BLG Leadership Insights

A Niche Finds You: The Proactive Ceramicists

Being proactive demands a capacity of finding your niche. The ability to understand what you want to create, develop, sell, or change. Often we sit around and hope that intense rational thought, calculation, strategic discussion, or even therapeutic analysis will help us somehow discover what it is that we always wanted to do–what we always needed to produce.

For a long time I’ve been walking past an interesting ceramic store in downtown Tel Aviv, in the Neve Tzedek area, called Samy D. I’d rarely entered the store, but this past spring I was having coffee in NYC and I saw a piece of Samy D.’s work in a neighboring shop. I resolved to visit Samy D.’s shop over this summer and see exactly what I was passing by.

Looking at Samy D.’s work it was clear that he had established himself a particular niche. Gold-plated bowls, deep greens, tonalities of reds and blues, and designs recalling Erté. This was in sharp contrast to the brown concrete tones one usually sees in contemporary Israel.

When next in Tel Aviv I sat down with Samy D. to discuss with him his work and, more importantly, from our point of view, his discovery of his niche. Now, being an academic, working with organizations, and believing in strategic analysis, I figured there was a complex answer. Samy D., when I asked him about how he found his niche, gave me one of those answers that academics don’t really want to hear. He replied,  “By accident.”

His story, boiled down, is simple: “I studied design, worked in multimedia, then one day I designed some cups, somebody liked them, so I sold them. So, I made a few more and I sold those too. I made a few dishes and I sold those too. Next thing I know I develop a shop. Not only that, but I thought it would be a good idea to have a studio in the back so I could interface directly with my shop. It seems my niche discovered me, rather then me finding my niche.”

Samy D. had the capacity to recognize his niche and follow it though. He possessed a certain degree of proactive focus that demands follow through. It required that he develop his niche, not go beyond it.

His is a flamboyant statement in a market where understatements are valued, where the natural is the mode, where panache is always ignored, the subtle always accepted. What Samy D. recognized was people’s desire for color and vibrancy. The potential of the decorative in a culture where the decorative is dismissed as too European. As he says, “My work is different.”

From our perspective what’s unique here is Samy D.’s capacity of not being scared by the fact that his work is different. Now, his niche has grown and he’s moving from simply designing his products to helping restructure and redefine elements of the ceramic market and, lately, impacting the art market.

I write this piece knowing, as Samy D. does, that colorful ceramics aren’t a huge niche. But, ask yourself, how much of a niche do you actually need to be successful?

What’s to be learned here? Proactive leaders are those that have the capacity of recognizing their niche when it comes by. They don’t sit around waiting for Godot. The bus comes, it’s the right niche, they get on, they worry about it later, they follow through.