#229: What a 17th Century Dutch Painter Can Teach Us About Outsourcing

The biggest objection I hear from writers about hiring other writers as subcontractors is that no one can write the way they do.

I made that same argument for years.

But it’s a false argument. Because this isn’t a binary (yes/no) situation.

You have to think about it differently.

In this podcast episode, I tell the story of 17th-century Dutch painter Sir Peter Lely.

This historical figure can teach us a lot about outsourcing — and where we bring the greatest value.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smartphone, tablet or iPod.


In his excellent book Clockwork, Mike Michalowicz tells the story of 17th-century Dutch artist Sir Peter Lely.

Lely painted Baroque-style portraits, and when he moved to London, he quickly became the most sought-after portrait artist in Europe and the official painter for the royal family.

Lely was a good painter, but he wasn’t the best.

He was, however, very skilled at painting faces.

And he was also brilliant at building systems.

As he became more popular and couldn’t keep up with demand, he started hiring other painters to paint the things he was only reasonably good at — such as backgrounds and clothing.

That way, he could spend ALL his time doing the thing he was amazing at: painting faces.

I’m not saying you have to adopt this model. Scaling with other writers isn’t for everyone.

And even if it is, finding, onboarding, training and retaining the right writers takes time, energy and work.

But it all starts by recognizing where you add the absolute most value in each project and sticking with that thing.

And then let others do the rest.

Recognize where you add the absolute most value in each project — and then stick with that one thing when outsourcing.



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