Patti Smith on work and vision

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Patti Smith is best known as an iconic punk rock singer songwriter and for the song “Because The Night”. But Patti Smith is so much more than that – she’s a mother, a published poet, an award winning writer, and an accomplished photographer and artist.

Her life story is pretty amazing. The child of a factory worker and a waitress, she too tried her hand as a waitress before getting fired by her own mother!  Moving to New York, sleeping rough, settling down to work in a bookstore for 5 years before she accidently became a punk rock icon, and then leaving the music business to have a family and pursue life as an artist. Listening to Patti Smith recount her story herself is both inspiring and entertaining. Check out her interview with actor Alec Baldwin on Here’s The Thing.

The Challenge of Digital Tech

As anyone who has seen the performance she gave at the Nobel Prize ceremony in 2016 will know, Patti Smith is a woman possessed of enormous courage, determination, humility and compassion. That character shows through in her advice to aspiring artists, but it’s a message that goes to the heart of the digital world of work too.

The digital revolution is one that continues to transform the way we live and work at breakneck speed. As technology and its application advances ever further people in the workforce are increasingly looking for security, at the same time as they seek the freedoms technology offers. But that isn’t the whole story. There’s also a growing demand for personal growth, self actualisation, and for work that offers purpose and meaning beyond the simple economic benefits it sends to the corporate bottom line. At the same time organisations are constantly having to renew and recreate. It’s a less secure and more paradoxical world of work than we have seen before, and it’s a challenge for leaders, managers, and employees alike.

What Patti Smith knows about work

Her message to aspiring artists is also one for those leading organisations and working hard to keep them current.  It’s a message equally relevant to all those working in HR, to those engaged in change projects, and of course for those entering or already in the workforce today.

Here is what she has to say:

“You have have to be willing to sacrifice. You have to be willing to work really hard. You have to be willing to go years, or perhaps quite a long time, without recognition, without acknowledgement, and you have to in the face of all that maintain your vision as vision.

Being a real artist, it is a sacred quest and it doesn’t have anything to do with fame or fortune. You can achieve fame or fortune because perhaps the stars are aligned, but that can’t be your prime directive. Your prime directive has to be to do something new, to give something new to the cannon of art, to give something new to the people, and to do something great. To do something enduring, something inspiring, something that will take people somewhere they have never been taken, and you have to remember why you want to create.

And so I just say again simply. Hard work and sacrifice, happily, because if you can’t sacrifice with joy then it’s meaningless. And if you sacrifice and you maintain your joy and enthusiasm, and your curiosity, and your ability to work hard you will achieve something.”

It’s that need to persevere, be willing to sacrifice, to do and produce something new and inspiring, to continually regenerate and re-create, and to do it with joy that is so important. The graveyards are full of leaders, businesses and projects that couldn’t stay the course, that lost their way and self destructed at the first sign of success, it doesn’t just happen to rock stars. The ones that endure are the ones that really stay true to their vision, keep on working at it, and don’t get distracted by short term success.

Photo credit:
Patti Smith performing im Mannheim, Rosengarten, Germany 1978
by Klaus Hiltscher – CC-BY-SA

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