Anderson, Jamie y Reckhenrich, Jörg y Kupp, Martin. The fine art of success

Anderson, J., Reckhenrich, J. y Kupp, M. (2011). The fine art of success: How learning great art can create great business. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons

In this book we discuss successful strategies for driving innovation and creativity in the business world, but we do not turn to the analysis of well-known corporations such as Microsoft, IBM or Nokia. Instead, we examine the experiences of creative artists -from 16th Century painters such as Tizian and Tintoretto, to 19th and early 20th Century creative geniuses like van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso, and contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Madonna. We suggest that the success stories of these artists have relevant lessons for contemporary managers -and the various chapters provide refreshing and entertaining case studies. (Anderson:2011;XIII)

So how has Madonna been able to maintain her incredible success? The answer to this question lies in five key ingredients of succesful strategy that are equally relevant to companies and individual managers. These five dimensions have provided the foundation underpinning Madonna’s stardom, and of diligently pursued can provide the ingredients for sustained company and career success. Indeed, without these elements in place and organization will not have foundations upon which to drive innovation and creativity. (Anderson:2011;3)

Dimension 1: Vision

…more than ten studio albums, multiple world tours, and a dozen or so movie roles had stablished Madonna with an image and persona beyond any single field of entertainment: she was musician, actor, author and talent scout. In delivering upon her vision she has also made a great deal of money: she is easily the world’s top earning female entertainer. Madonna’s vision to become a star has been clearly apparent, and her spectrum of personal and professional activities -stage performances, television appearances, albums, music videos, Hollywood films, books and links to charity – all evidence a remarkable dedication to a single goal: the objective of becoming the world’s foremost female performer. (Anderson:2011;4)

Dimension 2 – Understanding Customers and industry

It is clear that Madonna’s success has been underpinned through her deep insightful appreciation of customers and understanding of the music industry. Madonna’s performance at the First Annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1984 at the age of 26 is considered to be the first stroke of genius in a career that would see many more. She took the stage to sing “Like A Virgin” wearing a combination bustier and wedding gown. During the performance, she rolled around on the floor, revealing lacy stockings and garters, and made a number of sexually suggestive moves. The performance was shocking to a mid-1980s audience, but only served to increase her popularity with her main target group, teenage fans. Showing her ability to tap into youth-subculture, Madonna’s bleached blonde hair with brown roots, sexy lace gloves, lingerie on the outside and “Boy Toy” belt buckle defined teen-pop fashion of the era. (Anderson:2011;5)

Madonna has been one of the world’s first artists to bring this approach to the music industry. Showing her ability to interpret the needs of the market, in mid-2005 Madonna partnered with DJ and producer Stuart Price, age 28, to test songs in clubs from Liverpool to Ibiza. The tunes, with Madonna’s distinctive vocals removed, were played and the reactions of the crowds were filmed and used to determine the final track listing of Confessions on a Dance Floor. According to Price: “Whenever I was DJ-ing I’d take dub or instrumental versions out with me and test them at the club that night”. He said, “I had my camera with me and the next day I’d tell Madonna, “This is what a thousand people in Liverpool look like dancing to our song”.He added, “You can work on a song for 12 hours but I guaratee you’ll know within just 10 seconds of putting it on a club whether it works or not”. (Anderson:2011;6)

She has the ability to shape her image in the media, and has been recognized as a skilled self-publicist – a critical ingredient for success in a ¡n industry that sees new competitors entering on an almost daily basis. Understanding that the music industry is heavily influenced by very few big players like MTV and the big record labels she teamed up with MTV very early en her career. Her first album sold only moderately at first, but thanks to heavy rotation on MTV, Madonna gained nationwide exposure and the album peaked at number eight on the Billboard chart, and went platinum five times. It ultimately sold close to ten million copies worldwide. MTV aggressively maketed Madonna’s image as a playful and sexy combination of punk and pop culture, and she soon became closely allied with the network. (Anderson:2011;6)

Madonna has shown a deep understanding of the politics of the music industry, and has proven to be skilled at walking the line between the shocking and sacrificing her career. She has worked particularly hard to maintain positive and mutually beneficial relations with major music companies such as MTV, and has avoided the fate of artists such as Sinead O’Connor who’s political activism saw her shunned from major distribution channels needed to link to fans. (Anderson:2011;7)

Dimension 3 – Leveraging Competences and Adressing Weaknesses

“Another  important element in Madonna’s success has been the ability to  ac­knowledge her own competencies and weaknesses. Looking at her impressive career it becomes obvious that one of Madonna’s most outstanding competencies is her ability to bring people with various talents together with herself as the hub. Through the use of her extensive network of support personnel, including musicians, technologists, producers, dancers and designers she is able to ad­dress her weaknesses and even compensate for them.
Very early on in her career Madonna realized that her dancing abilities and her voice were not strong enough on their own. She started to team up. One of her first and probably most important and successful alliances started in 1982. She flew to Los Angeles to convince Michael Jackson’s manager, Freddie De Mann, to help her launch her music career.” (Anderson:2011;10)

Madonna’s debut as an actor followed her marriage to Hollywood actor Sean Penn… Her book Sex was released as an accompaniment to her studio album Erotica as the first output of a recently signed partnership with Time Warner. Undertaken with the support of famous friends from the music, film and fashion industries, Time Warner commented that Sex was very complex to produce, requiring partnerships with many different printing and publishing companies. The photographs in the book were taken by some of the world’s best known fashion photographers – Steven Meisel, Fabian Baron, Stephen Callaghan and Darren Lew. Sex stirred significant controversy for its sexually explicit content but went on to sell 1,500,000 copies at a cover price of $50 within three days of release… Features in the book were model Naomi Campbell, actress Isabella Rossellini, rap performers Vanilla Ice and Big Daddy Kane, gay porn actor Udo Kier, and the European socialite Tatiana von Furstenberg. The day after the release of the book cable television company MTV screened a documentary called The Day In Madonna featuring Madonna’s Sex and her new album Erotica. (Anderson:2011;11)

Capability and skills gaps can also be a critical barrier to the success of firms, so managers need to understand areas of strength and weakness and how to develop capabilities though development activities, partnerships, networks or alliances. (Anderson:2011;11)

Dimension 4 -Consistent Implementation

Madonna has also been able to stay on top through an impressive ability to implement her strategy. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Madonna is not the product of any music company -her success has been very much the outcome of her hard work and ability to get the job done. Despite the increasing dominance of the global media sector by multinational firms such as Warner Brothers, Sony, Bertelmann and Vivendi Universal, Madonna has maintained her independence while expanding her influence. (Anderson:2011;13)

Most of Madonna’s entertainment interests have been owned and operated by her own companies. In 1992, Madonna founded entertainment company Maverick as a joint venture with Time Warner. Maverick consisted of a record company (Maverick Records), a film production company (Maverick Films) and also music publishing, television, merchandising and book publishing divisions. The seven-year multimedia contract was reportedly worth $60 million and gave Madonna almost complete artistic control over her music – including her own record label. Included in the package were deals for cable-TV specials, books and any film projects she wished to develop, plus a share of the profits generated by other Maverick artists. By the mid-1990s, Madonna has become an active chief executive of the Maverick label. (Anderson:2011;14)

Dimension 5- Continuous Renewal

The fourth element to Madonna’s success has been her ability to renew her popularity again and again. Within a year of the commercial flop of her American Life album she embarked on her “Re-Invention World Tour”, during which she played 56 dates across the world. The tour became the world’s highest-grossing tour of 2004, earning more than $100 milllion. Compare her abilities in re-invention to many “one-hit-wonders” in the music industry, or to performers such as the Rolling Stones who have enjoyed long periods of success, but whose fan-base has aged or remained largely unchanged.

The frecuent re-invention of Madonna’s style and sound has reflected an acute awareness of changing styles, social norms and attitudes in a fast clock-speed industry. From her punk-pop look of the early 1980s, her ever growing fan base has witnessed multiple reincarnations. These have included her glam-rock look of the late 1980s, a Marilyn Monroe retro look, her soft-core porn image of the early 1990s (which included a documentary film In Bed with Madonna and the release of her bestselling book Sex, which showed Madonna as the centrepiece of photographs depicting various sexual fantasies), her high-fashion look of the mid 1990s, a spitirual image that accompanied motherhood in the late 1990s and her disco look associated with the release of Confessions on a Dance Floor. Perhaps not surprisingly she is known as the “queen of re-invention” within industry circles. (Anderson:2011;18)

Few would argue that Madonna lacks the voice of Anastacia, the acting ability of Nicole Kidman or the song writing talent of Justin Timberlake. While she is undoubtedly in excellent physical condition, few would regard her as beautiful as Jennifer Lopez or Mariah Carey. Her various acting roles have rarely attracted anything but scathing criticism and her 2003 album American Life was panned by critics, who described it as an indication that she was “in need of a vacation” from stress of her career. But despite apparent gaps in her capabilities and the occasional setback, she has been able to reincarnate her career time and time again.

As Madonna has demonstrated, strategy is not about crafting a detailed plan to be implemented without adaptation or evolution, but about establishing an over-all direction that incorporates five key elements -vision, customer and industry insight, leveraging competences and weaknesses, consistent implementation, and a drive towards continuous innovation and renewal. (Anderson:2011;21)

Beuys Understanding Creativity – Is every Manager an Artist?

Think about a situation where you are at a traffic light and waiting to cross the road. One does not think what a beautiful light it is; the routine says if it turns to green then walk. For daily orientation it is a very functional and important behaviour.

But what do we do if we want to generate new ideas in order to invert o reinvent processes and products? That’s the point where thinking must change. In order to generate new ideas we have to let go of well-known patterns of thinking and old solutions. We have to enter what Beauys describes as the active form of thinking. Thereby he talks about three areas: inspiration, intuition and imagination. How do the three areas interrelate? (Anderson:2011;78)

Inspiration. This could be seen as the very moment where we spot something new or get the first spark of an idea. Sometimes people speak about the refreshing “click” or the “Aha” or “Heaureka” experience when a moment like this happens. A common experience is that we get stuck thinking about a problem we have to solve. A useful way to open up for inspiration again is to relax and just look for other things. By adopting that attitude we start to let ideas come to us, instead of pushing too hard. The idea might come in a moment you do not expect and might be a bit blurred, but in order to foster inspiration and open up for real new ideas it is important to tolerate that moment of uncertainty. To sharpen the very first idea too quickly might lead us to fall back to old concepts. We have to “download” or let go all of these old patterns and solutions first. (Anderson:2011;78)

The way Beuys constantly renewed his approach towards his work, never using the same visual for an idea again, demonstrated his inspired mind which was capable of constantly re-examining his main artistic topic of human creativity from many different angles. (Anderson:2011;79)

Through intuition we begin to sense what the idea could be and start to develop an emotional side. This second step is what most people can clearly experience in everyday life and is an important part of the creative process. Highly intuitive people tend to sense and feel the quality of an upcoming idea before analysing it too much in detail. (Anderson:2011;79)

Recent research on ituition and decision making demonstrated that participants who tended to make spontaneous decisions were, on average, much more satisfied with their choices than participants who were carefully analytical. (Anderson:2011;79)

One broadens the first spark of an idea, which becomes an emotional “body”. One “feels” the idea in that sense might find it more compelling for oneself and others. (Anderson:2011;79)

Imagination is the final step -what comes to us as a first spark of an idea and becomes more real by sensing it through the step of intuition now crystallizes as an image. In the process of creativity we start to let the image grow and make it as concrete and powerful as possible in order to communicate the idea. People in organizations who have a strong ability for imagination are often able to visualize changes. For instance the can look at a process from the end, as if it had already been accomplished. By creating an image they make a complex process visible and in that sense more easily understandable. (Anderson:2011;79)