Opinion: What can Art Dubai teach the city's business community?

Art Dubai returns this week. What, if anything, can its galleries and collections, asks Eddie Taylor
Elie Khouri, CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA.
By Eddie Taylor
Fri 16 Mar 2018 10:32 AM

There have been a lot of attempts to connect the worlds of art and business.

It has, for instance, been de rigueur in management consultancy circles over the last few years to articulate the need for creativity in the C-suite, to seek solutions to industry’s big challenges in artists’ studios and concert halls rather than white-walled R&D departments.

Apparently, we all need to be exercising the right side of our brains a bit more.

Champions for this view aren’t hard to find. Researchers at Harvard actually spent six years interviewing thousands of executives on the question “What makes innovators different?” The answer seemed to lie in their ability to make connections from disparate sets of information. 

Similarly, a 2010 survey by IBM of 1,500 CEOs in 60 countries across 33 industries suggested that the magic word “creativity” is the most essential quality in a top leader – well ahead of meat-and-potatoes traits such as rigour, management discipline or integrity.

Mark Tebbe, co-founder of Answers.com and entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, goes further, drawing a straight line between business achievement and artistic traits and sensibilities.

“Today’s business environment demands innovation and creativity more than ever before,” he says. “Executives, as well as other business leaders, need to draw this inspiration for innovation from a number of everyday creative sources such as music, theatre and art. 

Those who appreciate creativity in these forms are often more inspired and open-minded to non-linear approaches to business thinking. And having art pieces around them and in the office can spark those creative inspirations, thus aiding the business.”

Of course, some have stretched the point rather too far. Business consultant and author of Untitled: Art & Leadership, Iris Lavy, made several tortured analogies about the 20th century’s major art movements and the problem-solving they supposedly embody. Picasso’s Cubism, for example, was a means of revolutionary thinking that “disassembles the subject into its parts, then flattens and spreads them out, opening opportunities for restructuring a new, innovative business image”. Make of that what you will.

Appreciation game

On a more basic and perhaps practical level, there is much to be said for the business world championing art as a good corporate citizen or a human-centric employer. It’s why many enterprises and institutions go down the path of collecting and, in many cases, full-blown patronage; exposure to art and artists, it can be argued, enables a company to provide an enriching and inspiring environment for its employees and stakeholders, much as the organisation of sport and exercise did for Victorian industrialists in Britain 150 years ago.

Then there’s the opportunity to provide a legacy for a company that will live well beyond its achievements in a singular industry. Who today, for instance, really associates Tate with sugar refining?

With that in mind, and as Art Dubai comes around again, it’s probably a relief to Abraaj Capital that it will be able to generate some positive headlines when it showcases the winners of its annual – and now internationally significant – art prize. No doubt Elie Khouri, CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA, will also be there, hunting for the next piece to add to an enviable collection that adorns the walls of the company’s Media City offices.

Whether there is any bottom-line benefit in swapping a pin-stripe suit for a smock and beret is perhaps something still to debate. But as businesses are made up of people, and people are complex creatures that respond to an entire range of stimuli, the appreciation of and engagement in artistic pursuits should only be encouraged by boardrooms. Necessity isn’t always the mother of invention.

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Last Updated: Sun 18 Mar 2018 12:08 PM GST

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