The creative power of office art

« Just do it. But be creative! »

In today’s ever-expanding economy, the development of entrepreneurial, responsive, and learning skills may well be the most critical asset required for your organization. Creativity has become the driving force of corporate innovation. It is the fiercest weapon your business can have to stand out in the crowded arena of progress.

To innovate means to throw oneself into the unknown, to allow space for experimentation, exploration, and failure. It requires a certain sense of open-mindedness and selflessness, which can be daunting to achieve for a collective organization. But in the light of rapidly redefined industry segments, innovative competitors, and globalized contexts, innovation and survival are very often intertwined.

Cultivating creativity at work is therefore a constant concern for your company. There is a myriad of tools, initiatives, and approaches to help you keep the creative fire of your organization going. Among them, one is notably cost-effective, recreational, and humanizing. It is not time-consuming after it has been installed but instead creates time for fruitful contemplation.

Mural by Freddy Le Clean at Facebook in Odense. Photo: Freddy Le Clean

This tool is art.  The simple and subtle act of having it hanging on the walls of your office tends to nurture your employees’ intuition and boost their creativity.
Here’s why.

Art, creativity & business innovation.

Rightfully, common wisdom is backed by an immemorial tradition of associating artistic practice with radical creation. Artists are notable for using emotions and sensitive expression to fire up their designs and introduce profound innovations that will predominate for decades. But creativity is by no means their exclusive property.
Indeed,  entrepreneurship and innovation scholar Piero Formica sees creativity, imagination, and skill as words that are "associated with, but not limited to painting and sculpture, music and dance, theatre and film, literature and interactive media".

It applies to companies too, which can learn from professionals and amateurs whose life is creative by definition.

Take, for example, a well-known and experienced situation by most managers: In light of an unpredictable event, your company is in a cognitive cul-de-sac. Models, data, and analytical knowledge seem to dry up in the glow of seemingly unresolvable issues. Workaday processes seem powerless. Your managers now need to rely on their emotional intelligence as levers for innovation and change. In such impasses, the impact of having office art at your workplace is to be felt the most.

You start to see your office as more than a task-delivering location for profit-making purposes. Your office is the beating heart of your organization, the garden that feeds dwellers of your corporate culture. Cultivating any creativity at work begins here, on those inert things that surround and protect you.

Chicago public media office wall art. Photo: Christopher Barrett

Even abstract brushstrokes of a painting dressing your office walls are enough to help steer the innovative potential of your colleagues. Research conducted at the Exeter University of Psychology shows that.

Art has a moderate to big effect on the creativity of office collaborators, with a slight yet interesting difference based on the sex of the respondents (53% for women, against 47% for men). Let alone those who benefit from it without knowing, it makes half of your workforce conscious about the positive effects of just having artworks surrounding them.

Art supports corporate creativity by fostering individual and collective imagination. It turns your office into an inviting space to question and disrupt workplace everydayness. Behind the compelling statistics presented lie triumphant business tales, exemplary change management cases, and innovation.

Office art, the path towards imaginative disruption

Unilever has drawn from the creative power of the arts to speed up the change processes, make collaborators more open-minded and embrace creative thinking and ideation. There, in 1999, a strategic initiative, “Catalyst” was established, using artists, arts organizations and artistic processes to solve business problems and explore critical issues. Erecting a collaborative corporate art collection was at the foundation of the platform, according to James Hill, leading manager behind its implementation:

Vintage Sony Walkmans sitting next to contemporary works of art at Unilever Head Office in 2016. Photo: Anna Sundt
"I hoped I was encouraging creativity and risk taking in order to bring more radical product ideas to the market or to present them in a more radical manner. The art collection that we purchased was one. (…) Staff were able to choose the work, curate the hanging, and write captions about their favorites, which were then displayed next to the art work in public spaces in our building. These images provoked a lot of interesting conversation within the company quite quickly, about design and other artistic topics. We’re a packaged goods marketing company, so the impact of art on design is not such a leap. The impact of theater and film and music on advertising is also plausible. (…). Both senior management teams were going into unknown territory together. Everyone was in the same place – outside their comfort zone"

James Hill’s hopes were met with success. In the span of half a decade, Catalyst became an inspirational business initiative, receiving extensive media coverage and academic attention for reasons that Hill summarizes:

“Employees who are inspired and stimulated, as is possible through the arts, can become open-minded, creative team members, more confident in expressing ideas and experimenting with new ways of thinking, which then leads to innovative products and imaginative marketing, and ultimately to improvements in business performance.”
Unliever’s offices in Lima, Peru. Photo: Luis Arce

Having art at the workplace makes fertile soil for groundbreaking business ideas to blossom. Arts push us to reflect over the symbols, metaphors, and concepts that belong to our tacit knowledge and use them best as tools for innovative breakthroughs.

In short, art enables your organization to become the leading bearer of other, newer worlds.

Thus, in unison with Piero Formica, we reiterate that “companies that enter the territory of the arts, with its paths towards happiness and its creativity, will greatly increase their chances of becoming innovation leaders.“

Artboost’s mission is to create unique spaces with art. It could become yours too, by taking such a challenging but rewarding path alongside us.

Corner art installation at Danske Bank's new headquarters in Aarhus, by Ruth Crone Foster. Photo: Artboost

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