I am fascinated by the intersection of disruptive and creative innovation. The potential of impossible things, link and draw interesting similarities between disruptive innovation and artistic production. Whether disrupting markets, technology, social or cultural contexts, both seek to bring into material reality the previously un-imaginable.
One of the other less glamorous similarities is that for both artists and innovation start-ups the constant pursuit of funding to continue their practice. Even when funding is acquired it is often limited, so it is imperative to find methods for creating quickly and efficiently. Now I know a whole bunch of artists who approach their practice with incredible entrepreneurial skill, and plenty who don’t and are happy with their choice. But what I often hear from artists is dissatisfaction with the lack of funding and opportunities, but not much in a further discourse. Why are artists (as creative sorts) not creatively reimaging the paradigm of the business end of art to get a better deal?
[note] I am using some big broad words: art, artistic practice and the title artist are incredibly diverse I realise it is impossible to make one easy definition to fit all – If you can think of a better way to summarise these terms please let me know.
I have been genuinely surprised, when discussing possible funding and business solutions with artists, by the lack of knowledge of one of the most prolific start-up business philosophies of recent years: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
“Lean isn’t simply about spending less money. Lean isn’t just about failing fast, failing cheap. It is about putting a process, a methodology around the development of innovation”. Successfully this has been applied to the development of countless technology innovations and has real potential for a huge variety of art projects too.
The basic structure of the Lean Startup works around the iterative feedback loop make-test-learn. Traditionally used in building software this cycle fits in with agile development sprints, where within a defined time frame (usually 1-2 weeks) new features are developed, tested and then the findings fed back into the next sprint. The aim is to develop the simplest realisation of the innovation concept as fast as possible, described as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and to build up from there. This is opposed to the strategy of creating the ‘perfect’ offering and then gauging the response, often once the resources are spent.
Working in this cycle of build-measure-learn the Lean Startup process seeks to develop validated learning (learning from objective measurement) to eliminate uncertainty allowing for fast decision-making and efficient use of resources. With the ideology catch-cry “Think big. Start small. Scale fast”, companies such as Dropbox and Wealthfront have used to successfully bring disruptive products to the market.
But it is more than just applying a certain type of business model to artistic production. It is gleaning the successes from this process to explore alternative methods to organise and develop work that can serve artists better. Whether this is in the management of a studio practice, dealing with funding bodies or seeking to disrupt the art and culture industry beyond old constructs and dichotomies.
Like a number of other productivity methods such as GTD, part of the power of the Lean Startup model is the externalisation of goals and learning. Articulating the measure of a successful outcome, collecting the feedback and using this as the validated learning to guide the next phase of ‘building’. Now not all artistic projects will benefit from audience feedback through development, but taken in a broader sense this feedback can come through a select group of peers or just from yourself in response to the material realisation of an idea.
Personally I have found this process of creating external systems incredibly liberating in the creative process. Once I am within a creation/making cycle – I am not wasting my time constantly evaluating whether each activity is worthwhile because I am confident that the evaluation process has been scheduled and that will be the time to reflect. This leaves me to get on with it, creating in deep concentrated thought.
An interesting example of this reflection of process is creative studio ks12 developing their concept of the video sprint in their application for the Portland Incubator Experiment. While not directly using the lean method their approach draws on methods from agile software development to create product as process. Engaging their creative practice with the funding and development potential incubator projects can offer.
Out of the studio, I recently spoke at the Berlinerpool event Funding Arts: Cultural Mecenat as Corporate Strategy. In my presentation I attempted to connect the Lean Startup (as new mode of business) and the venture capital that funds the start-up community to potential opportunities in arts funding. My experience with arts funding whether government, corporate or commercial is that it reflects the cultural values and modes of operation of these organisations. Often these cultural conditions can be in opposition or merely imposing upon an innovative creative practice. Whereas venture capital already has the connection and interest in risk-taking and innovation potentially could deliver funding opportunities to the arts with a better cultural fit.
This style of funding also extends to groups like the awesome foundation, a “worldwide network of people devoted to forwarding the interest of awesomeness in the universe”. Once a month in each city the local awesome foundation trustees hold an event, which emulates the pitching process at start-up events, and hand out a paper bag to the winner with $1000 – no strings attached. This can also be seen in the growing sector of crowdfunding (kickstarter, WeFund, Sponsume) that have brought new opportunities for capital at the intersection of arts and technology. Working lean speaks the language of these new funding models, demonstrates your vision (the un-imaginable) with a minimum viable product and grows the project efficiently from validated learning.
Further expanding the conversation the online collaborative design platform jovoto has sought submissions from their community to be part of a joint think-tank with communication agencies and organisations to explore creative agencies of the future. There have been some fascinating discussions around the future of work for creatives such as creating fluid networks or cultivating a culture of constant creation. The project challenges a community to articulate an alternative which is enormously refreshing from the usual bitching about the status quo. There are three days left for rating - and keep an eye on the jovoto blog for the think-tank white paper.
This is just a start, let’s keep this conversation going to seek better solutions to not only sustain artistic practice in an ever-changing market but to fundamentally to disrupt those markets. Whether that is running lean or not, it is just one possible point of departure to this journey to disruptive and creative innovation.
What other initiatives/people/collectives in the arts are rethinking how to access resources? What methods have worked for you?