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The modern art of innovation.

"Good business is the best art."

--Andy Warhol, 1975

A single-serving bottle of Coca-Cola is available from any convenience store for about 1 dollar. The ingredients inside and the bottle itself cost about 2.5 cents. In other words, combining the ingredients with a brand name and an image creates a 4,000 percent price markup on a simple product that can be produced by anyone. Globally, this product sells 1.8 billion bottles each year--generating enough revenue to sustain a major global corporation, even without all of the other products the company sells. A competitor seeking to capitalize on the global appetite for this type of beverage could invest billions of dollars creating manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Or a single creative entrepreneur could paint a photorealistic replica of the product, and that painting could eventually sell for $57 million and trigger the birth of an entirely new modern art movement. Who is the better businessman, then--the inventor of the soft drink, its many imitators, or the artist who makes an identical copy that can never be consumed?

Andy Warhol did not see the world in a new way; he saw it in the oldest way. He recognized that the image of

Roger Smith is the Chief Technology Officer for Florida Hospital's Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement. He has also served as the CTO for US Army Simulation and for Titan Corp. and as a vice president of technology for BTG Inc. A member of RTM's Board of Editors, Smith has led technology innovation for medical, defense, software, and computer systems. He holds a PhD in computer science and a doctorate in business administration, the Coca-Cola bottle, captured as completely as possible, could expose the contents of the psyche of the 1960s and point to the profound change that had occurred in the American public since the end of World War II. Warhol's paintings of soda bottles and soup cans are iconic representations of the consumerism that had captured the country following the austerity and hardships of the war. Warhol was an innovator who could capture what people were feeling and thinking. His innovation was to forget his own interpretation of the world around him and capture it as it was being created in the mass consumer mind in the mid-20th century. His work was an enormous step away from the abstract expressionist paintings that had captured the art world just a few years earlier.


Warhol's art was a bold, disruptive step into the unknown. It was so separate from and opposed to what art was expected to be that it should have failed. But, like other revolutionary ideas before and since, it touched an entire society, reflecting at a basic level who people were at the time.

Warhol was not alone; all of the modern art movements were led by innovative thinkers who recognized some emerging characteristic of the human condition of their time and turned it into revolutionary art. (1) Where does the bravery to take such a disruptive step come from? In Warhol's case, it came from a commercial artist creating advertisements and department store displays in New York City--a man in an adjacent industry looking across the boundary and seeking a bridge to the art world. Warhol wanted to be an artist, but he was poorly equipped to compete with the abstract expressionist works dominating the field, like those of William de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. As a commercial artist, his mastery was in speaking to people in the language of consumer products, with an eye toward sales. He found in that work his pathway into art. He was able to strip away the sales messages from commercial images and present only the visual motifs that were dominating the conversation of the time. Warhol's Pop Art creations were able to say something new about society that could not be said using the expressionists' vocabulary.

Warhol was a disruptive innovator, in every sense of the word. He worked across accepted industrial boundaries. His creations--work that those in power in the art world initially regarded with disdain--ultimately redefined art and shook the art world to its foundations. The gatekeepers could not ignore Warhol's message about society, a message they themselves had missed and did not have the tools to deliver in any case.

We are in a similarly cataclysmic time now, as the rapid advances of technology--from smartphones to cloud computing to 3D printing--bring changes in business, in culture, in society similar in scope and impact to those that occurred in the decade after WWII. The impact of these changes is felt every day in the business world, as new companies ascend and old companies decline and fortunes change, sometimes seemingly overnight. This chaotic environment has given rise to a generation of business artists, thinkers developing methods to explain, harness, and benefit from these changes.

Like the pop artists of the 1960s, these innovation artists are creating new schools of thought, not about society and consumerism, but about business models, the relationship between business and society, and innovation. Clayton Christensen has opened the eyes of established companies to the ways in which young startups can gain a foothold in their industries--and eventually displace them. Henry Chesbrough upended the closed-door, proprietary mindset of R&D labs, illuminating the value of teaming with other organizations to leverage multiple domains of expertise. And Eric von Hippel has turned his eye to users, and their potential to act as partners in creating new features and advanced capabilities for next-generation products. When they first appeared, these ideas, and many others like them, ran directly counter to the established thinking about R&D and new product development. Like Warhol, these authors were innovators, creating new models or schools of innovation and new ways to think about the process of creating new products.

Also like Warhol, these innovators often found themselves developing and maturing in one field before discovering, and acting on, an insight into how their strengths could be applied in a new way. Before he formulated the concept of disruptive innovation, for instance, Christensen worked as a business consultant, government administrator, and corporate CEO. But these experiences did not give him the foundation that he needed to develop his own ideas about business growth. For that, he had to cross into academia, earning a doctorate and a faculty position. Similarly, von Hippel began as an economist and business consultant before shifting his interests to innovation. The traditional path up the organizational ladder seldom includes all the ingredients needed to nurture genuinely new and creative thinking in a field. Unique insights seem to require some time in foreign soil to develop a unique flavor. Innovation originates from a mind able to assimilate foreign ideas, powered by an internal passion to contribute and become successful in a new area.

Viewing the art world through the classic eye of Michelangelo or Rembrandt would suggest that the future lay in improving techniques for realistic representation. But it takes an innovative and disruptive eye to imagine that impressionism, cubism, surrealism, and pop art can all not just exist but make a serious contribution to the evolution of artistic expression. Similarly, looking at a stable and successful business with the classic eye of Frederick Taylor or Alfred Sloan suggests that the only path forward for business lies in optimizing internal efficiency, improving quality, and reducing costs. It takes an innovative eye to see how a product of poorer quality could disrupt an established market leader, or to understand that lead users may be more imaginative in how they actually interact with a product than any internal research department could envision. This is the genius and value of Andy Warhol, Clayton Christensen, and hundreds like them whose perspective is neither easy nor common but has a powerful impact.

Those who seek to make innovative contributions may be advised to guide their career across multiple industries and business functions to accumulate the diversity of information, ideas, and viewpoints that will provide fodder for their passions and engage their talents. Climbing the corporate ladder may require too much adaptation to the existing structure to leave room for, much less foster, a unique and innovative perspective.

(1) For insights into the innovations of Pop Art start on YouTube with "A Guide to Pop Art," https://

DOI: 10.1080/08956308.2016.1185345
TABLE 1. Innovation in art and business

Art Movements

Date   Movement

1875   Impressionism
1905   Expressionism
1907   Cubism
1916   Dadaism
1923   Surrealism
1942   Abstract Expressionism
1954   Pop Art
1960   Minimalism
1965   Superrealism

Innovation Concepts

Date   Concept

1911   Scientific Management
1970   Strategic Planning
1993   Reengineering
1997   Disruptive Innovation
1999   Radical Innovation
2003   Open Innovation
2005   Blue Ocean Strategy
2005   User Innovation
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Author:Smith, Roger
Publication:Research-Technology Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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