Movements move people. Movements can activate purpose-based companies. Movements are based on ideas: Ideas that inspire bigger ambitions. Ideas that can be an explosion or contagion of truth telling. Ideas that people rally around to drive change, to become an active part of the movement. The simple act of creating and sharing a piece of art (case in point: the artist Banksy) can help start a national conversation, with the goal of trying to change the world instead of conforming to it.

The controversial idea behind this article is that businesses can borrow from the principles of cultural movements to grow and transform companies. This is a radical thought but nevertheless an original and proven process. Leaders and executives seeking to transform their companies, change employee habits, or grow business with consumers can activate purpose with "Movement Thinking." Old marketing is what the traditional corporate ad agencies do or how the traditional HR engage employees. The new is "Movement Thinking."

"Movement Thinking" is centered around empathy and starts with the human. It also recognizes that most significant change happens through cultural movements. Leaders can learn how this foundation can engage and mobilize the people that matter to your brand inside and out. Despite the differences between business enterprise and art, leaders can learn much from how cultural movements engage and inspire people, applying those movement principles to create powerful business operations. 

There are many different kinds of movements, which shape our lives: political, societal, and cultural. Art movements have shaped thought on a mass scale for centuries. They inspire us to look at the world differently and to talk about our lives in ways that change mindsets and behaviors. Picasso taught us to look at people from the inside out. In the 1970s, Warhol made us think about consumer culture in our daily lives. In the 1980s, Jeff Koons rallied us around pop culture at a time of great greed, almost as a warning to us all.

Today, a new art movement is afoot with contemporary artists such as Adam Miller, Erik Jones, Robert Pokorny, and Bertrand Fournier who thrill the world with their original approach to the old genre of painting. Their rise can be attributed to a fresh perspective, a general tiring of virtual lives and Instagram--the highly visual platform bringing great work to millions of new consumers across the globe. 

This new generation of artists is pulling us towards paintings in ways we haven't seen for a couple of decades. The artist Henrik Delehag, for example, recently mobilized the masses to help him save an old church tower in South London.

 inline image


What do art movements have to do with new leadership? A lot, it turns out:

  1. Art movements are about looking at things in original and fresh ways, coming at things from a totally unexpected perspective. The new style of leadership does the same thing. For example: Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.
  2. These artists take cues from what's important in people's lives, what is going on in society right now, and they connect with people emotionally. So do great leaders, for example, Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon. 
  3. These artists break with convention, take risks, and as a result, endured ridicule for a time--but ultimately triumphed. Great leaders do the same. Just look at Elon Musk, who everyone made fun of early on but no longer. 
  4. Finally, these artists are often chameleons, fearless and unafraid to change--sometimes stretching quite far afield, like Andy Warhol who made art out of soup cans and then made art house movies. Similarly, today's great leaders often morph and transform throughout their career. For example Rihanna and her success both as an artist, and then as the billionaire CEO of Fenty Beauty.

Artists use empathy and love, and recognition that there is good stuff there. It starts from a place of understanding and great artists, like great leaders, do that well. And art is especially good at provoking thought, and encouraging people to think differently.

Leaders wishing to transform their companies, change employee habits, or build radical growth marketing campaigns can learn from how movements use culture as raw material. Like an artist, leaders can pull on the most promising threads, which are the most promising to your organization. As a leader you need to ask: What's going on in my company culture? What is the most interesting, the best, the coolest? And how can I build on this to transform it?

"Despite the differences between private enterprise and society, leaders can learn much from how social movements engage and inspire people, applying the principles to create powerful business operations and a new marketing process. I have seen this impact in my experience working with StrawberryFrog in CMO roles at Emirates Airline and FAB," said Tim Burnell, vice president of brand and marketing at Etihad Airlines.

Our higher purpose has always been, "Creativity for Good." We took a stand 20 years ago to use creativity to create good results, good work, good impact for our clients and teammates, to create good in society and business. 

Life, after all, imitates art.