the art of innovation

Driving Innovation

Technologies such as generative AI are already helping artists to become more productive but the relationship between art and business is two-way. The creative processes of an artist can be harnessed by tech companies to drive innovation.

You’re in the foyer of a technology company’s well-appointed headquarters. As the receptionists get on with the business of checking in visitors you take a minute to admire a sequence of rather impressive abstract paintings on one of the walls, also noting a bronze sculpture that stands guard over the short corridor where a number of lifts are located. You then venture into the main body of the building where the entrance hall artworks will soon be forgotten. The art – of creating a good impression – has served its purpose.

But what if the work of artists can play a deeper and more profound role in helping businesses achieve their ambitions? Could it be that art can play a part in driving innovation?

We often tend to think that business and art exist in two clearly defined worlds that seldom come into contact with each other in any meaningful way. Certainly, there are industries that have art at the core – gaming, music and film, spring instantly to mind – and in other sectors, artists play an important role in creating content for advertising and marketing campaigns. But in most cases, business leaders are content to let artists create while they get on with the apparently different process of making money. That’s perhaps particularly true of digital and technology companies where the focus is on code, data, analytics and engineering processes. The hard stuff.


But art and business have much in common. Both require creativity. The software engineer who spends his day devising the code that will underpin the digital transformation of a bank or analyse the data output from a supply chain is contributing to something that is big, important and transformative. It is also born out of conceptualisation and human ingenuity – rather like an artwork.

And what we’re actually seeing is a coming together of worlds of art and technology in sometimes surprising ways. Over the last two to three years, a subset of blockchain technology in the form of non-fungible tokens has given artists an opportunity to sell work in digital formats while retaining full control over the associated intellectual property. Essentially, an artist produces a work in digital format which is then tokenised on a blockchain platform. The token can be given certain attributes. For example, it may be configured as the only genuine copy or one of a limited run. It can be sold and resold with all the transactions logged on the blockchain. This gives the artwork provenance and, consequently, the same sort of financial value that might be associated with an original painting or a small number of prints.

Generative AI

More recently it has been the turn of generative artificial intelligence to make waves in the artistic community. Although very much a product of the technology industry, this particular breed of AI is opening up new possibilities for artists of all kinds. Once trained, a system can be used to create digital paintings of photographs, based on verbal description. Today there’s no need for photographers to carry cameras at all times. They can simply ask the AI to create a picture.

Art Into Science

But the flow of creative benefits isn’t solely in one direction. Generative AI must be trained. To create pictures, the system must be exposed to a huge amount of relevant artwork – the same applies if the platform is making music or writing lyrics – and that requires access to the work of artists.

But what about genuine collaboration? Well, there’s a lot of that around too. For instance, one of the challenges facing the data analytics industry is to present information to end users in a way that makes it both usable and actionable. By working with an artist, a tech company might find new and arresting ways to make sense of the data through a visual language. And if done well, the imagery can become a differentiator. A selling point for the software.

This approach might seem simple, but it truly fosters creative collaboration at quite a high level. But the collaborative potential can be even more profound. In a recent article, it was cited that an example of a bio-art installation – essentially a living sculpture – has opened up new pathways in biological research.

Generating Ideas

New technologies are also enabling employees – who may not be artists or software coders – to become more innovative. For instance, collaborative design software can enable teams to work together on projects, experimenting and rejecting ideas as they are visualised on screen. A case in point is the Swedish visualisation tool, Finch. Used by architects, it allows teams to play with designs and try out different materials within a virtual environment. Mid-Journey AI performs a similar function for interior designers.

Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, the software can create 3D worlds and digital twins that mimic working environments. These in turn can be used to model new ways of working without the expense and risks associated with trying out fresh ideas in the real world.

And in practice, the range of tools available today ensures that everyone can be creative. And everyone within a workforce can innovate. We all of us have the tools to experiment with innovative product designs or map the impact of untried production processes in a visually rich virtual twin of the workplace. In other words, technology can help everyone tap into their innate creativity.