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The Sketch Artist

a Parable about Pricing



Paris, France, 1948: A young woman strolls along a city street and notices a man busily sketching a bowl of fruit. She stops.

“Do you sketch portraits?” she asks the man.

“Yes, I do,” he replies with a Spanish accent, not looking up from his work.

"Will you sketch a portrait of me, to take to my father? I am on my way to him now.”

The artist looks up from his drawing, smiling. “Yes. Have a seat.”

Three minutes later, the man presents a portrait to the young woman.

“It’s very good,” she says, not noticing the signature: Picasso. “How much do I owe you?”

 He replies, “Three thousand francs.”

“Three thousand!” she exclaims. “But it only took you three minutes!”

Looking into her eyes, the artist retorts, “No. It took me all of my life.”


The final line in this story: "No. It took me all of my life," makes a perfect direct response to the suggestion that the amount of time taken to perform a task reliably gauges the value rendered.

Some might conclude that the fame of the artist determines his billing rate at 1,000 francs per minute. They would miss the point.

The young woman was not aware of the artist's fame when she asked him to sketch her portrait. Nor when she beheld its merit.

A great portrait, whether drawn quickly or slowly, could be worth a lot of money — possibly more if sketched impromptu for a client en route to its destination.

If you question the price based on the short time spent, then consider that developing the talent and expertise that enable sketching a great portrait could take a lifetime.

The value in the result of the performance trumps the amount of time spent performing.

Do you consider it worth more to have a talented expert fulfill a need promptly or by a particular time? Would you accept waiting longer for the fulfilment of a custom order? In either case, how fitting would by-the-hour billing seem to you?

Except when prompt completion or well-timed delivery increases value, time spent gauges value arbitrarily when performance of a service requires talent and/or expertise.

- Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.


Click for Questioning the Billable Hour

Click for The Carpenter's Invoice, A Parable about Pricing


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