Great artists attract followers because their work is an authentic expression of who they are. In our increasingly transparent world, is business today any different? What if a company wasn’t just a vehicle for making money, but a platform for painting the world that you want to see?

When Pablo Picasso died in 1973, he had become one of the most famous artists to have ever lived. Hailed as the father of modern art, Picasso was known as the creative genius behind the abstract style of cubism. But he didn’t always paint this way.

Picasso’s earlier work was far removed from the impressionistic style that brought him worldwide acclaim. It might surprise you that he didn’t paint in a fragmented manner because he lacked the ability to do otherwise. Picasso was in fact, a master painter of realism. He was able to produce a landscape that rivalled even the greats like Turner.

Pablo Picasso pioneered cubism because he found the status-quo tiring. He was frustrated by the limited possibilities that a traditional form of artistic representation offered him. He wanted to portray subjects in an entirely new way: in his own way.

Of course, Pablo faced plenty of naysayers. Even his close friends found his new work uncomfortable. They begged him to stop, but he refused. He was forging his own path, expressing himself authentically and in doing so, changing the art world forever.

If Picasso had painted only for money, then he could have made a decent living churning out realistic sceneries. But Picasso painted to express himself. Ironically, by following his heart and not the smell of money, he died one of the richest men in the world.

Put your own signature on it

Seldom is the category of household cleaning linked to self-expression, but that’s precisely what makes Method so interesting. The founders, or “brainparents” had a very clear idea of the type of world they wanted to see: a world “less dirty”, with “dirty” encompassing everything that’s wrong with the consumer packaged goods industry.

It was born out of a pet hate: toxic ingredients in cleaning supplies. With this vision behind it, a particular canvas took shape; a picture where each of the decisions the company makes are part of something bigger. The products it carries, the ingredients it uses, the distributors it partners with: taken in isolation, each of these details can easily be reproduced, but the picture and vision as a whole has Method’s unique signature on it.

Airbrush part of this out, forget about the vision as the company gets bigger or replace it with total focus on the product and what starts to happen? The picture becomes blurred, and so too does that unique and authentic value proposition.

A platform for expression

As an organisation grows, there’s always a risk that we lose sight of why it exists and why we went into business in the first place. There’s a danger that we forget about our company as a physical expression of something we genuinely believe. We start talking about ourselves and, by extension, thinking about ourselves in a way we think a successful business ought to – and not as we really are. Much like Picasso’s early career, we drift into painting-by-numbers: an ersatz version of ourselves instead of the real deal.

As climbing gear retailer Patagonia demonstrates, an authentic picture need not be a complicated one. When the company describes ‘Our Reason for Being’, the company’s passion is right there in the story, even though the word “passion” is never used. Calmly, matter-of-factly, this worldwide retailer recounts how it was started by a band of climbers looking for simplicity and utility. Neither can Patagonia’s passion for the environment be doubted; the story of the company’s record in areas such as recycling and donating to environmental groups proves this better than any bland, corporate-speak ever could.

“Once a person says, ‘This is who I really am, what I am all about, what I was really meant to do,’ it is easier to decide how to spend one’s time.” – David Viscott

That picture is truly authentic when you are using your business as a platform for expression; a vehicle for a particular crusade and a way to live your ideals. Far from than being an identikit money making vehicle, this then becomes something that transcends profit and that becomes ‘not-for-sale’ – even to the highest bidder.

Take the founders of Lush Cosmetics when BBC Dragon, Peter Jones asked if they would ever sell their quirky company to a bigger organisation for a billion pounds. Their answer was a resounding “No.” As they put it, “The fun is in the business. Our ideals are our ideals, they aren’t just something we borrowed, so therefore they stay constant.”

Painting the world as you want to see it

Being an entrepreneur gives you autonomous freedom from someone else’s dream. You have the license to paint the world that you want to live in. This was the case for the founders of CitizenM hotels, Michael Levie and Rattan Chadha.

Each came from opposite sides of the check-in desk: Levie, an established hotelier and Chadha a fashion industry insider whose teams of execs were frequent travellers. Interviewed by eHotelier, Levie describes his frustration at the inertia affecting the industry; “I cannot use the word innovation because there was none.” For Rattan’s personnel on business trips, unless they were sent to anything other than ‘luxury’ hotels (with a rather outmoded idea of luxury), options were severely lacking.

So the founders asked “Is anybody going to do anything about it?” As Levie explains, “One night we came together and decided to just do it and have some fun while we’re at it.” Whereas Conrad Hilton named his hotels after himself, CitizenM was named after its guests; the mobile, tech-savvy travellers identified by the founders as “The weekenders, the suits, fashion baggers and affair havers. The explorers, adventurers and dreamers. Those who travel the world with big hearts and wide eyes.”

As a business, CitizenM is an expression of what the founders believe the hospitality industry should look like. The company continues to paint and add to that picture. It speaks to and resonates with that new traveller profile and continues to inform the decisions the company makes, from new locations to the services it provides. It’s as relevant now as it was on the day the company formed.

Designer glasses retailer, Warby Parker was formed out of a similar rebellious spirit. As the founders explain on their website, they consisted of a group of students, one of whom lost his glasses on a backpacking trip and was amazed at how prohibitively expensive it was to get a replacement. The answer was to make those glasses themselves, bypassing the old, expensive distribution channels and building a socially conscious business informed by the principle that “everyone has the right to see”.

Dance to your own beat

Big business is often portrayed in a capitalist, cut-throat way; the endless pursuit of profit maximisation above all else. But there’s a softer, more romantic side that’s starting to emerge. In our connected and transparent world, consumers are holding brands accountable for what they stand for. Building a successful company today is as much about values and ideologies, as it is product functionality and marketshare.

Making money wasn’t the primary objective for Picasso, the quest for self-expression was. Yet, he still ended up becoming one of the world’s richest men of his time. The money was a bi-product of refusing to accept the status quo, and dance to his own beat.

What is the driving force behind your organisation? Is your business simply a vehicle for making money, or is it a platform for painting the world that you want to see?