Maybe We Just Need to Stick to Basics…It Worked for Picasso!

by  Deborah Mills-Scofield  |  Leadership Development

In the February 19th Tuesday Science Section (one of my favorites), the New York Times ran an article titled “Picasso’s Masterpieces Made with House Paint.” Using high-tech X-rays, scientists discovered that Picasso used plain old common house paint!  They analyzed the pigments on Picasso’s canvases and compared them with samples of house paint from the same time frame concluding that it contained the same chemical composition.

To the dismay of art snobs, some of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th Century were created with the same paint you buy at Lowes or Home Depot to paint your house or shed.  The ingredients are not unique, the human being is.

This seems to epitomize, at least to me, our leadership situation today.  We are looking for all the right tools, programs, processes, books, speakers, training, guidelines etc. to make us great leaders or ‘create’ great leaders.  We are looking everywhere but where we should.

This may seem a bit heretical for a blog on leadership, but I think we are glamorizing leadership into a ‘boutique’ industry – just like fine art, and fine art supplies.  Some of our greatest leaders, probably most, never had leadership training, never read a book about leadership, never went to a conference on leadership. They learned how to lead from their parents, teachers, friends, bosses…they learned leadership in the equivalent of the everyday aisles of a hardware or grocery store from everyday people. Abraham Lincoln, Golda Meir, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, John Wooden, etc. didn’t have formal training – they used basic everyday ‘paint’ to lead.

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve lost the ability to use everyday paint anymore. Perhaps we weren’t raised and/or taught, and I’d posit are not raising/teaching the coming generations, to be leaders through everyday experiences and examples. Perhaps we weren’t held to the same behavioral standards, once normal typical standards of common decency that are now deemed ‘exceptional.’  We have to write posts about how to say thank you, how to show appreciation, how to ‘do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.’  The golden rule is now the exception.

In the coming week, would you consider trying something? Would you use some common, off-the-shelf paint every day this coming week – thank two people a day, smile a lot, ask a few people how their weekend was, ask a few people how their spouses or kids are, ask someone if you can help them, hold the door open for the next person, offer to get someone a glass of water or cup of coffee. Just give it a shot – and perhaps you can turn plain old paint into a masterpiece.


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What People Are Saying

diana brown  |  15 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Dearest Deborah – BRILLIANT post. I share your observation and am dedicated to bring the awareness back to: Know thy Self. In doing so, with this recognition, I experience my world changing and understand that as this occurs so too are we able to change the world in which we live. Thank you.

Jon Mertz  |  17 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Great points, Deborah! Great actions we can – and should – take everyday. It will create a great masterpiece when we do. Thank you! Jon

Jay Steven Levin  |  17 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Love the post. Will add this. What dazzles from looking at a Picasso isn’t just his paint. It’s his practice. Zen like. He himself attributes his craft to it. Its what he says is responsibily for the simplicity behind all. Once saw a time exposures of a body pose he did via flashlight. Not one line error. Not one mis-direction. His practice rigor made it and all he does look that simple, that easy.

So sure, its that paint. But for us mere mortals its also remembering its the practice and appliction. No?

All the same nice brush work on on the part of Deborah and touched up by John!

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