Organizations need to embrace the concept of curation
There is a story that is often told to describe how the greatest work of sculpture was created. How did Michelangelo create such a magnificent work of art? Well, it was easy. He started with a block of marble and then took away everything that was not David.
This is a beautifully simple way of describing what sculptors do. It is also something we should all consider when it comes to creativity. All too often, we approach a creative challenge from the basis of what can we add, rather than what we can take away.
There is an MG Taylor axiom that suggests “The art of creativity is eliminating options.” This is something that has guided my own work at KPMG U-Collaborate for many years.
However, there is a twist in this story, and it one that perhaps challenges this hypothesis. My team recently got our hands on a 3D printer. One of the first things we printed was a copy of the statue of David. As we watched the printer fashion the statue we realized there was a shift in paradigms. Rather than taking away everything that was not David, the printer was adding the things that were David!
This really got me thinking about innovation and disruption. If you consider a mature business at the top end of town, imagine the complexity of processes and systems that exist within the organization. This could be the equivalent of Michelangelo’s block of marble. Within the organization, seeds of innovation are growing – but people need to work out how they can chip away at the marble to create something new. This requires a different skillset. There are many courses out there that teach you how to build things, but very few that teach you how to take things apart or take things away.
This is perhaps why nimble entrepreneurs and start-ups often hold the upper hand when it comes to being creative. They start with a blank sheet of paper (or block of marble) and judiciously create their minimum viable product. The very fact they begin from scratch is their advantage – not necessarily their idea.
The challenge for companies that do not have the creative freedom to begin at square one is how do we create that same culture of innovation? How do we build an environment where we are comfortable at chipping away the things that no longer add value?
How many systems would we switch off as opposed to trying to integrate them with the new? How much complexity in our processes could we design out to create something that is elegant and simple?
For me, this feels very different from how most large organizations function. But if we are going to create magnificent works of art within our day-to-day working lives, we need to embrace the concept of curation – of removing the superfluous and keeping only that which is beautiful in its simplicity.