Relevance.

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” –Andy Warhol.

When something is just so right. Only one word can nail the explanation. Only one word is relevant enough to highlight the relevance of the situation.

Relevant: appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.

Famous: known about by many people.

Relevant versus famous. To be known by many people as opposed to being appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances feel like two sides of the same coin. Many of us confuse the two. Fame comes and goes with a person’s relevance to the times. Whereas staying relevant means vigilance in riding the waves of change while staying upright with your eyes fixed on the future horizon. Below is Andy Warhol’s Marilyn, part of pop art’s iconology.

Warhol’s Marilyn

An American artist, film director, and producer, Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. As he predicted, he had his 15 minutes of fame too. Art seemed a relevant medium for discussing the idea of relevance.

Art, specifically abstract art has always fascinated me. Abstract art is an art that does not attempt to represent a picture of reality. Instead, the art form uses shapes, colors, forms, and marks to achieve its version of reality. It reminds me of the artist’s mind being on fire with creativity, as the paint lands haphazardly on canvas. The art in our masthead is compelling abstract. You can almost feel the fleeting, firey tension in the piece.

“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward, you can remove all traces of reality.” – Pablo Picasso

Art is always changing, coming in and out of vogue, at the very tip of the cultural zeitgeist. Most art mystifies me. I like, what I like, and I appreciate the rest as a daring expression of its creator. The diversity of art serves as a wonderful canvas to launch a broader discussion about an individual or company’s relevance.

I believe, the journey to relevance is easier to understand in brand terms. Every business is locked in an ever-changing cultural competition for customers. While time does march on companies can and do get lost in translation and transition. The energy and innovation once a driving force in its culture is gone. The company stumbles to find direction losing its product or service’s relevance and with it key employees and clients. Every day great institutions quietly close without most people even realizing they were still in business. Victims of losing relevance to a customer base. But the slippery slope to irrelevance often moves glacially slowly.

When I grew up, making a copy was called “making a Xerox.” The technology company pioneered the copier.

Xerox was founded in 1906 in Rochester, New York, as The Haloid Photographic Company manufacturing photographic paper and equipment. In 1938, a physicist working independently, invented a process for printing images using an electrically charged photoconductor-coated metal plate and dry powder “toner”. It would be 20 years before the first automated machine making copies would be commercialized, with a document feeder, scanning light, and a rotating drum. Haloid coined the term xerography from two Greek roots for meaning “dry writing”. Haloid became Haloid Xerox in 1958 and Xerox Corporation in 1961 to reflect its flagship innovation.

In the 1960 and 1970s, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Company (PARC) was on the cutting edge of the next new, new thing. PARC defined relevancy. The first true PC – The Xerox Alto invented years before IBM and Apple, was scrapped as not relevant (ouch) to our future society. Who would want a computer in their house? Or their hand? PARC had everything including a working ethernet network, graphical user interface, icons, bit mapping, scalable type, a mouse, and, ready, the world’s first laser printer.

And, yet, Xerox did nothing with its cutting-edge inventions. Well, not nothing. I apologize. Actually, they were kind enough to give a young Steve Jobs, the posh escorted tour of PARC, showing him all their gadgets and innovations. PARC’s people even watched Jobs as he made notes of everything he saw. Within months he had hired away some of PARCS’s top talent and instituted a program that resulted in the Lisa, the forerunner of the Mac.

Today, Xerox is still a market leader with 22% of the US market for copies compared to Canon at 20%. Xerox’s market capitalization is a respectable $2.7 billion. Apple’s market capitalization is oddly also $2.7 trillion not billion. However, Apple has a relevance problem.

Without Steve Job’s obsessive reality-bending, Apple’s long-term relevance is in serious question. Ask yourself. Has Apple delivered a “wow” lately?

How does a company or a person stay relevant? How do I get there? What does relevance look like? Probably not like the piece below which seems to have three-dimensional ridges in the painting.

“Fluorite” – oil painting. Conceptual abstract picture of the eye. Oil painting in colorful colors. Conceptual abstract closeup of an oil painting and palette knife on canvas.

Here are my suggestions for your personal or company’s journey to relevance. The suggestions are part of my process.

1) Never be content and stay obsessively curious about reality.

2) Have a clear vision for yourself or your company. Be honest with yourself.

3) Education is the key to keeping on top of all current trends. Remember obsessively curious above in point #1.

4) Ask great questions. Then stop pause, and listen to the answers with an open mind.

5) Do the learning, research, and questioning yourself. Don’t delegate. There is nothing like the boots-on-the-ground experience to understand the texture of things.

6) Be willing to stay humble, hungry, and competitive. You will never arrive. There is no finish line with being relevant.

7) Constantly innovate but don’t get in a hurry. Little incremental improvements with better as the goal, not the best, in everything you do.

8) Don’t be afraid to make friends with smart, driven, and passionate people. They are your point men and women spotting shifts in the cultural landscape.

We are often fooled by the similarity of yesterday, today, and tomorrow missing the big cultural shifts mandated for continued relevance. As individuals, the dailiness of life grinds us down. Our senses grow dull with repetition as we battle to meet the demands of our daily lives. Following the 8 points listed above will keep your staying relevant process rolling.

Are you on TikTok? Why not? There is a lot of silly nonsense to be sure, but underneath the waves of illusion and funny characters, a cadre of business consultants, mentors, musicians, and artists are hanging out their shingles exploiting the medium to deliver their messages. Groups of smart people, of all ages are creating collaborations and content that is extremely useful. A short-form YouTube is taking shape. Who knows what’s next? At my son Jordan’s suggestion, I have chosen to dip my toe in the water. @robertqwatson61 Trust me, my videos are nothing special. I am experimenting with reality never content.

Don’t forget next week will be here in the blink of an eye.

Until next time. Stay relevant my friends.

Published by Robert Q Watson

During my first six decades on this earth, I lived life at great heights often on the razor’s edge. Consequently, I have enjoyed incredible successes and endured mind-numbing failures. Truthfully, I have had a hell of a view.

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