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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Rembrandt vs Vermeer - insights for CRM and the dynamic Chinese perspective

This post was inspired by reading Lawrence Weschler's article "Vanishing Point" in the June 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine.

Art history holds some lessons for us: Artist David Hockney in "Secret Knowledge" his 2001 book credibly claims that many of the most acclaimed European artists (Vermeer Caravaggio, van Eyck) used optical projection to increase the precision of their drawing. What it gave them was a way to very accurately draw what they saw from a pinhole (because that's what the optical aids provided). These pictures provided an "optical" look at the world - a very famous Vermeer painting "The Little Street" is an acclaimed example

Here, Hockney describes this painting as a window - we are outside observers with a one point perspective.

Rembrandt shook that world - and some say the difference might be due to the influence of Chinese porcelain painting imports and exports in his hometown. Chinese paintings and scrolls are drawn from a perspective that is dynamic and changing - the world as you would see it, walking along, shifting all the time. The view from the bottom of the hill is different from the view from the top of the hill. Unless you are in a helicopter, you would never see the whole thing from one point - but from the moving series of points.

Rembrandt took the perspective of the individual one further, not just physically dynamic, but emotionally dynamic . Take a look at his sketch: Child being Taught to Walk (c) Trustees of the British Musuem (See http://people.csail.mit.edu/fredo/PUBLI/WillatsDurandAxiomathes.pdf for a picture of this amazing drawing). You can feel the anxious love of the toddler's sister, and the steady confidence of the mother, the pride and excitement of the father squating down ready to receive the tottering child.

Perspective in art is different in time and culture.

Why should perspective in business and technology be any different?

What does this mean for CRM?

We have fallen in love with the pinhole perspective of the financial analyst looking at ROI. Its neat, its convenient, it gives a way to resolve many complicated relationships, and to systematically view a situation using a method that others can follow and understand.

Customer Lifetime Value is the pinhole perspective. Frozen in one point in time, encompassing the history of transactions and future projections with extreme precision.

But a relationship is between people and organizations of people.

Customers are not frozen in time neither are organizations or business.

The Chinese artistic tradition enhanced by Rembrandts dynamic emotional coloring is what we should be aiming at, when we describe the kinds of relationships we want to build with our customers.

Art is what people remember.

The Perspectives of Art are necessary ingredients for making relationships memorable.

We have a long way to go in CRM to doing this... but first we must acknowledge the limitations of our pinhole perspective.