By Keri-Leigh Paschal – Executive Director, Nation Builder
“Being good at business is the most fascinating kind of art.” – Andy Warhol
At Nation Builder, we have the privilege to share in the joy of a new generation of business leaders discovering that their businesses have more worth than simply the profit they generate. As a result, we get to witness first-hand how unconventional and unexpected ideas come to life as these businesses actively collaborate with non-profit entities for the greater good, giving rise to innovative and impactful solutions to often complex social problems.
This ever-growing community of nation-building businesses are painting outside the lines that traditionally existed between financial gain and social impact and are re-defining the ‘art of business’. As we’ve journeyed closely with like-minded pioneering entrepreneurs over the past 10 years, we’ve observed some beautiful parallels to their journey and that of a master artist. It also served as the inspiration for our recently held In Good Company conference where we celebrated the Art of Business.
As we explore some of these parallels, we invite you to join us on the journey to create the most fascinating art – good and impactful businesses.
1) Masterful art is birthed from a deep conviction
Truly beautiful artwork is birthed out of an emotion or conviction of need, injustice, love or appreciation. This conviction takes the artist on a journey of discovery that peels away layers to give insight into the true essence of the subject matter.
Have you ever had a strong conviction that something needs to be done, but found yourself staring at a blank canvas, not knowing where to begin? Get some tips from these inspiring testimonies shared at our recent In Good Company conference. Find out how other businesses are creating their masterpieces – be it by creatively crafting a redemptive corporate culture (King Price Insurance), empowering the disempowered in a practical way (Venete Klein) or investing in the future through quality education (Sizwe Nxasana). All speakers have a personal story of how they embarked on this journey with a deep conviction that still motivates them to keep going and still drives them to pursue greater understanding and insight.
While art is deeply personal, it is also public. Art will always be subject to interpretation and criticism, which is why it is so important to know why you are (or are not) doing what you are doing. You need the courage provided by conviction to stay the course and ultimately create your own, authentic masterpiece.
2) Artists take risks
Creating any artwork is risky – artists can never be sure of the exact outcome, or of other people’s response to it. Within the context of business and especially within social development, it is just as difficult to predict what the outcome will be. So, you need to be flexible and adaptable, and not be resistant to learning new ways of doing things – in other words, if you want to have an impact, you need to be willing to take calculated risks. Sometimes you will be required to paint outside the lines , or even move the lines to find new solutions to the complex issues facing your business and our country.
3) Every artwork is unique
No two original artworks are the same, even if created by the same artist, in the same medium, with the same tools, and in a similar time and context. This is true for business as well – everyone’s approach to being a force for good is different. You have to use the unique resources at your disposal within your own business context and within your industry – be it time, money, relational connections, products or services. In the same way that artists select their medium and tools depending on their desired outcome in terms of contrast, texture, mood, turnaround time and the public response they hope to elicit, so you as a business leader must choose and use your tools skilfully to craft your desired outcome.
4) Art takes perseverance
Artists are born with talents and gifts, but masterful excellence is shaped through hours of refining their work, through experimentation, by learning from other masters, and by persevering when morale is low. Using your business as a force for good is no different. Every attempt will not be a success, but you will learn many valuable lessons along the way. The more time you invest in it, the better you will become. Seek out those ‘greats’ who have gone before you from whom you can learn. And when morale is low, don’t give up. Those are the moments when true beauty is distilled.
5) True collaboration creates powerful art
Long-term social impact and business are underpinned by one key ingredient – collaboration, or true partnership. A limited amount of impact can be achieved when working in isolation. Yet in collaboration, exponential beauty and impact are realised. Painting, for example, is the coming together of competing colours, light and space on a canvas. When one of these elements dominates the others or has no consideration for the others, the artwork lacks harmony and balance. Yet when these elements are in balance or in purposeful contrast, they complement one another to create a harmonious visual artwork. In the same way, it is essential in business to embrace collaboration at different levels and stages to ensure a powerful impact and timeless art.
But what does the ‘art of business’ accomplish?
Art builds bridges
It brings different worlds together and finds a way for these to coexist and flourish. It brings people together and creates a commonality and human connection that foster cohesion and unity. It finds ways to share in the experiences, relationships, networks and knowledge to enrich society at large. Art is dialogue!
Art brings life to barren places
It brings colour where there is darkness, it brings joy, a resonance and restores dignity to those who have forgotten that those words even exist. Art reminds us of our fragile humanity and reignites a passion to care for one another.
Art stimulates innovation
Taking risks, pushing the boundaries and trying new approaches ensure a culture of innovation. It prevents stagnation and redundancy. Creativity is not limited to traditional art mediums. Each industry requires creativity to look at things differently and to find new and better ways of engaging in business and with society.
Art inspires and challenges others
An artist’s ultimate joy is when his/her art moves people, shifts perceptions, makes others act or speak out. Artful business inspires others to give it a try, to start somewhere, to take risks and be courageous enough to try to shape society through one of the most powerful vehicles: business.
As Robert F. Kennedy said: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work towards changing a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that humankind is shaped.” So, celebrate the countless acts of courage, conviction and change that are shaping our history and take on the responsibility to commit to the art of business – all of us together shaping our nation into a masterpiece.
Keri-Leigh Paschal is the Executive Trustee of Nation Builder, an independent trust launched in 2008 by Mergon that works to empower both for-profit and non-profit entities in their social impact endeavours. The Nation Builder community and platforms emphasise cross-sector collaborative partnerships, peer-learning and knowledge sharing. In 2018 alone, 39 Nation Builder events took place across South Africa, working with companies with a combined social investment spend of over R500 million.
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