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In January, The New York Times launched a monthly series of guides called “A Year of Living Better“. The guides focus on ways to improve subscribers’ lives, their communities, and the world. Topics range from how to reduce your carbon footprint to how to participate in politics.

The August guide, entitled “How to Fall in Love with Art” caught my attention. In college I studied art history and economics. I am a self-proclaimed art junkie and business geek.

The funny thing is, while I was reading the Love Art guide I realized that there are parallels between the author’s advice and what we hear from Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc., and Fast Company on the subjects of management and leadership.

It’s because the lifeblood of art and business is considering, creating, and embracing new ideas.

In my opinion, looking at art is a catalyst for generating new ideas because it refreshes and strengthens two essential business skills;

  1. The value of Close Observation
  2. The ability to Think Differently

As Apple’s market cap approaches $1 trillion, let’s remember the iconic 1997 “Think Different” Apple ad. Images of Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Audrey Hepburn, Picasso, and others flash across the screen with the powerful message that those who Think Differently are the ones that change the world.

So if you’re looking to play “troublemaker” and disrupt your world by generating new ideas, start by looking at some art and see what happens.

Looking at art-any kind of art- does all kinds of good things for our brains.

It forces us to slow down and separate from the current moment.

It activates the left logical and right imaginative sides of our brains.


Considering a work of art in a larger context-the who, what, when, where, why- opens up mental pathways that leads to creative thinking.

Think about what you do when you closely observe a painting, drawing, poster, sculpture or a contemporary photo. Most of us do two things.

First we stand back and consider the color, material, content, the artist, and the broader context of the piece.

Then we get up close, look at the details and read the description.

We move to another piece of art and repeat the same routine again and again.

Consciously or unconsciously we’re training ourselves to think differently and imagine new ideas. Sometimes this happens in the moment with a great, “Aha!”. Or it happens after some time has passed and we’ve integrated what we’ve seen into our own lives.

In a genuinely collaborative business environment, “thinking differently” often starts by using everyday meetings to separate from the moment and ask new questions to create new conversations.

Why is this important?
Who is going to care about this idea?
How does this make a difference?
How do we feel about this idea?

Easy to ask. Can be tough to answer.

But in a business environment, what tends to happen next is the same thing that happens when people look at art. They react. And now, trained to observe and look closely at new ideas, your responses in the moment will make for more productive and creative conversations.

And THAT will make you a better businessperson.

And by the way, art is everywhere.

Find a subject you’re curious about.

There is a museum for almost everything, from the Haverstraw Brick Museum to the Museum of Sex, to the American Museum of Natural History.

To get you started, here is a listing of the most exciting exhibitions this fall. Caution: Looking at art can become addictive.

As a follow up from last month’s post about empathy:

Thank you Paula, a reader and good friend for suggesting the book “Applied Empathy“. Strategic and tactical, the book discusses the benefits of applying empathy in the workplace.

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Until next month…