Be a thoughtful art critic

In large, industry-leading organizations, it's easy to dismiss small, new competitors. Well-resourced corporations look at startups and say, “We could do that. They’re not doing anything special, really.”

You’ll hear similar comments from visitors to an art museum. “I could do that” is a commonplace critique. The minimalist and abstract styles of Rothko, Mondrian, and even - at one point - Van Gogh were once derided as simplistic, meaningless, and lacking technical skill. 

Sure, it may be true that you could do it yourself from a purely physical standpoint. And the corporation could just replicate the functionality of the startup. But there’s probably more to it...

  • Sometimes it appears simple, but is complex beneath the surface...the iPhone
  • Sometimes it actually is simple, but hadn’t been done before...Uber and Lyft
  • Sometimes it isn’t anything new, but the timing matters...Apple's Newton and iPad
  • Sometimes appreciation requires knowledge of the context and history...Da Vinci’s The Last Supper
  • And finally, actually creating the thing requires not only the ideation and production, but also being able to stand by your creation, defend, and explain it. Would you sign up for that?

Saying “I could do that” is a reflexive judgment that makes us feel good about ourselves. Instead of doing the work to understand what’s going on, we reduce it and dismiss. 

Quit that habit. Acknowledge that there may be layers beyond. Taking the time to develop a more sophisticated perspective makes us better executives, art critics, and most importantly, people.

Mondrian's  Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow , 1930

Mondrian's Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930

Rothko's   No. 61 (Rust and Blue) ,  1953

Rothko's No. 61 (Rust and Blue), 1953