What Innovators Can Learn From Artists

by | Apr 27, 2016

The conversation about Innovation in the business world focuses mainly on technology and services that can change industries. Yet, the innovation challenge seems hard to tackle; companies struggle to innovate and look forward to bring innovative thinking into their day-to-day operations. The question we ask at TheArtian is how can a company innovate if it is using and working with the same methods, traditional behaviors, and managerial tools? in order to innovate you should see a shift in mindset.
We are big advocates of art and artists in the innovation process. Therefore, when reading Tim Leberecht’s article resonates with our core beliefs.  Leberecht is the chief marketing officer of NBBJ, a global design, and architecture firm, and the author of The Business RomanticPreviously, he was the chief marketing officer of Frog Design, a product design, and strategy firm.

Although the article is from 2012, its ideas are relevant today more than ever. In this article, published on managementexchange.com, Leberecht discusses the significance of embracing art as a fundamental part of every business. The trends today show that companies hiring artists to work alongside their innovation departments; institutions and NGO’s highlight the art’s importance and promote it in a business context; and the startup world sees an increase in the design-oriented founders’ companies.
Big data and advanced analytical tools have encouraged us to carry out more efficient and innovative practices worldwide but there is one factor that distinguishes great companies and invention: it is intuition and creativity that produce truly game-changing innovations. Leberecht encourages innovators to develop creative habits and a mindset to view the world from a fresh perspective and create something new. How? by learning from artists. Leberecht lists twelve traits of artists that innovators should get familiar with:

  1. Artists are neophiles. They love novelty and strive to find and create new connections in order to invent and reinvent, which is exactly what innovation is about. They disrupt mental models and behavioral routines, creating ground-breaking innovations.
  1. Artists are humanists. They are observant and highly emphatic. They can feel with and for other human beings which should be every innovator’s strength.
  1. Artists are craftspeople. They ‘think by making’ and unite the ‘hand and the head’ as sociologist Richard Sennett describes. Likewise, every innovation has both a physical dimension and a meta-physical dimension, exhibiting mastery in craftsmanship as well as building a connection with the cultural climate. Nike’s Fuelband can be taken as an example.
  1. Artists are like children. Pablo Picasso said: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. Artists hold fast to the same child-like thinking of possibility and wonder. Innovators should do the same.
  1. Artists rely on their intuition. In the age of big data, intuition is the only thing faster than the massive flow of real-time information, enabling artists to make quick decisions. Innovators should also trust their intuition and constantly experiment to validate it.
  1. Artists are comfortable with ambiguity. By design, they deal with things that can’t be quantified. Innovators should, too. They must be able to tolerate uncertainty, open-ended questions and hold two truths in their minds.
  1. Artists are holistic, interdisciplinary thinkers. They are masters of lateral thinking. Similarly, innovators contextualize, re-contextualize, mash-up, and remix, embrace new insights and ideas that strike at unexpected times. Examples of such ‘accidental innovations’ are the pacemaker and 3M’s post-it notes.
  1. Artists thrive under constraints. These constraints stimulate their creativity. Innovation gurus like Ravi Radjou, inspired by the phenomenon of ‘jugaad’, have popularized the concept of ‘frugal innovation’ i.e. the art of creating maximum value with minimal resources.
  1. Artists are great storytellers. They not only tell a story with their art but also of their art. The same goes for innovations. Great innovators design experiences that generate conversations. Take a look at Kickstarter: The product is also the story of the product.
  1. Artists are conduits and not ‘masters of the universe’. Most of them will admit that they acquired their inspiration from a spiritual sphere that surpasses their creativity. This applies to innovators too, even if they are not spiritual. Great innovators have learned to co-create and share ideas with employees, customers, and competitors.
  1. Artists are passionate about their work. Their work and life are inseparable which doesn’t mean innovators should be workaholics too, but basing their ideas on personal beliefs and passions is vital. Innovation is a leap of faith. Like artists, innovators might often face rejection but they need to be believers. Strong innovations are always the result of strong convictions.
  1. Artists are contrarians. They are eccentric and view the world as what it could be, not as it is. Like artists, great innovators come up with solutions because they look for what is missing. They see the world with ‘fresh eyes’; they speak the truth and think insane ideas which bring about change.

Like art, innovation makes life better, combining the exploration of possibilities with action. Additionally, it stretches our ability to think and connect with deep truths and meet basic human desires, tackles complex situations with simple solutions, and rewards risk-taking with lasting value. However, he states that businesses should not make art a disciple of innovation, and designing innovations should not be regarded as a mere process. Leberecht considers it a golden rule that artists and innovators have in common: ‘only if they allow ample space for new things to happen that could happen, will they happen.

Access the full article here.


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