I once had the greatest job in the world for an art nerd: I interacted with the works of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and other art world titans at a museum in St. Louis while pursuing my Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture.
Then two months after graduating, I was in Tanzania with my wife, launching a program to promote HIV/AIDS education. After six years of managing an international nonprofit in difficult working conditions with mostly volunteers, I moved to North Carolina to start a new adventure: earning an MBA.
While in school, I discovered that organizations across the world (nonprofit and for profit) encountered similar challenges to those we experienced during our time overseas. And I’ve learned that any experience, no matter how disparate it might appear, brings value, something I pass on to my students.
When I discuss consumer behavior, I talk about the challenges of raising awareness of HIV/AIDS throughout villages in Tanzania. And I rely on my art school background to demonstrate how to effectively visualize data. Here are three ways entrepreneurs and artists share common ground:
1. Entrepreneurs and artists possess similar skills.
An entrepreneur is a name for an artist with a different set of tools. Artists and entrepreneurs must be self-motivated, disciplined, comfortable with some risk, adept at marketing ideas, and able to communicate and function in a resource-constrained environment. Both are driven by a greater goal, and achieving that goal requires taking risks and communicating.
Whether you are building a sculpture or a business, the process is largely the same: It requires research, prototyping, experimenting and constant assessment.
2. Artists don’t copy others—and neither do entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs need to look at the world in new ways. Art venerates unorthodox ideas, an approach I have found to be valuable in a time when the rules of business are constantly shifting.
Thinking “out of the box” helps entrepreneurs discover unrecognized value. Entrepreneurs are not successful because they copy others; they are successful because they find a way to do something better, faster or cheaper. Better yet, they find something that meets a deep unrecognized need. Entrepreneurs need to be bold enough to tell a different story.
3. Entrepreneurs and artists allow themselves to think creatively.
Entrepreneurs and artists ignore the internal and external filters telling us why an idea will not work. In other words, they develop their creative thinking skills by giving themselves permission to think creatively.
My class once discussed the various business exploits of Elon Musk, who is legendary for his “out of the box” thinking. Pick any of his businesses and it is easy to see why so many thought his ideas were crazy, yet he persisted through the naysayers and has managed to completely upend the solar, electric car and space industries in the past 10 years.
An entrepreneur navigating a startup will face countless decisions with unknown variables and continued creative problem solving will be a key to success.
Kevin Martin is Assistant Professor of Business Administration and Associate Dean of Management Division at New England College.