A New Yorker article promoting social enterprise, published this month, featured me and my journey toward this business model. It pulled me back to a previous chapter of my life, which was centered on technology and business development and only allowed me to paint on a part-time basis. It felt a little disorienting… at least until I started seeing the connection between these two worlds.
When I started The Walker Group almost 40 years ago (geeeeez) the internet didn’t even exist, and microcomputers were just starting to proliferate. While they were referred to as “personal computers,” or PCs, I figured that as businesses began to use them, they would need to be managed in the same way we managed the minis and mainframes. I saw an opportunity to build a consulting service around this idea and thought it sounded fun. When I told my boss about my dream, he said, “If you've got the fever, go for it! If it doesn’t work, you can always come back.” Within 10 years I had a successful small business, and while the technology and services we offer have morphed and changed and there have been good and bad years, Walker continues to thrive to this day, employing about 50 people and sharing distributed profits equally between employees, the community and shareholders.
In the early '00s I saw another need rising up. As with the proliferation of personal computers back in the early days, I was seeing a new phenomenon growing: companies using technology rather than their reputations in the community to grow into huge zombie organizations with a singular focus on profits. In this world, I felt there could be a place for businesses built more upon a balance of doing what’s right for employees, the environment and the communities in which they thrive, as well as for stockholders. I had learned in business school that the only thing that mattered was the bottom line, and I began to see that this was just a mindset—and a dangerous one at that. So I started a Hartford-based nonprofit to encourage a new kind of business (which is really a return to an old kind of business, with a modern twist). ReSET’s mission is to encourage and support social entrepreneurs: organizations that use the market to address local and global issues. It is also still thriving today.
Now, having “rewired” from the business world, I work full-time in my studio: a someday dream for many years. And while I am enjoying myself immensely, part of me has wondered how all these chapters weave together. It finally clicked for me thanks to the New Yorker story. It made me realize what I was doing before, and what I’m still doing today, is envisioning a different world and trying to make it come alive for others.
And this is what artists and entrepreneurs do: They are visionaries. They put new ideas out into the world. Sometimes they help us see something that was there all along but invisible to us until…. Sometimes they paint a new picture, a new reality, and invite us in…. And sometimes they help us bring our own vision into focus.
And when this happens, we change. We evolve.
We live in a world that is hurting on so many levels it’s hard to figure out what we should be doing to right the many wrongs we see around us. Problems that we were perhaps blind to even a year ago are now staring us in the face and demanding something be done. It may be hard to know where to start, but it always starts with a vision. We need to see a new path forward because “getting back to normal” is neither possible nor desirable when you stop to think about it. We need new ideas. We need an evolution.
And this is where all these chapters intertwine for me: We need visionaries with heart and the desire to do what they do, not for the petty profit motive but for something bigger, for the community, for the many, for us all.
And that's my new motto—Let's start an evolution! What’s your vision of a better world? Send me your thoughts - I’d love to hear from you.