What Art Can Teach Us About Business



Eight decades ago, the Spaniard Joan Miro was a condemned artist. His first solo exhibition was declared a failure and an insult to conventional painting methods. Today, Miro is recognized as an innovator, a museum honoring his life and work sits on a hill overlooking Barcelona and his art is influencing even the smallest of places, like on a magnet that sits on my fridge at my home in San Francisco.

Artists and business leaders have traditionally been linked through money and power. They are however, unlikely educators of each other. As modern business struggles with rapid technological change and the need to be innovative, Miro employed three simple strategies that remain as relevant today for business leaders, as they did half a century ago:

Change Your Style

Miro’s approach has been categorized and interpreted in many ways, surrealistic, Catalan patriotic, revolution, childlike, anything but conventional. You can cluster his artistic approaches into time periods that reflect the governmental, societal and technological changes across the eight decades of his life. Consider now how you have changed your leadership style over the past decade. In many cases, we approach situations with the same mindset of experience. We have been hired to direct change, yet the tools we employ to aid us in doing so most often do not change at all. This is most commonly seen by the transience of CEO’s who seamlessly move between CEO posts rolling out the same strategies that yielded them initial success. “One size fits all” approach to leadership does not translate in today’s market. Miro approached each new project with a childlike mentality, letting go of history and social thought, his focus on continually iterating his style provided the foundation for his artistic breakthroughs.

“One size fits all” approach to leadership does not translate in today’s market.

Use Different Mediums 

Miro had multiple experiences. He was a painter, a sculptor, he sketched and drew, he designed tapestries, he forged the most unlikely of collaborations and he worked in multiple countries. It is this diversity of experience that is the foundation of a great entrepreneur and is an essential element of leadership in today’s unclear world. If you are tasked to lead an organization or department with only one type of experience or specialization, then in essence you are a carpenter with only one tool in your tool belt. Today the world seeks specialists, those with deep domain expertise. A simple scan of jobs boards demonstrates society’s reward of people with immense experience in sales or product or finance, but multiple experiences broadens our knowledge and increases our ability to navigate in the margins, identify unseen opportunities and realize new profits at the edge of our comfort zones.

The Simplest Things Give Great Ideas 

“My characters have undergone the same process of simplification as the colors. Now that they have been simplified, they appear more human and alive than if they had been represented in all their details.” These are the words of Miro. Simplicity gives ideas greater meaning and ideas that hold great meaning tend to spread and turn into opportunities. Miro rose to fame in a time of great economic and political upheaval. His response to uncertainty was to produce artwork that conveyed simple messages and the manifestation of those messages was youthful exuberance. In 2013, his ideas and viewpoints are as relevant today in a global context, as they were during the Spanish civil war. Simplicity therefore, not only conveys messages fast, but also stands the test of time.

The world seeks specialists, those with deep domain expertise.

We started the article with reference to the fact that Miro was a condemned artist, yet died a hero for challenging the status quo. His journey follows the same path as those radical entrepreneurs disrupting common industries today, which is to say that disruption tends to attract immense criticism first. Disruption is most often achieved by simplifying the complicated, the ability to simplify comes from diverse experiences and insights and that diversity provides the strongest foundation for iterating our leadership style.

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Louis is currently CEO of WAR (Waste as a Resource), a social enterprise that transforms fashion waste into DYI children’s toys. In his spare time he is co-founder of a film production company in Los Angeles. John is the Director of Real Estate for Brown University. When he is not scouring the region for his next real estate purchase, he is spending time with his family, playing golf and writing with Louis. John and Louis have been collaborating together since they met in grad school, they both hold an EMBA from Brown University and IE Business School (Spain).

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