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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 with a Spanish accent, not looking up from the paper.

"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. “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 the suggestion that the amount of time taken to perform a task reliably gauges the value rendered.

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.

Besides, the young woman was not aware of his fame when she asked him to sketch her portrait. Nor when she saw how good it was.

A great portrait, whether drawn quickly or slowly, can be worth a lot of money.

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 takes a lifetime.

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

Except when prompt completion is itself valued, time spent is an arbitrary gauge of value when the service requires talent and expertise.

What is it worth to you to have a talented expert fulfill a need promptly? Don't you expect to wait longer for the very best, or for fulfilment of a custom order?

- 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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