Are you a business artist?

It’s common practice to define goals on the way to realizing your vision and ambitions. Business theory makes a big case for this. And business practice reinforces it with KPIs, OKRs, MVPs — all those fancy acronyms that stand either for a measurement unit of achieving our goals or a version on the way to realizing a final product. It’s partly what makes business a very dry and rational endeavor.

Creativity on the other hand doesn’t measure and plan, it flows. Art theory teaches us the importance of methodology, yes, but art practice reinforces the notion of using theory to realize surprise. I say surprise because all art is the interpretation of the artist’s creative muse.

Does business need more surprise?

I read an article on practicing strategy and through it I realized that strategy has a one-way reputation as being the manager’s tool. Planning, measuring, developing tactics to realize new states of the organization.

This rational, arid environment that strategy often occupies has always disenchanted me. When I “strategize”, for lack of a better word, I’ve also always relied on a tiny bit on my gut feeling: “Does this feel right for the brand or organization? Does this make sense in the overall business’ scheme of things?”

I’ve always thought that this sixth sense I secretly employed was a sign of professional immaturity. Yes, imposter syndrome at its best here.

What I’ve come to realize with the years of experience and work engagements is that it’s not a sixth sense and it’s not a sign of immaturity. Every professional develops an instinct on his or her way to expertise. It’s the result of immersing yourself selflessly in the material, understanding and deconstructing the theory, and creating your own theories and methodology.

The artist is kissed by the creative muse. Does a business muse exist as well?

I believe it just might. At least for me and my strategy practice.

I’ve always felt that my business self and creative self are constantly competing to be in my Linkedin by-line. It’s a back and forth I still fall prey to (wondering when someone will call me out on it, or if they just think I’m a little wack and clearly indecisive — which couldn’t be further from reality).

Then I listened to Donatella Caggiano’s conversation with Katie Longmyer on The Design of Return and was literally hit with a new term I deeply connected with: the corporate artist.

I want to explore it further: What if business in general were to welcome the many artists in its midst? What if being a business creative were to become a thing?

Now, before you label me as philosphically delusional and unsubscribe right now (which is your good right, of course), allow me to make a case for it first.

In business we often learn to stay in our lane. We have our industry, field of expertise, market and we stick to it with fierce commitment. When I get asked to consult, the first question is often “For which of our competitors have you done this already?”.

Valid question, by all means. But if I just repeat what I did to build their advantage, just replace a few bolts with other shiny bolts, then is that advantage still an advantage if every business does versions of the same thing?

In that sense, I believe business is and should be creative. And oftentimes that’s achieved by cross-pollinating across industries.

Maybe business should work with the element of surprise more often in order to re-engage the entire organization.

There’s been talk of so-called “love brands” in the past years. In my opinion, that’s ridiculous and a big, fat fad. That’s not what I mean with surprise.

Surprise is viewing something from a completely new angle and eliciting an unexpected response.

Surprise is taking what works in one industry and experimenting with it in a completely different one, i.e. fashion and professional services.

Surprise is getting employees, managers and executives fired up again for something they can co-develop.

Surprise is deviating from the norm in small and big ways.

So, yes, business can be visited by a creative muse. She communicates through outliers, different-thinkers, boundary-walkers, professional explorers and business artists. And organizations that listen to them unlock their potential to create surprise. And no, that can’t be measured.

Photo by Alex Nghiem on Unsplash