Suppose you are in front of the “Mona Lisa of the North,” also known as the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” It’s a masterpiece by Hollander Johannes Vermeer. We don’t know who the models were that posed, nor much about the life of the artist. However, it is possible to tell some stories about this magnificent painting and how it came to be created. When people are exposed to an unknown object, its value greatly depends on what has been previously concluded about it.
If we tried standing for three hours looking at the painting, we could see with detail not only the oil brushes of the painting, but the possible identity of the girl. It’s possible to take a moment and use what we know to reconstruct the story of the girl’s identity.
We know that Vermeer had eleven children and one of his daughters could have been twelve years old at the time the painting was made. If one of his daughters was the model, this could represent a difficulty for the painter. The intimacy of the look and the fact that her open mouth appears sensual throw suspicion on whether there was a relationship between the father and the daughter. Definitely it would be an improper representation of his daughter.
Vermeer lived in the house of his mother in law. The painter didn’t have enough money, but the family of his wife seemed wealthy. So, it is reasonable to think the model might have been a maid working in the house. In this last case the pearl in her ear represents a problem. A housemaid couldn’t afford a jewel like that. It can be supposed the pearl was from the painter’s wife. This scene seems again compromising for Vermeer. Imagine his wife Catherine knowing her husband is locked up with a maid in his study for many days, for long hours. And if that wasn’t enough, he gives the girl some of her own jewels, and paints her with a provocative look and mouth.
In a similar way, the solutions, services, and experiences that we offer our clients, colleagues, communities and industries, make sense when more than just the final result (the finished painting) is displayed, but the process (the history) by which we reached the final result is also related.
Making up a story about our job requires showing it. This is, of course, a unique way of operating: sharing what we do and also being willing to learn from another point of view, to collaborate openly and to show what we know.
Next time I look at Vermeer’s painting, it’s possible it has something to tell. Next time I show a solution, I should elaborate an interesting story to tell.