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What if Picasso had been an Accountant

Posted 6 years ago in Advisors by Guest
Posted by Guest

Guest post from Paul Dunn, B1G1

It’s a beautiful Spring morning in the centre of the equally beautiful French Provencale small town of Mougins in 1969. The locals have gathered for their morning café and croissant.

A visitor sits down, orders a café au lait and can’t believe her eyes. There, sitting just two tables away is Pablo Picasso. And not only is the great artist sitting there, he has his sketch pad and materials with him.

She can’t believe it – what an opportunity this is. Somewhat breathlessly, she flips her hands through her hair and sits down next to Picasso. In her faltering French she exclaims how she can’t believe her luck and she wonders if Picasso could quickly sketch her.

“Bien sur – of course” says Picasso, “I love nothing better”.

So the woman poses and Picasso studies her with the eye of a great artist. He then quickly sketches and shows her the completed piece. “Oh my God,” she exclaims, “I must pay you for this!’

“Indeed you must,” says Picasso. “that will be 400,000 Francs.”

“WHAT! I! That took you just 90 seconds to do, that’s way too much.”

“No, Madam, you are incorrect – it did not take me 90 seconds at all; it took me my whole life to know how to do that.”

Picasso understood value pricing (sadly, in this case, he forgot it is critical to get agreement on the pricing before you start the job!) And he understood clearly that pricing, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

We’ve been talking about pricing on value for more years than I care to remember. Yet curiously, some professionals still don’t get it. They stick to their multiple charge-out rates and their time sheets. And they don’t understand that doing that de-values them.

Yet those same people gladly walk across the road to get a haircut from a barber who cuts their hair well (or who they know well or who they know will share the latest funny story with them) – someone from whom they get the value they want in that moment. They won’t base their decision on anything other than the value they receive. That’s how they live their lives as buyers.

But when they turn ‘sellers’ everything changes for some perverse and peculiar reason.  And again, it’s devaluing them and, just as importantly, it devalues those around them whom they employ under the same system, forcing them to account for every six minutes of every working day.

And it does even more.

All of us who serve clients seek to do one important thing. And that’s to connect.

That’s true whether it be me in B1G1 serving Accountants around the world, or the team at Xero doing the same or, for that matter anyone who runs a professional knowledge firm (you might be more familiar with the term ‘professional service firm’ – we prefer ‘knowledge firm’). Whatever we do, we seek to connect.

We seek to connect with who we are as human beings. To connect with our team so that they feel truly inspired and purposeful. And, of course, to connect with our clients; notice that, not to communicate with them, not even to simply serve them but to actually connect with them.

Given that depth of understanding, then surely it’s easy to see the massive disconnect that happens when we measure and charge by time. As my friend and colleague in the Verasage Insitute, Ron Baker, so eloquently points out, “The only people who should be measuring time are those that are serving it – in prison.”

There now is no doubt (see this piece by Professor Andre Spicer of CASS Business School – that measurement of and charging by time is seriously flawed.

Accountants will do well to consider the real value they bring. They’d do well to look down at their MasterCard and consider the concept of ‘priceless’ moments – the moments they create for their clients that give their clients greater freedom, greater control, greater security, greater piece of mind (and keep the Government off their backs!). Priceless (and I would add ‘time-less’) indeed.


Paul Dunn is Chairman of Buy1GIVE1, or B1G1, a company that has ‘reimagined business giving’, creating over 15 million giving activities around the world with a new ‘platform’ to enable impactful, habitual and ‘connected’ giving. Paul also created the Accountants’ Boot Camp process, enabling over 3,500 accounting firms and 17,000 accountants worldwide to work with their clients in new ways.





Gayle Buchanan
August 15, 2012 at 4.44 pm

Hey Paul, man after a bookkeepers heart! Everyday we can make a difference for someone’s business even if it’s just a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on – love my job.
Thank you for your post.

Ian Judson
August 15, 2012 at 10.17 pm

Nice reminder Paul of what the Firm of The Future needs to practice. Great relationships make great firms.

Bryan James
August 15, 2012 at 10.21 pm

Paul, you always make sense, great to hear your thoughts.
You are correct, and we are our own worst enemy!
We are always too busy to get out of our own way.
Keep up the good thoughts!

Anja O'Connor
August 16, 2012 at 8.49 am

First contact with value based fees might result in a lower hourly rate (because how do you pay your staff based on the values they contribute to the workplace?), hard to digest for firms with hourly rates in the hundred(s). It’s a long-term view that will even this out, selling great value means top service. It’s a worry firms jumping on the value-based bandwagon suddenly charging horrendous amounts. It’s a fine line and a tricky business to be in…. but very rewarding just like Gayle says! If you’re not in for the money alone.

paul shrimpling
August 16, 2012 at 8.00 pm

Eloquent as ever Paul but this time the message seems even clearer thanks to the Picasso quote. However I can hear accountants saying “but i’m not an artist!”. Yet, as you point out Paul, they have learned their trade/profession for many years and should value what they do in these terms not in blocks of 6 minutes.


What if Picasso had been an Accountant | Xero Accounting Software | Maggie McKenzie
August 16, 2012 at 9.10 pm

[…] What if Picasso had been an Accountant | Xero Accounting Software. ‹ Hello world! Posted in Uncategorized […]

Mark Lee
August 17, 2012 at 5.03 am

Great story Paul. I’m sure I’ve heard you relate it previously but it suffers not from repetition.

I sense that more and more accountants in the UK are talking about value pricing or are at least quoting fixed fees (which is not quite the same thing, I know). It’s taken a long time and still by no means the norm. And there are plenty of old-style accountants who continue to argue their corner re time based billing. I suspect they will die out over time (literally!)

Sarah Pierce
August 17, 2012 at 1.49 pm

Excellent article Paul – it’s a case of changing our mindset and understanding that there is so much value in what an accountant does for a client!

Michael Mori
August 17, 2012 at 7.53 pm

Fully agree if you are in the USA or NZ or AUS or SA, but the statement “Whatever we do, we seek to connect.” I don’t believe is true for the UK. Somehow, the last thing the British “want” to do is “connect”. However, that is only because (big generalisation here) they do not know how to. Once they do connect, but because I persist, they do embrace that connection, and cherish that connection, just as any other person does.

Paula Tomlinson
August 17, 2012 at 8.53 pm

As a Picasso fan, I was intrigued. Excellent article and so good to know there are other accountants charging value based fees. It’s good business sense because you actually get lots of referrals. It makes you focus on process, to ensure you are as efficient as possible. And requires an honest dialogue with your client about what they really need or want, and why.

ken morrison
August 18, 2012 at 3.20 am

would have been more fun to watch him try to justify an hourly rate to get the”value price” or more typical to have him multiply 90 seconds times his best charge out rate and ask for 30 francs

Salvador Dole-i.
August 20, 2012 at 2.07 pm

My father, in Great Yarmouth UK many years ago had cast about. looking for a painter to paint his house. Fortuitously, a brother-in-law arrived from the antipodes, with time and skills, and painted said house.

Several weeks later, one of the local painters asked my dad how he had ‘gotten on’.

My dad told him he had enlisted the skills of Picasso to paint his house for him.

“Picasser?” said the local.
“I know all the painter’s round ‘ere and I don’t know no Picasser!”

Accountants, like lawyers are generally parasites.

Were it not for knee deep legislation, self defeating regulation and theft in the form of taxation, accountants would need to add something of real value in order to elicit any remuneration from producers.

Fortunately for XERO, it was founded by an entrepreneur first and foremost.

Malcolm Veall
August 20, 2012 at 9.48 pm

Price Resistance – but Pablo should have suggested the price before getting his pencil out, that way they would have paid him instead of throwing their hands in the air in horror.

What if Picasso had been an Accountant
August 24, 2012 at 12.56 am

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