Think Like an Artist to Lead Creatively [SLIDESHOW]

August 6, 2013

Artists embody many creative leadership traits such as exploration, authenticity and adaptability. And, in an increasingly connected and dynamic world filled with data and technology, these types of creative leadership skills have grown in importance for professionals seeking innovation. Entrepreneurs, leaders, and the general public can learn a lot from artists.

I am passionate about creative leadership because in addition to leading a region within LinkedIn’s global sales organization, I am also an accomplished artist. In the process of creating and showing my work over the last 20 years, I have learned a few lessons in creative leadership that have had a profound impact on my business and life.


Artists explore the possibilities

The best artists “see” more of the world and explore what’s possible by experimenting and taking intelligent risks. Cubism never existed before Picasso pioneered it.  And, in the 1950’s, when Abstract Expressionism dominated the art world, with its spontaneity, Jasper Johns revolutionized art by painting simple yet powerful icons, such as flags and maps, forcing us to see things we already know in a new way. Artists like Picasso and Johns made breakthroughs by changing the meaning of art and making new things that raised questions about what art could be. They inspired me to explore and search for breakthrough opportunities.

I applied this lesson to my business life when I joined a new, strategic business inside LinkedIn called Sales Solutions. I joined this group to help explore and scale this business.  This product helps sales professionals by giving them breakthrough social insights and data that did not previously exist, and as a result of its success, a massive transformation is underway in the sales industry.

Whether we are in established or emerging businesses, there are possibilities to explore all around us. While we excel in our core responsibilities, it's important for us to explore the possibilities, take intelligent risks and inspire others to do the same. This is where true innovation comes from.


Artists captivate us with authenticity

With the dramatic growth in networks and content marketing, authenticity matters. The best artists strive for sincerity, follow their own moral compass and let their work go out into the world for review. Their work is not only original, but also honest and integral to who they are and what they believe in. Picasso’s 1937 mural “Guernica” is an example of authenticity in art. Picasso painted it to commemorate the tragic bombing of a small village in Northern Spain. The chaotic composition, somber black and white tone, and images of fallen people and animals all help Picasso capture the feelings of protest and sadness he felt from the event.

Earlier this year, I created a story about LinkedIn’s culture and values. To create an authentic story, I focused on why I was so passionate about the company through the lens of an employee. Like many artists before a new show, I had butterflies in my stomach when I uploaded the presentation on Monday morning.  The response was tremendous and the presentation went viral that morning. When we open ourselves up to genuine expression and put our work out there in the world, we connect more deeply with others and reveal a sense of who we really are.

Artists are adaptable

Artists develop their ideas by creating work, not just thinking or planning. They seek novelty in creating new things and when work becomes too routine, they get bored and innovate. They embrace a creative process that is often messy and dependent upon critique. They learn to listen to feedback on their work and continuously improve their work and themselves. This mindset enables them to stay agile and recover quickly. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s co-founder, refers to this attitude as “permanent beta”,  a lifelong commitment to personal growth.

The ability to adapt and the commitment to growth have enabled me to welcome open and constructive feedback. By accepting that I will make mistakes and focusing on learning fast, I have been able to take on and succeed in more challenging business situations.

A mindset of continuous improvement allows us to adapt rapidly and create a culture where people are comfortable exploring the possibilities around them, in an authentic way, that will seed our future success.

What are some other lessons that you think artists can teach us?