You wouldn’t do business with artists because they are too flaky, they do what they want to do, turn up when they want to and are not interested in making money, or worse they are hostile to making money. But it is not just artists; I get to hear the same thing about scientists. That’s interesting to me because I work with both on a daily basis and the thing that makes artists and scientists similar is their open ended, creative curiosity. A science paper is just a sign post of a much more complex exploration, the paper may give great insight, but the scientist continues to explore. The same is true of the artist’s exhibition. An exhibition is not a full stop, but a consolidation of thought and experience, readying them for much deeper exploration. So you wouldn’t do business with an artist or scientist because they exhibit unbound creative curiosity and business is up against it working on innovation, or application of ideas, let along spending time and money on mere speculation. Or it could be the best thing you ever did.
In 2010 the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) undertook a survey with ECIC at Adelaide University to answer the question, amongst others, are artists interested in commercialising IP embedded in their art work? 94% of respondents said yes they were. But wait we all know artist aren’t interested in commercial outcomes, they are flaky, not business like, well the emerging evidence is that is just not true. It turns out that artists are very interested in commercial activity, but they are not so interested in becoming business people. Unsurprisingly artists value their output, and they are happy when others put an economic value on it and even happier if they can make a living from just doing their art, but we desperately cling to the myth of the lone suffering artist, a dreamer destined to follow their exploration on the outskirts of society. What business doesn’t know (and I must also sadly say the arts) is that the myth of the lone artists is just that, a myth. What was also found in the research is that artists work in teams. They require skills from technology support, to accounts, legal as well as other creative skills to make their work possible. The closest type of model for the artistic team is the entrepreneurial team embedded in a broader value network. I would also argue that scientists have the same type of relationship with the commercial, but the greater structural constraints around pure research make this harder to recognise.
So artist and scientist are interested in commercial activity, but from a business perspective all they do is create what they want, scientists want to undertake pointless pure research and artists want to waste time creating work you don’t understand or like. So what is the value of changing a business to include this way of working? If you are trying to create a product in business you know that problems are good. By solving problems for your customers you create value and value means you can charge money for solving that problem. What pure researches and artist do is find problems, but not problems your customers know about, they find problems that are just dawning on the periphery of comprehension. They are long term, strategic problem finders. But business needs to show a profit now, well yes and no. Business needs to make money now, but the product life cycle is changing and becoming more disruptive. Think about what you were doing with your ipad 2 years ago, oh that’s right they didn’t exist. The most innovative businesses are realising that you need to solve the problems that their customers are going to have and their customers can’t tell them what these are.
This may seem too expensive a path for the small businesses that dominate Australia, so I will let the arts demonstrate some true business leadership. Adelaide business rezon8 produce technology based art work, but this creative cultural activity is the R&D process for pure commercial applications in another part of the business. This is a small business investing in speculative research through art. They continually need to resolve some unique technical issues that their artwork throws up, the solutions, when applied in a different market, have created a whole new tech business.
The beauty of creativity is that people do it whether you want them to or not, you don’t have to incentivise it, creative people happily push the boundaries, finding as yet unforseen problems and no one has to manage them, or give them a goal or a target. Australians punch above their weight in creativity and yet we seem to ignore this huge resource. Looking closer to home we can point to South Australia’s world changing creative input through the disproportionate number of Noble Laureates we produce in science, we in South Australia have traditionally been doing something right, all things point to a hot bed of intellect and creativity.
So how can business work with scientific creativity? Think of the multibillion dollar business that wifi has created. The CSIRO created that and the reason they could is because they invested in black hole research. CSIRO researchers came up against a problem and they developed the Fast Fourier Transform Chip to make it easier to study black holes. When a similar problem was found in the wireless connection of computers the solution had already been found. So why didn’t a company like Cisco, who has made large sums of money from wifi, invent the technology, because none of Cisco’s customers had a black hole problem.
If you look at the examples above what you find is that a tool developed in pure research, or the arts, and applied to resolve a like problem for a different market have been smart business moves. The examples given show the way business can work with creativity. It is not making creative people business men and women, it is looking to the tools that these people create to resolve the problems they come up against and, working as a team (collaborating fairly), creating tangible and transactional type value. These are “Ancillary IPs” and if business can work with creativity in this way we will be unlocking a whole new world of value creation that we have barely even touched. So it turns out that flaky is what was creating our long term wealth all along?
Gavin Artz, CEO Australian Network for Art and Technology