Metamorphosis I by M.C. Escher, 1937

Art critics can usually derive complex theories out of art pieces and sometimes that might have had little to do with an artist’s initially thoughts. What if we followed the same process and used art to inspire new ventures and innovation?

Escher’s works are sometimes a sequence of patterns that gradually morph from recognisable to abstract images, progressively transforming into recognisable images again.

Let’s picture this as a company who is looking for ways to foster innovation. This process sometimes requires reinventing and rethinking the whole company in itself.

One way of doing it is by decomposing the company into recognisable and discrete units from where we can identify the main valuable capabilities within each unit. These can then be used to define a growth strategy, which will mainly be built on these sound bases. The only condition is to allow at some point a controlled chaos environment which enables creativity and innovation to emerge. Innovation can then happen in multiple ways: by combining existing patterns and geometrical shapes (aka resources and capabilities) in different ways; by adding or combining additional shapes; or simply by transforming existing shapes (aka business model).

During this process, decisions are made and relevant patterns and colours emerge over the chaos through a natural selection process. Important to note at this stage that although only a few shapes survive, they are only a consequence of the large initial selection, without which the final image would not have been obtained.

The previous choices (which now constitute a more formal strategy) will then begin to evolve, helped by the company’s context, which is refined and focused compared to the initial stage. This context will help designing and developing the new processes and progressively generate the new shape of the company. This process for innovation can also result in companies specializing and eliminating accessory businesses which add no value and can sometimes be an obstacle for innovation.

At the latter stages, ideally multiple pieces will fit into each other like a jigsaw puzzle, filling up all the available space meaning that all the different company units have to be working together, complementing each other and joined by a common objective.

Creativity, to a certain extent is a result of deliberate, uncertain and unpredictable environments. A company must be willing to accept temporary ambiguity and lack of clarity in order to create a propitious environment for innovation to flourish. Only an open and free environment, tolerating experimentation and failure will allow for real innovation to arise.

Without arguing which came first, Escher’s works or the above concepts, one could just imagine how many other insights we could discover in art.


1 For additional Escher influences in many diverse domains, read the amazing book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.