Think Salvador Dali or Vincent Van Gogh have nothing to do with the world of business? Think again.
The following artists have transformed the way the world sees, appreciates, and creates art. Each of these artists had their own share of struggle, turmoil, and rejection. Yet they all remained innovative and daring against the odds. Entrepreneurs and other leaders can learn from their creative strategies.
1. Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Michelangelo needed very little sleep and was usually so drawn up in his work that he would spend weeks in the same clothes and shoes. His servant reported that when Michelangelo did take off his shoes, the skin on his feet would peel off like a snake’s.
Michelangelo was a highly focused artist, but his creativity wasn’t something he took for granted. He wrote, “Critique by creating.”
Michelangelo felt that he could respond to others by doing a better job than they could.
Lesson for leaders: Don’t waste your time criticizing. Start making your own product or solution in response to a poor one. Let your frustration drive you.
2. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
During Vincent Van Gogh’s lifetime, he sold only one out of the roughly 900 paintings he made. After Van Gough’s death his energetic, captivating style stormed the world and redefined the boundaries of art.
“Occasionally, in times of worry,” Vincent Van Gogh writes to his younger brother, Theo, “I’ve longed to be stylish, but on second thought I say no--just let me be myself--and express rough, yet true things with rough workmanship.”
For Van Gogh, creativity was about honest expression as opposed to style and craft. He wanted to express himself and didn’t care about the quality of his attempts.
Lesson for leaders: If you want to be creative don’t worry about style or what is trending. Focus on what you want to achieve and do it. Don’t worry about the veneer and packaging till after.
3. Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Matisse wasn’t always a darling of the art world. In 1913 one of his paintings (Nu Bleu) was burned in protest, and he constantly had trouble providing for his family. Yet he retained his artistic temperament and continued to break from classical painting traditions.
Matisse felt that creativity wasn’t a gift or a talent. It was a friend who only stopped by when you were hard at work. Matisse said, “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.”
Lesson for leaders: Don’t wait for inspiration. Get to work and you’ll get creative.
4. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Picasso had many painting styles. When he was a youth, he painted realistically. In his early adulthood he entered his blue and rose periods. After that he made a foray into Cubism. Next, he began to experiment with collage and sculpture.
Picasso was always creating within different styles. Like Matisse, Picasso felt that creativity wasn’t something one could call on whenever. He felt that creativity could only come out when engaged in work. “Inspiration exists,” Picasso says, “but it has to find you working.”
Lesson for leaders: Rolling up your sleeves is the only sure-fire way to become more creative. Like Picasso, always try new things and work within fresh fields.
5. Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Dali’s melting clocks, capes and eccentric dress, and upturned moustache have made him an iconic artist. And you probably see his work on a daily or weekly basis when you’re checking out the bodega. He designed the Chupa Chups logo.
Dali’s creativity likely stems from brutal honesty with himself. He writes, “Have no fear of perfection. You'll never reach it.” Dali was able to produce more than 1,500 paintings because he was never scared of making mistakes and being less than perfect.
Lesson for leaders: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
SAMUEL BACHARACH is the co-founder of Bacharach Leadership Group (BLG), specializing in leadership development programs with an emphasis on micro-skills: change, execution, negotiation and coaching. He is the McKelvey-Grant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School. His books include Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. @samuelbacharach