Art and Business Strategy: Four Similarities

Alice Loy and Tom Aageson write in Creative Economy Entrepreneurs that reports from the World Economic Forum in 2016 predicted that by 2020 the following skills would be most important in business: complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity.    In fact, creativity underlies all three skills.  Aesthetic processes closely align with the critical thinking skills necessary in business strategy.


In business strategy, decision-making is a process, which involves an intake and output of data.  Four stages of business decision-making in part involve:


1.) Gathering the information

2.) Categorizing the data and

3.) Discriminating the options

4.) Resolving the conclusive decision. 


In art, a creative idea is the outcome of three similar aspects of perception:


1.) Stimulation

2.) Organization

3.) Evaluation

3.) Interpretation. 


In business, this usually begins with the identification of some sort of observed problem.  Artists speak of the same kind of discovery, which becomes the theme of the work of art.  For example, Eduard Manet was a great observer of modern life in Paris on the late nineteenth-century.  At the famous Bar at the Folies Bergere (1881-1882), our curiosity in this barmaid leads us into several different perspectives in the painting , asking ourselves what the underlying conflict is.  Gathering data is a form of stimulation, which requires being receptive to all that is there, a skill requiring a certain agility of the imagination to not only detect the obvious, but also the overlooked, or what is immanently present but not yet visible. 

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1882.jpeg

Then “categorization” follows, a mental process of this sensory awareness that allows us to organize and make distinctions in order to group and classify what people perceive.  (Bruner, 1958, in Mittler 1983)  This entails a component of discriminatory thinking.  The two are closely connected together.  For the viewer observing the work of art, as in the case of Manet’s Bar, we realize this is about people and a particular place, and so we start to observe the actions and behaviors of everyone there to finally recognize the painting is about looking itself. 


In The Innovator’s DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen, the authors claimed a discovery skill of innovators is observation.  Just like Manet and the Bar, they wrote:


Most innovators are intense observers.  They carefully watch the world around them, and as they observe how things work, they often become sensitized to what doesn’t work.  They may also observe that people in a different environment have found a different – often superior – way to solve a problem.  As they engage in these types of observations, they begin to connect common threads across unconnected data, which may provoke uncommon business ideas.  Such observations often engage multiple senses and are frequently prompted by compelling questions.


And, finally, the actual decision-making process is a kind of judgment,, or conclusive decision, very much akin to aesthetic judgment.  Art education may assist the refinement of such processes by teaching people to become aware and articulate their perceptions and make more informed, intelligent and self-conscious decision.  Philosophers have argued this is a common sense ability all humans possess.  Much can be learned from artists and those trained in art viewing how this facility relies so deeply on a sensitivity to surroundings.  The act of judgment relies upon a breakthrough, such as breach or filling in of a gap, which stems from perceiving the obvious but which is still unapparent.  This is what is visibly invisible in a painting.  It is the statement, or conclusion, of a mode of inquiry.  It leads to open doors.  It is what gives a painting its unending life.


Finally, implicit in these four stages is the recognition that the modalities of thought in decision-making is the uniqueness of this human capacity, and that it is not only a logical skill but also a deeply personal and subjective one.  Individuals have sensibilities, talents, education or the lack thereof, and past experiences that filter into the way their minds grasp ahold of reality. 



Alice Loy and Tom Aageson, Creative Economy Entrepreneurs, From Startup to Success (New York:            Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship DBA Creative Startups, 2018).

Gene A. Mittler, “Clarifying the Decision-Making Process in Art,” Studies in Art Education 25,1 (1983),            14-22.