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Ahead of the Curve: What Matisse Tells Us About Work Trends

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

I love Matisse. Sure, it's a cliche, but it's the truth. He's my favorite artist. But he wasn't always revered.


When Matisse entered the art world, modern art was ridiculed and feared for eschewing traditional notions of beauty. A New York Times review of one of Matisse's London shows called his sculptures "hideous." (Talk about a harsh critic!)


When Matisse's The Red Studio crossed the Atlantic in 1913 to join the Armory Show, America's most extensive extravaganza thus far, no one bought a single painting by Matisse. Instead, he suffered even more ridicule. Art students in Chicago even burned replicas of his paintings outside the show.


But finally, The Red Studio made its debut in Paris in 1926, where he was finally in line with the culture and found several homes—a nightclub called the Gargoyle Club in London, later the Gignou Gallery in New York. Eventually, his art influenced a new wave of artists starting in the 1940s, which included Rothko, who liked to play with vast swaths of color for one purpose: to express emotion.


Work trends, like art movements, follow a similar pattern. Some will be innovators and early adopters. Others will be the late majority and laggards.


Matt Mullenweg, who wrote the foreword for our book, is one of the innovators in the remote workspace. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2004, he built an all-remote open-source project, WordPress, and an associated holding company, Automattic.


According to Matt:

What’s been holding companies back is fear of the unknown, and attachment to the familiar. I can’t tell you how many of the CEOs who said this would never work for them, are now proclaiming their company hasn’t missed a beat as tens of thousands of people started working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. And the investors I see espousing distributed work are the same ones who once told me that Automattic would never scale past a few dozen people unless we brought everyone into an office.

Like Matise and Matt, being out of step sometimes means you're early.


Reflection Questions:

  1. Are you usually ahead or behind the curve on new trends?

  2. Where do you differ from the majority of thinkers at your company?

  3. How can you use this to your advantage at work?

For those who love Matisse, check out the video and images below, courtesy of the MOMA.


Learn more at the MoMA.


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