No aspect of a person’s behaviour exists in a vacuum, so that there is no clearly delineated boundary between the ways in which we, as individuals, approach the various activities in which we are involved. One way of acknowledging and consciously taking advantage of this is to find inspiration in art.
- The concept of a “business masterpiece” is based on the idea that just as great works of art are admired for their creativity and excellence, so too can businesses be admired for their ability to innovate, create value, and make a positive impact on society.
- Art can inspire creativity by exposing individuals to new ideas, concepts, and perspectives. This can lead to a new generation of innovative ideas and solutions in the business world.
- Art can foster strategic thinking by providing a visual representation of complex systems and relationships, helping individuals identify patterns and connections that may not be immediately apparent. This can help businesses to make more informed and strategic decisions.
This note is about the intersection between art and business strategy. It attempts to link art to a particular analytical framework for business strategies developed elsewhere1. Many art collectors do, of course, follow clear strategies when it comes to building their art collections. And equally there are several well-documented approaches to making strategy decisions, all attempting to follow given strategic approaches. But I have never seen anything about how art might have a direct bearing on particular strategic business decisions. In this article, I claim that there can be a strong connection between the two – art and business strategy. I claim that one might actually be inspired by art when making strategic business decisions, the result being better strategic decisions.
In his seminal book from 1950, still perhaps the most famous of all art books, Sir Ernest Gombrick states, “To look at a picture with fresh eyes and to venture on a voyage of discovery into it is … difficult.”2 My own “discovery” has been to gain inspiration from my various pieces in order to come up with better business decisions. There are, in particular, nine aspects of strategic decision-making that seem to have “benefited” from inspiration from my art collection, listed in the appendix.
While perhaps only relatively few people in decision-making positions will have art collections to draw on, with perhaps even fewer having their own private ones, such as I am fortunate to own, there is probably a much broader set of applications at work here. Other decision-makers might draw on music, movies, or architecture. The essence, it seems to me, is to be able to draw on any such source, to gain strength and confidence when it comes to one’s strategic decision-making. There is clearly research to be done here. So far, I do not see much documentation of any empirical evidence when it comes to this, but I firmly expect this to come. So, while the reader might at the outset consider what is to be reported in this note to be too narrow, only applying to a relatively small elite, my sense is that the topic at hand is included in a much broader one, with widespread application among many decision-makers: how to gain confidence from peripheral sources when it comes to strengthened strategic resolve. For me, my art collection has provided a major source for this, but I am confident that others may draw on a wide array of other sources.
While strategy is a foundational skill in business, art-collecting might be seen as a rare endeavour. How could a person put some of the insights regarding the link between art and business into action? What is universal in an endeavour is the deeply personal experience, as described in this paper.
Principles of strategy seem to be embedded in all art, be it painting, sculpture, music, or drama. I have perhaps learned to see those embedded principles in my collection. However, all art, to a varying degree, reflects these universal principles. One can perhaps think of the early impressionists as disruptors of the existing paradigm, in the same way that we can think of Walmart as a disruptor of the retail industry in the 1960s. We can see Picasso as a great innovator, in the same way we see Steve Jobs as a business innovator. They all saw the world differently and found a compelling way to express that vision. So my hope is that my paper might inspire business people to look at art in all its forms not only as an aesthetic experience, but as an inspiration and a reflection for business.
What strategic dimensions are we talking about?
Art might typically be labelled as more subjective than most frameworks for business strategies. To find a common “language” for art and business might perhaps be difficult, just as C.P. Snow experienced when he attempted to combine science and culture3. My own taste and preferences are indeed the glue between the two, as we shall see.
My attempt to link art and business strategy thus focuses on the delineation of a particular strategic decision-making culture, consisting of nine dimensions, given in the appendix.
When faced with a particular strategic challenge, I consult particular art objects in my own collection which I sense might be associated with those dimensions, i.e., with those that might be especially appropriate, given the specific strategic decisions I am faced with.
Analytical strategic approaches might be complemented by subjective, artistic dimensions. This might perhaps imply more creative decisions, even more innovative, and perhaps also with longer time horizons. Better decisions might perhaps be the end result. And both the art collector and the business might indeed evolve towards a masterpiece!
The context for my own strategic decision-making
I have been inspired by art when making many strategic decisions. The areas in which I have been actively involved are shown in my exhibit, Areas of decision, below:
- Academic Leadership. I was head of two leading business schools (IMD for 15 years; Norwegian School of Business (BI)); The Lauder Institute (University of Pennsylvania); and two virtual educational institutions (Lorange Institute (hybrid) and Lorange Network), both of which I founded.
- Shipping. I owned the ship-owning firm S. Ugelstad’s Rederi and have invested in more than 30 ship projects.
- Portfolio Investing. I developed S. Ugelstad Invest, a portfolio investment company with five main areas of investment: stocks/bonds; shipping; real estate; ventures; real estate; ventures; educational.
My art collection
My art collection consists of some 100 pieces, mostly paintings, but also some lithographs, as well as a few sculptures. The composition of this art collection has evolved over time. During the early stages of my collecting, I primarily focused on what I liked. Over time, generally, I started to look for pieces of art that I felt might inspire me when it came to any of the dimensions indicated in the appendix. So, gradually, my collection evolved in the direction that this exhibit suggests, and these two poles, art and business, both important in my life, began to align.
To be inspired by these pieces of art, I might definitely say, implies gaining confidence in decisions to be made. It is, however, important that each piece of art might be relatively easily accessible, i.e., not stored in some sort of vault, but “hanging on the walls”.
Accordingly, all of my collection can be easily found in one of the five residences where I tend to spend most of my time making key decisions (Pully, Küssnacht am Rigi, and Verbier in Switzerland; Asker and Ulvösund in Norway).
Some examples of linking art and factors of strategic decision-making culture
I shall now give nine examples of how I associate particular pieces of art with the factors listed in the appendix. It should be stressed that this should not be seen as “hard” categorisation of art pieces into specific categories. Different people may see different sides of a particular piece of art. My own way of interpreting a given piece of art may change over time, too.
Another caveat should also be made now: my art collection has a predominantly Nordic focus – Norwegian, above all. For me, being Norwegian but having lived outside of Norway for almost 50 years, I have perhaps become more open to letting myself be inspired this way.
The overriding driving force for me, however, has been to identify objects of art that would help me to develop a better focus in various settings of business decisions. Thus, each piece of art is therefore not only emotionally important to me but stimulates my strategic decisions.
- Quality Per Kirkeby (1938–2018). This is a large painting (200 × 120 cm), featuring mostly variations of red, with some yellow and black also. Here quality is “it”! While the painting is basically abstract, a half-moon-shaped contour can be seen on the right-hand side. The moon is indeed a surrogate for quality for me. This painting represents one of the artist’s latest works before his death. While I never actually met him, my sense is that he might have agreed with my interpretation.
- Diversity The Norwegian painter Ludvig Karsten (1876–1926) is represented with two oil paintings. The first portrays the diverse landscape overviewing the shore (Skagen), with the Danish flag. The artist lived in Skagen for long periods of time and spent much of his life in other parts of Denmark. The second painting shows a diverse scene from Nyhavn, Copenhagen, with boats, houses, and water. For me, these paintings capture the theme of diversity in a clear manner.
- Risk and Uncertainty The Spanish artist Joan Miró (1893–1983) has provided a print that seems to portray a young lady. As is so typical for this artist, however, the motive is highly simplified and the colours are strong (black, yellow, red, and green). There is a hair accessory in red with black dots on top of the lady’s head. While several different associations might come to mind when studying this print, the strongest theme that comes to mind is how it “vibrates” risk. The lady that is shown is not sky, an “innovative” hair style and strong colours!
- Networking Olav Kristoffer Jensen (1954) is a Norwegian artist, but lives in Berlin. This large painting consists of irregularly shaped “lines” in bright colours (yellow and green), mainly in the upper part of the painting, with the bottom part being relatively empty. The underlying colour of the entire painting is white. The same artist’s other painting, “Season/Biographie”, also demonstrates clear lines. The colours are perhaps less “stunning”, the “lines” being held in darker, greyish tones. The two convey the concept of networking, with the various lines criss-crossing in intricate ways. It all hangs together in effective networks.
- Speed A sculpture by Norwegian artist Arnold Hankeland (1920–1983) in stainless steel manifests speed. This represents the prototype of what later became a full-scale monument outside Sandefjord city hall. The various relatively thin stainless steel metal sheets, with sharp angles, typical for Hankeland, are complemented by a carved sheet of stainless steel, showing a sail. Speed is indeed a critical element of successful seafaring!
- Cycle Management The physical round shape that is depicted in many of the art pieces by the Norwegian artist Anna Eva Bergmann (1909–1987) gives me a clear association with cycles. In one, which features a large, broken silver circle at the top, with a sharply contrasting black section at the bottom, and with a band of gold, we can literally “feel” cycles. To better understand the “ins” versus the “outs” in a world of cycles is key. Bergmann’s pieces seem to clearly indicate “bottoms”, as well as peaks.
- Discipline Jacob Weidemann (1923–2001) is another Norwegian artist. This oil painting by Weidemann features a house, together with four birch trees, in black and white. The familiar mountain Kalsaas (near Oslo) can be seen in the background. Its strict layout makes the painting very recognisable, despite its being abstract. The artist comes across as highly disciplined.
- Proactivity, Positivity, Innovation Kitty Kielland’s (1843–1914) artwork is from the south-western part of Norway. This painting (40 × 50 cm) is “green”, featuring a fertile landscape, probably Jæren, in south-west Norway. A few cows can be seen grazing. This manifestation of a harmonious, fertile mother nature gives me a strong sense of positivity, almost a precondition for innovation. To me, nature, as well as the colour green, represents positivism and proactivity!
- Honesty, Integrity The Dane Asger Jorn (1914–1973) has several paintings in my collection. Two of these feature people in a struggle to be honest. The first features a group of people, all seemingly in pain as they struggle to reach honesty. The second features only one person, but with a similar attempt to achieve honesty. The paintings illustrate that honesty and integrity do not come automatically; one needs to work on them. This is a key inspirational point.
A case study
There are, indeed, many cases that I might have cited which all illustrate how my art collection inspired me when it came to making important strategic decisions. However, I choose to discuss in some detail the latest major decision that I made, namely the sale of Lorange Network to IMD in the fall of 2021. There were primarily three major concerns that I had when deliberating whether to go ahead with this decision. Clearly, there were strong emotions at play here. After all, I had put a lot of effort into building the network to a membership of around 3,300 members. The financials that IMD proposed were fine.
However, there were, above all, three key concerns that I had:
- It seemed critical that this transaction would have to be executed with speed. To drag it out by endless concurrencies from various sources at IMD would cause potentially irreparable damage among the membership base.
- That all would perceive that this transaction would be one of high quality was essential. I had earlier flirted with the idea of selling the network to various private investors or to a bank. Members had reacted negatively to this. The commercial integrity of the network was at stake! As such, IMD, a highly reputable business school and foundation, would be ideal.
- The networking side of how Lorange Network might hopefully continue. So far, the eclectic nature of what we had done seemed key to our success. I was hoping that this might continue, but was worried about potential difficulties when it came to this, in light of a relatively disciplined focus, so common in academic institutions.
So, I consulted with several of my paintings, such as all the Kirkeby pieces and, when it came to quality, I felt increasingly assured that this issue would be manageable. I had more of a challenge to become comfortable with the networking issue. The two paintings by Jenssen underscored that things criss-cross in typically rather complicated ways. Admittedly the criss-crossing seemed to be in a vertical/horizontal pattern, but still! In the end I reluctantly concluded that I would have to live with an element of risk when it came to broad, eclectic focus. My third concern, speed, was however more easily reconciled with. Hankeland inspired me to see this scenario to sell as essentially a transaction of sailing at sea. Speed and resoluteness would be essential for success, and I was fine with this.
So, I did go ahead and sell Lorange Network to IMD in 2021. I had major concerns regarding this, but the inspiration I got from several of my art pieces helped me to reach a final decision with which I was comfortable. Obviously, I had had several objections “in the small”, many of these emerging from my “conversations” with the art pieces. In my opinion, it all came out well in the end.
As can be gathered from this note, my art collection has not only inspired me when it comes to my own strategic decision-making, but also indeed represents a manifestation of who I am and what I like. This has been a true source of support for me. It is probably also an example of what Jean-Paul Sartre said so well, namely that an art collection indicates who the collector (i.e., me!) is4! As far as I have been able to find out, no other art collections make such an explicit link to strategic business decisions. My final point is, both my art collection and my reference to my key business principles are two pillars in my life which I refer to, observe, and reflect upon daily. These poles ground me; they assist me in my own personal alignment. As we know, an alignment between career and core values produces satisfaction, a sense of happiness, and fulfilment. Self-expression and creativity are also very much part of this.
All photos in the article: credit to Francois Wavre
About the Author
Peter Lorange, after having sold his shipping company in 2006, has been a successful entrepreneur and owner of a highly diversified family office. He has been regarded as one of the world’s foremost business school academics, holding the position of President at IMD, Lausanne for 15 years, as well as several positions on shipping company boards. His entrepreneurial journey spans across key areas such as education, shipping, investments, and pre-dominantly Family Businesses. Peter founded the Lorange Network, a digital learning and networking platform, in 2017. Peter is Norwegian, residing in Küssnacht am Rigi, Switzerland.
- See Lorange, P., (2022), Learning and Teaching Business: Lessons and Insights from a Lifetime of Work, Springer.
- Gombrick, E.H., (1950), The Story of Art, Phaidon (p. 35).
- Snow, C.P., (2019), The Two Cultures, Cambridge University Press.
- Sartre, J.-P., (1946), Existentialism and Humanism, Methuen Publishing.