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Artists Do It with Their Minds Wide Open

It’s hard to imagine any business that is not struggling with the need to engage in a strategy of perpetual disruption.  A lot of businesses find the new reality of permanent impermanence difficult to cope with because they assume that disrupting is something that you do to others not yourself.

It’s particularly difficult to embrace the need for internal disruption if your business has legacy that you are proud of, heritage is something that you want to cling onto rather than question. Treating every day like it’s a new beginning takes a lot of getting used to for people who have been educated to treat business as a competition where experience gives you a competitive edge. Old school warriors are proud of their trophies and modest about their battle scars and believe that winning is all about building on your strengths is central to their sense of status and purpose.

Strip away the value of knowledge based on experience and you are left wondering where to look for precedent but at least you may just be vulnerable enough to open your mind to the implications of the new reality. As the futures trader and economic theorist Nassim Nicholas Teleb pointed out in ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ in 2008 the people who perform best in the increasingly unpredictable world of futures scenarios are military strategists. It’s because they have learned the hard way that assuming precedent will win a war is going to cost you lives, territory, status and national pride.

Learning to let go of legacy requires some fundamental re-education and some really counter intuitive thinking about where to locate and learn the kind of skills that allow you to see chaos as an opportunity.

‘The Dream Cafe: The Art Of Radical Innovation’ was written to highlight one crucial source of knowledge and strategy that has provided a source of permanent disruption for nearly two centuries and it’s called CAFE CONVERSATIONS. If you want to find the source of many of the concepts, values and needs that define the new normal then you need to look no further than those largely informal gatherings of people who inspired each other to create what we call the Avant-Garde. From the early nineteenth century onwards much of what we now understand as progress was conceived during unanticipated collisions of hearts and minds in Cafes that attracted creative thinkers and doers who shared a common passion for challenging the status quo. The eclectic mix of discipline expertise made these encounters so fertile because the participants recognised the value of challenges and provocations from people who did not think or practice in the same way, or the same medium.

Embracing the unknown in preference to reciting what they already knew and refusing compromise created collaborations that were the opposite of the cosy self-reinforcing model of teamwork that has been central to management training for the last 50 years. Central to this strategy of perpetual progress was a shared commitment to forgetting and this is where artists played a crucial role. Marcel Duchamp the artist who is widely credited with inventing conceptual art practised what he preached: “I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”

Duchamp’s ability think with his mind wide open enabled him to exert the level of influence that ensured that we all live and trade in a world where intangible values have superseded solid objects. Unlike the business’s that cling to the established order Duchamp was modest enough to recognise that our learning opportunities are located in our ability to create the future rather than in what we did in the past.

Dr. Geoff Crook, Artist and Innovation Consultant is the author of ‘The Dream Cafe: Lessons in The Art of Radical Innovation‘,  by Duncan D Bruce and Dr Geoff Crook, Wiley, 2015.

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