was pricing it too high…
Maybe I am trying to market it to the wrong people….
Maybe I was missing something in the attractiveness of presenting the art…
Maybe there is another way I could do it better…..hang it, present it, frame it, to make it more appealing… Send more mailing…. expose it more….
I NEVER believed that if my art was not selling, it was because people do not appreciate art… The economy sucks… People do not buy paintings now… And all the other sorts of things that artists often tell themselves, to justify the fact that their art is not selling.
I do admit that outside circumstances can and do create temporary setbacks.
I have traveled to do art shows at great expense, only to have the show canceled, because of a severe weather warnings.
An earthquake or a war, a financial market collapse or a personal setback like a fire or an accident, can also create major setbacks, but ultimately, outside circumstances cannot hold you back forever.
If you are determined to succeed, and keep on going with persistence, willingness and a full heart, you will succeed.
I constantly travel and visit museums, international art fairs, and galleries, to keep abreast of where the trends are, and I can tell that what is selling, has nothing to do with art…and a LOT to do with IDEAS… and with learning how to market your art.
Art is a bit like fashion, art collectors are always wanting to collect something NEW…..
Something that is interesting, different, growing or innovative…
But behind all this, I would like to share my unshaken belief, that regardless of the bad times and setbacks, we create our OWN realities.
We are creators!
We create our own realities, moment by moment by the ideas that we hold, the thoughts we keep and by the decisions we make.
We are beloved children of an infinitely loving God, and we are entitled to live an abundant life…..a happy life….. Lived with a healthy body, and a peaceful, joyful and creative mind.
The assumption I have, is that when I am in the flow, things SHOULD and DO go smoothly.
So… When things are not going well in ANY area of my life… I stop and ask:
“What am I doing wrong?”
“How am I contradicting myself with opposite beliefs and keeping myself stuck?”
And to be totally honest, occasionally…. When a certain problem persists in any area of my life…..I stop and I ask the Universe bluntly:
“Please tell me…. How am I fucking this up?…… ”