What Business can learn from Art
Business professionals seek inspiration through creativity. Jim Stengel, former marketing director at Procter & Gamble, coined the term “corporate artists” to describe executives with the ability to instil a sense of enthusiasm. Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, admires the arts and athleticism of classical dancers. Even Warren Buffett – heralded as a staunch defender of scientific methods – said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m an artist.”
The concepts of harnessing the power of creativity through a less formal process are important as they promote creativity in logic-based businesses that seek to provide elegant, streamlined and cost-effective solutions to the problems of everyday life.
“Design thinking” is not just about spending less time and money on difficult or dangerous tasks. It is about demonstrating one’s own expertise in creating and choosing strategies to make the world work better.
The paper clip, shopping bag and doorknob are all elegant solutions that reflect this approach. Someone described Twitter’s Vine application as an elegant solution to a problem that no one has ever encountered. This was tantamount to saying that the app stimulates creativity per se, without a practical purpose. But the users and the brands that have adopted it are making very good use of it, in the field of information.
These creations are easy to appreciate and sometimes lead to banging one’s forehead and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Some simple and elegant recurring innovations and solutions only become evident when they are revealed. Awareness awakens the genius within us.
Think for example of a strange egg sculpture in San Antoni, Spain. According to the Italian historian Girolamo Benzoni, in reference to Christopher Columbus’ 1565 book History of the New World, he was dining with a group of Spanish noblemen, one of whom wanted to downplay the importance of the discovery of India. He claimed that many great Spanish men and scholars could have taken to the sea and achieved the same feat.
Christopher Columbus responded by taking an intact egg and challenging his interlocutors to make it stand upright without outside help. All tried and all failed. Columbus took the egg and crushed one end. He put it upright and made it stand. The lesson was clear: once a feat has been accomplished, everyone knows how to reproduce it.
Like Columbus’ egg, the simplest inventions are the result more of a creative approach to problem solving than of the use of human logic. They are the result of an artistic process involving finesse, sensitivity and imagination.
Creativity is not a quality that companies can synthesize into a simple process without taking away its magic and power. A company’s ability to solve problems and find elegant solutions is more often hampered by cultural rather than process shortcomings. As such, creativity must be encouraged and taught, not mandated or prescribed. The arts have a wealth of lessons in problem-solving that can be applied to the business world. Here are a few examples:
- The arts remind us of the importance of seeing the world from multiple angles, as there may be many solutions to the same problem.
- They encourage us to make qualitative judgments in the absence of rules.
- The arts prepare us to improvise when complex problems change in response to circumstances and opportunities.
- Neither words nor numbers alone can explain everything we know: the arts act with subtlety and show that small differences can have a big impact.
- They encourage us to develop our poetic sense and enhance our ability to inspire and describe.
- The art market is global and informs business through its expressions.
The process of design thinking aims to eliminate the undesirable aspects of creativity – failure, unpredictability, conflict and circularity – while retaining the values, behaviours and positive results it can produce. Design thinking uses the tools of creativity – awareness, formulation, facilitation, visualisation and prototyping – while avoiding participants becoming victims of their emotions.
Seen in this light, running a business could eventually become as much an art as a science.
Jean-Baptiste Danet co-authored a book entitled Business Is Beautiful, L’art de cultiver la différence (LID Publishing, 2013).