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The Sketch Artist

a Parable about Pricing



Paris, France, 1948: A young woman strolls along a downtown 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, not looking up from the paper.

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

The artist looks up from his drawing. “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," is the perfect direct response to any suggestion that the amount of time taken to perform a task is a good gauge of the value provided.

Though a few readers might conclude that the fame of the artist determines his billing rate at 1,000 francs per minute, this is not the point.

Rather, a very good portrait drawn quickly can be worth a lot of money. If you question the price based on the short time spent, then you ought to consider that developing the talent and expertise that enable a very good portrait drawn quickly takes a much longer time than the time spent performing the task.

This shifts focus from the time spent performing to the value provided in the result of the performance.

When service depends on talent and expertise, time spent is an arbitrary gauge of the value provided, except when prompt completion has greater value. What is it worth to you to have a talented expert fulfill a need promptly?

- 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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