Go and read this profile of the artist/author/songwriter Sandra Boynton. Not only is it nicely written (by Phyllis Korkki — great last name, BTW, with 50 percent Ks) but it is also a fascinating business story about how Boynton juggles and, more importantly, measures such variables as time, enjoyment, money, creative thrill, etc. The article is full of surprises — how Boynton was disappointed by her freshman year at Yale after the stimulating curriculum at Germantown Friends school in Philadelphia — but even better, it shows how a one-woman enterprise follows and breaks the rules of business and economics. Here, for instance, is Boynton on why she is not a profit maximizer:
“To me, the commodity that we consistently overvalue is money, and what we undervalue is our precious and irreplaceable time. Though, of course, to the extent that money can save you time or make it easier to accomplish things, it’s a wonderful thing.”
And here is Boynton talking about the music-making part of her business:
“At the level of detail I think is necessary to make them what they are, they simply can’t pay for themselves,” Ms. Boynton says of the CDs. “In purely business terms, it’s an irrational enterprise. And it’s also the best work I do.”
What’s most interesting to me about this article is that it beautifully illustrates how a given person approaches business in a way that, at many turns, seems to fly in the face of standard economic reasoning. Boynton is devoutly not a profit maximizer; she admits to her irrational thinking, and she believes that money is overvalued. She also sounds really happy.
Granted, it’s a lot easier to be an irrational, non-profit-maximizing, time-loving person when you work for yourself, as opposed to a public or even private company whose shareholders clamor daily for all of the opposite things. But I also think that Boynton is a great example of how real people make real decisions about allocating their talents and resources, and we might do well to think about such insights even in the context of companies that do worry about shareholder value.