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Take The Money and Run!

A Danish artist, Jens Haaning, has been ordered to repay the majority of a loan of approximately £62,000 given to him to produce two paintings. These were commissioned to replace some of his existing work exhibited in a Danish Museum. When he finished the work, the artist delivered two blank canvasses to the museum with the title ‘Take The Money and Run’.

Whilst this initially caused amusement from the museum, they felt that had to take the artist to court as their funding was extremely limited and they therefore had to be very selective about where they spent their money.

In acknowledgement of the artist’s creativity the museum said ‘"Haaning's new work Take the Money and Run is also a recognition that works of art, despite intentions to the contrary, are part of a capitalist system that values a work based on some arbitrary conditions.”

What isn’t clear is whether the museum’s objection was the ‘perceived’ lack of effort from the artist or a reflection of the resultant value that the work created against their original expectations.

Value creation, from a business performance perspective, can also be something difficult to quantify. The success (or otherwise) of some job roles can be easy to measure – turnover, margin, savings etc. However, the quality of some creative work can be notoriously difficult to evaluate with its more intangible and subjective nature - what price do we put on this? The required investment in time and money in these ‘dark arts’ can cause paralysis in decision-making – resulting in lost business opportunities.

So, what can we do? Well, one option might be to have a bet about the outcome of the work activity. In the same way, we have a bet with an insurance company when we take out insurance on our home (if our home burns down they pay up, if our home doesn’t – they take our premium) we can also have a business bet about the placement of a candidate, compliance of a project or the number of new accounts achieved within a timeframe. The important thing is that the bet (or trade) is set against the outcome linked to the degree of confidence you have in your position. Please note, ensure that there is clear specificity (e.g. timelines, quantities, percentages etc.) within the terms of the bet.

Going back to our painting (or non-painting example) maybe Jens Haaning should have set his bet against increased footfall, spending or website visits for the museum. This then takes the argument away from how much people did or didn’t do – and more about the actual objectives set and the results achieved.

Famously, Alec Guinness did this when he negotiated a 2.25% cut of the gross earnings from Star Wars: ‘A New Hope’ which netted him $7 million at the time, or $33 million in today’s money.

Maybe, the answer is that whilst creativity in our work activity is important (quality rather than quantity), we can and should extend and link this to the outcomes that we and our counter-party want to achieve. To summarise, some key points to consider when creating and trading value:

  • Agree in advance on what success would look like for all parties.

  • Focus on the objectives but be flexible with the strategy to achieve them.

  • We can trade against the relative success of a business outcome.

  • People value things differently.

Sam Macbeth, 22nd September

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