Think like an artist

What happens in business is not much different than the process a serious artist must undertake.

I recently watched an interview with Seth Godin, best selling author, respected marketer and much sought after industry speaker. His marketing blog has been reported to be the most popular in the world written by an individual. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages.

In the interview, among other topics, he called for marketers and business owners to begin thinking like an artist. As art plays a major role in my business interests, this was something that struck home.

Art is not some wild-eyed undisciplined endeavour. The serious artist, whether visual or performing, goes through an intense process of seeing, thinking, doing and redoing in order to come up with a finished product.

Along the way they think about the way colours, sounds or movements work with each other. They think about design, composition, techniques and the integration of ideas so that they will convey a story that will get a reaction.

Famed social scientists Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi were searching for the root cause of creativity in the ’60s. Their quest brought them to the Art Institute of Chicago where they watched students preparing to draw a still life by arranging objects on a table.

They observed that one group of artists examined relatively few objects, outlined their idea and moved quickly to do their drawing. On the other hand another group handled more objects, moved them about, turned them one way, then another and needed more time to finish their drawing.

They concluded that the first group was trying to solve the problem by technically producing a good drawing. The second group on the other hand was trying to find out what the problem was and then render the best drawing they could produce.

They called this second group ‘the finders’ and in follow up studies of these same people, done 18 years later, confirmed that these finders were generally the better and more successful artists.

Additional research by them and others further proved that people most disposed to creative breakthroughs in art, science, business or any other endeavour tended to fall within this finder group. They experiment more, search for different combinations, show flexibility in their approach and are willing to change course if the situation calls for it.

Another lesson to be learned from the world of art is that art is targeted. The styles that artists work in will not appeal to everyone and the artist recognizes this fact.

An example Godin used was how Joshua Bell, a star violinist, said he could pack Carnegie Hall at $100 a ticket but outside of that environment he could put on a baseball cap, take the subway and no one would recognize him. It is all about knowing your target audience and what appeals to them.

What happens in business is not much different than the process a serious artist must undertake. You need to know who you are, do research that will point you in the right direction, know what you want to say, who you want to say it to, be willing to experiment and if necessary adapt to a changing environment.

Thinking and acting like an artist can offer some insight on how we can bring our passions and business to life. Artists in the simplest terms are good at finding what gives them satisfaction, and joy, and then work towards finding opportunities and techniques to build on their talents. Building a business is no different.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email at

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