Monday, August 4, 2008

Is It Bullying or Just An Innocent Request?

I found myself in an awkward position several times during the retreat weekend. I had brought some of my new work to show, and sell. It was wonderful to have a group huddled around the work, touching, "oohing", and "aahing". When you have spent months, or longer, working out a new line of work, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing other people appreciating it. And when that appreciation extends into purchases, it doesn't get much better than that. Voting with dollars is the biggest "yes" you can get about your work.

But, I had not anticipated another side of that appreciation, and it had to do with the environment I was in. I had many requests to show exactly how I make the beads I use in my new Shibori line. How do I get them so uniform in size? How do I do that surface design? On one level it is flattering. They so connect with the work, that they want to make it themselves. But, on the other hand, I am not ready to share just yet. It is what I am selling. My income depends upon this work, and these designs. It is too new to be firmly recognizable as my work. It is less than a year old.

What exactly are the costs of my laying it all out there at a retreat.....doing a demo? First, I will be giving away my "intellectual property". Exactly how I make these beads, in form and surface design, is my intellectual property. Just like companies that make widgets, that knowledge has value. Others may copy what I am doing, but there is no reason for me to hand it to them on a silver platter. Why do you think companies like Apple voraciously defend their patents and copyrights? Their knowledge is too valuable to lose. Right now, I feel protective of the knowledge of how I make these beads.

If I decide I want to share it, it might make more sense for me to teach in a class where I am being paid to teach what I have developed. It is at least acknowledging that the time and creative energy that went into this work is worth something. Whether it is in the form of a DVD that you have made, a book, or a classroom, if you are being compensated, you are acknowledging you are sharing something of worth, as is the recipient.

Sometimes we give stuff away freely and without the need or desire for compensation. I did a demo at the retreat of some designs I came up with a while back, and knew I was never going to use. Sharing it meant someone else, who might connect with the idea more than I did, could run with it. I did it willingly and freely. It felt right.

The problem with the retreat environment, with demos on the schedule every half hour, is that a perception may develop that everyone shares everything they know. Holding back is selfish. Especially to someone who is not aware of the complete landscape of where this medium fits into people's lives. Some play with it as an outlet from their regular job. For others, it is a job. And others float back and forth in the mid-zone.

It is not too hard to politely turn down a request to teach something that you are not ready to share. The challenge I found, was having the request made multiple times by the same person. I think the intention was made without fully grasping the consequences to me, and thus the persistence in asking. I was polite but firm in my resistance to teach this particular technique. I repeatedly said, "I am not ready to let go of this yet. They are new designs."

I found my response became more strained when faced with the same request again and again from a few people. I held my line. But would someone else who was not standing on such firm ground, eventually give in to the request, not able to say "No" just one more time? The recipients of the knowledge shared might walk away pleased with what they have learned, but will they understand the resentment they might have created in the person they dragged the information out of? I am guessing they just don't know what it is like on the other side of the equation, and why there is resistance to sharing.

Just because someone asks, it does not mean you have to share. You share because you want to. I am not saying this from being a cut throat business person. I am saying it from the point of view of being pragmatic. I can make a choice; to share or not to share. It is my choice to make. And the timing is up to me. I may disappoint a few people along the way, but in the end, I would rather do that than carry around the resentment of feeling bullied into sharing something I was not ready to share.

If teaching or writing is the primary source of income for your business as an Artrepreneur, the decision process might be different. You may be interested in demonstrating your teaching abilities to potential students.....giving them a taste of what they might learn from you in a more extensive class. Or you want to practice and refine your teaching skills. These are valid reasons to perhaps share more willingly and openly. But the context of those choices, or an alternative choice are not always recognized by others. Even when we explicitly state our reason.

It never feels good to say "No, I am not going to share this." It feels even worse when you have to say it again and again and again. But worse than that, giving in when you know in your heart, you do not want to, at least not yet. Approach these choices with a conscious awareness of the trade-offs. And whatever your choice, make sure it comes from what you need right now, and not the external volume. Remember the old Gallo wine commercial...."We will sell no wine before it's time." We must not share our designs and techniques, until the time and circumstances feel right. Then we can let it flow as freely as the wine!

30 comments:

Vickie Hallmark said...

Your new designs are just gorgeous! You should definitely hold those secrets close until you get the recognition you deserve.

I'm heading off to a glass conference this weekend and I know this type of discussion will come up somewhere during the visit, possibly about something I make and definitely about work others make. I appreciate your jogging my head into thinking about how I will answer questions, if they come.

Elaine said...

I don't think it is either bullying or an innocent request. I think for the most part people ask because they'd like to try making something of their own, perhaps inspired by the piece or your instructions.

And some will want it to make something to sell.

A few weeks ago I was asked by a very good friend why I had not shared more of a large part of my body of work on a popular forum site. And I tried to explain that while I like the back patting, congratulations etc... I did not like having to explain that no, I had no instructions for this, that no I was not ready to demo it, teach it, explain it's construction in detail.

My friend told me I was being silly.

I posted and I was precisely right. I even had people asking outright what variations i was intending to sell so they could plan around it. I wish I'd been wrong.

The moral of the story is that I should probably not bring the new and shiny to other maker-sellers in my exact medium unless I have a firm idea of what I want to do with it! Teach it, sell it or develop it further. My waffling put me in an uncomfortable spot.

Judy said...

Thank you for your comments Vickie and Elaine. It is an uncomfortable place to be in, and I think your right about the unclear intention Elaine. If we are unsure ourselves about where we are with something, it makes it much more difficult to make choices. I don't think anyone's intention in making requests for "how" is bullying. But it can feel that way on the receiving end of the request when a simple "no" is not accepted. Thank you both for painting in other aspects of this complicated scenario and how you might, or have handled it.

Kathi said...

I think if someone asks and is told "no, I am not ready to release this either by teaching or demo" and they ask again and again, then it *IS* bullying or definitely giving a guilt trip. Thats not the right way to go about it. I have been on the asking end and the asked end. When I have been told no....I understand completely.

Maybe it is because they are new folks or clueless folks that don't have the concept of refining, tweaking and then teaching, I don't know.

Heck some folks (including me sometimes) need that old familiar 2x4 upside the head to get a clue. Is it because folks are used to instant gratification from all the books, videos, free tutorials and message boards out there? I honestly don't know.

I will patiently wait for you to issue a book or DVD or come west to teach (when you are ready) *g* and I promise NOT to whine too much :D

Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said...

My husband has a cute saying for when he doesn't want to give his BBQing secrets away... "If I told you, I'd have to kill you!" Bet that would get people to back off! :-)

Judy said...

Hi Cindy, I heard an etiquette expert use that phrase as a response to a query about political affiliation on the radio. Perhaps it is the perfect phrase for those moments. Thanks for commenting!

Susan Turney said...

I'm thinking perhaps the person or persons who were so persistant in asking you to teach your technique possibly thought they were complimenting you....or wanted you to know how much they loved your pieces! I can't imagine anyone who had really thought about it continuing to ask. They probably also don't sell their work so hadn't thought about that either. That beautiful necklace does beg so many questions....but in an "awe-filled" way. Like how on earth did she get those beautiful patterns and how do they lay so perfectly? or how did she ever get those shapes?? But I don't think I would expect an answer any more than I would when thinking "how did that flower come to be"? Like any beautiful piece of art, that necklace fills me with wonder and awe but I would never ask (out loud) how you did it!
I'd buy the DVD though!!! :)

Judy said...

Thank you Susan for your very generous compliments. I agree completely that the intent was utterly innocent. But, for many people, a simple "no" can be the hardest word in the word to say. I am better at it than I used to be, but I did find that the repeated requests left me in an uncomfortable place. I wanted to shed a light on that side of the request. Perhaps others have struggled as I did, or perhaps others were not aware of how difficult such a simple request can be. As to a DVD,....a good idea in a year or two! Too much on my plate to even contemplate the idea right now. :-)

Renee said...

Well said! You wouldn't let a four-year-old get away with such behavior. Why let an adult? Just say "no". :)

Tejae said...

Thanks Judy for bringing this up. There are so many workshops and retreats these days I get the impression some people feel they are somehow entitled to the information and expect you to share everything you know. I appreciate the reminder that it's ok to say no. I also totally agree with the others that your work is just beautiful. Maybe tell em, you'll share your secrets after you've hit your million dollar sale from the item and the more they buy the closer it gets them to the prize!! (lol, sorry, haven't had my coffee yet!!)

JulieHRR said...

Thank you. Thank you for such a well-written and insightful article from the perspective of a creative professional!

Donna said...

Excellent and well written. My response would be a smile and a wink and saying "It is a secret recipe!"

SweetMissDaisy (Anna Wight) said...

Perfectly put. =)

Jan Scholl said...

I am always playing with food and when I am happy with a recipe, I make copious amounts and give it away at work etc. Almost everyone will ask for a recipe. I hem and haw but it pursists. Maybe I will get a backbone from your writing. If I give it away, I put it on my blog. Sadly I have had photos grabbed off my blogs without permission-same thing. I am not here to make money off any of what I do-only a please and thank you is my payments but I certainly understand the situation for artists who have to live off their income.

Geeta/craftyengineer said...

I, too, agree with other posters... very well written. I think you should hold on to your ideas for as long as you can/want. They are yours, after all.

Judy said...

Thank you for all your comments. Lots of ideas for how to handle this situation. I think it is okay for people to ask...but perhaps a better question might be "Do you plan to teach this? I would love to learn how you do it." That allows people to express their interest, but also recognizes that it is up to the artist to decide when, where and how to share their knowledge. I don't want to draw an us versus them line. I think the line is way to fuzzy. But drawing the picture of the experience more broadly can help all of us understand it better.

Jessica said...

I see both sides of the issue, but it comes down to what you, the professional artist, feel is necessary to protect your ideas and products. I like the response, if I told you I'd have to kill you, but I guess some people might not have my sense of humor.
BTW, if you have a golden retriever, watch out! *wink* The golden retriever on the Bush's Baked Beans commercial is always trying to sell the secret recipe!

Debra said...

You're not talking though about sharing a simple stamping tip or a technique. This is obviously a detailed work of art that you have created, and it should be up to you when (and if) you decide to share. Maybe this person persisted because these days, so much information is shared over the internet and sometimes, because of that freedom, we just expect that the person will be willing and in fact, eager to share their success and techniques. This differs though - could you say 'well, I'm not ready to divulge my secrets because I'm thinking of patenting my process when I've had time to work out the details?' Best of luck to you...

Anonymous said...

Judy, thank you so much for this well-written post. You have no idea how many of us feel the same way. I don't have your talent, I'm a novice at watercolor. Over the last several months I've gotten repeated requests to do tutorials and teach classes. I've had no formal training and feel very uncomfortable placing myself in a teaching position. At times I have felt bullied in a subtle way and it is a very uncomfortable feeling. I believe most people don't realize how I feel, while there are others who don't really care. They want to do what I do and they want to learn it in the quickest way possible. Stay true to your feelings, the people who are genuine will understand.

margot said...

You make wonderful points and have breathtakingly beautiful products. You are certainly entitled to protect your techniques and products. If, when asked for techniques, etc. about your products and declining to give information, a customer continues to question you it certainly sounds like bullying and isn't right.

Perhaps part of the problem you had with this recent incident is the forum in which your products were displayed--at a retreat as opposed to a fine arts fair. As a consumer, when I attend a retreat, the whole point is to learn techniques, etc. I'd find it a little disturbing to be presented something (especially something so beautiful) then being denied any technique/crafting information about it.

diane mcvey said...

Your position on this is eloquently and sensibly stated. I agree with you 100%! I hope others will benefit from your experience.

cheryl said...

Your designs are beautiful. I completely agree with not sharing your method. As you said, someone may try to copy and sell what you've created, by why make it easy for them? When I was trying to sell my cards to some stores, I swear my designs showed up there after I was turned down.

But here's an example of an innocent: my mom and I went to a craft show and she saw some tiny 'books' made out of 2 wrapped Andes Mints. They were selling for a whopping 25-cents, but instead of buying one, Mom studied them and said to the crafter, "I'm just trying to figure how I can make these at home". Now what do you say to that, lol?

Tiffany said...

I think HOW people ask is very important. I personally am an art junkie. I enjoy and participate casually in paper arts, sewing, jewlery making, painting, woodworking, photography and several other mediums. Learning something new and experimenting is what I enjoy.

I don't think it's wrong to ask... but it is rude to ask more than once. If I am asking for someone's knowlege I certainly respect their right to decline - after all it's not just your brain power, it's your creativity and time. Those things are precious I know.

Don't blame someone for asking - some of us just love to learn new things. We don't want to sell your ideas - we just love the learning process and trying something new.

However... you ALWAYS have the right to decline. I think a nice smile and a simple "I'm sorry to dissapoint you but I'm not prepared to share this technique yet. Thank you very much for your interest though, I'm honored you would ask."

Val said...

I say...good for you! These are your designs and it's up to you to share WHEN and IF you choose. The thing is, people will ask and they will ask repeatedly...it's the nature of people. I know that I have often said, how do you make it?? I am never offended if the person says that they aren't ready to share the details. I don't feel that the person is selfish or greedy...I just figure...they aren't ready. Most people will just say that they aren't really ready to show people how to do it...they need to work on the design or they say that they are planning a class on how to do it. People should not be offended...it is the artist's job...not always a hobby. People should remember that!!

Heather said...

You go Girl!!! I completely appriciate you view and think you are sooo right!!! I love how you worded it and I think that they should understand that you are trying to be a business for yourself!!! LOVE IT!!!

BTW your jewelry is GORGEOUS!!

shiborigirl said...

i recently had someone sign up for a workshop that wanted assurance that at the end of the class she would know exactly how to produce what i was making (even though my workshop clearly stated it was an overview of various shibori techniques). i let her know that in fact the basics would be covered but that my own personal work involved pole wrapping over 30,000 yards over the past year and that in fact she too could accomplish that if she committed herself to the process. every craft has a level of commitment and often i see people who want to just get to the finish line without paying the dues. i think part of what they don't understand is that it is the process and repetition of the process that leads you to discover your own work by solving problems- often leading you down a path you would never have know was there. and certainly one you won't find by having someone hand you all the answers on a silver platter. i would say that much of my best work or great ideas came to me quite unexpectedly.

Angela said...

Fabulous article and just gorgeous jewelry!

I get the same sort of thing with my tutorials. I also have people ask me in depth questions on how I run my business (when they are in fact in competition with me). I wonder if people just don't 'get it'... there's sharing but business is business.

SueB said...

When you've been asked and answered the request by the person ONCE, that's an innocent request. When they begin to ask the same request, already answered, multiple times ... and especially with others present, they're purposefully attempting to persuade others to "side with" them ... and, no doubt about it, THAT's bullying. I've had it happen to me too, and stood my ground with a simple "No" but you WANT to ask the person, "What part of NO do you not understand?!"

Kaete said...

Please don't feel bad about wanting privacy in your work. Reminds me of the time my dad had a work colleague who took my father's *very* proprietary glass formulas that had developed through years of experimentation and shared them to everyone else as if they were his own.

The sharing aspect of the craft community is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and absolutely essential - but some people just don't seem to get that artists also like to declare something as "mine" if they've put years of sweat and hard work into it.

Morissa Sweeney (SCS - stampinsweeney) said...

As very much a student of so many artists, I believe the uniqueness of art is what captivates us to keep coming back for more. Isn't it the mystery in life that inspires so many things. Secrets are relieved to us when the time is right not necessarily at the time of our choosing. Beautiful work and well-written message!