Frank Lloyd Wright died today, April 9, 1959. He worked for the acclaimed Adler & Sullivan architectural firm throughout the latter decades of the 19th century, under the mentoring of the great architect Louis Sullivan. In 1893, after departing with some dramatics from his employer-architecture firm, as his Wikipedia article states, “Wright established his own practice….” And, while we may have lost one of the greatest architectural geniuses of our Nation yet on this day, we gained some valuable insights into how (as well as how not) to run a Small Business from those years after 1893 when Wright ran his firm.
FUNCTION OVER FORM
Frank Lloyd Wright was the force behind Usonian-styled housing design and what he believed was the way in which to overcome the great housing problem. Clearly, this was inspired by his mentor, again Louis Sullivan, who coined the phrase, “Form ever follows function.” We’re lucky to have one of the examples of this style of design right here in Alexandria, Virginia, the Pope-Leighey House, which was reconstructed and moved to its current place in southern Alexandria off of Route 1. to see the tour and experience the brilliance of Wright’s design. Contrary to his architectural beliefs, the principles of utility in designing a house was also not apparent to Wright in his own finances. If you read his biography, you learn that he forgot about the basic principles of business–to turn a profit. He loved to live and dress lavishly and died penniless. His legacy is great but not because of his financial wealth. In business so often we forget that utility is much more important in Small Business than looking perfect. Let Wright be a lesson for us all.
Though his relationship with Louis Sullivan was challenged, he still paid for and buried his former employer and erstwhile-friend when he died, also impoverished and alone in a Chicago hotel on April 14, 1924. Relationships matter in Small Business, much more than with big brands, even when the professional relationships are strained. Many small businesses in the United States are started and grown with the people we know and trust; even more are built with family members (husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children and extended family). These are relationships worth preserving, even when the business of life impacts the personal. You never know when you need your former business colleagues, family business partners and long-time friends turned business associates to bury you, but you know that day may come.
FAIL WITH GRACE
One of the most vital traits for every successful entrepreneur is our ability to persevere in the face of repeated failure. Perseverance requires a belief you learned something from the prior failure to make your next plan a success. Frank Lloyd Wright suffered losing one of his wives and adopted daughter in a house fire; his subsequent rebuilding of the house was also burned down a few years later. He rebuilt the home (Taliesin III) even though he suffered a loss of some half-million dollars in 20th century currency! Frank Lloyd Wright also had two failed marriages, another failed relationship that virtually ruined his career here in the United States, and still managed to publish the great portfolio that made him famous in Europe. In the face of adversity, it seems that Frank knew how to fail with grace, brush off the dust (read, gossip and backstabbing), get back up on the horse and charge forward into the next chapters of his life. We should all be so lucky to have such resilience.
While Frank Lloyd Wright may have made some great mistakes in his life, he still stands as a great lesson for us today as Small Business owners.