Our one-week experience in Paris was like a rapid roller coaster. The intensive 3-day Improbable: An Art Thinking workshop at ESCP Business School challenged us to step out of our comfort zone and into a new working process. As an individual with a craft design background, it was a new experience and challenge for me to adapt to a fast-paced working process within a minimal time frame, as I am used to a slower process of deep thought, reflection, and multiple experiments.
In the workshop, we had to create an idea as a team, visualize it through different mediums, and turn it into an exhibition within two and a half days. As we all had different backgrounds, we had different ways of approaching the process, which made us reflect again on the importance of communication within teamwork. We were able to develop soft skills such as team building and communication skills for our journey as entrepreneurs.
It was interesting to observe how the pressure to create artwork and the exhibition within a limited time can be overwhelming, especially for those new to this kind of artistic process. As the challenge of stepping out of their comfort zone into a new approach to art thinking and making, we could observe a tendency to rely on the given structure or guidelines heavily. What was particularly interesting was that as the process progressed, when ideas were changed from those initial ideas, some people felt that this was wrong or incorrect rather than an evolution of the idea.
This is why the framework and awareness of the incubation process in the art thinking process is so valuable. However, it is important to be open to flexibility within the given guidelines without being afraid or stressed about stepping out of the boundaries, as frames can limit the development of our thoughts. Therefore, within the art thinking process, we need both resistance to uncertainty and the willingness to be flexible towards constantly evolving ideas.
Overall, our biggest challenge was enduring the uncertainty within the process of creating something out of nothing. As most of the students from business and engineering backgrounds had no experience creating and exhibiting artwork, we were introduced to the art thinking process on the first day of the workshop — the 6D process: donation, deviation, destruction, drifting, display, and discussion. As displaying your art and discussing it with others are rather self-evident and less related to entrepreneurship, we’ll focus on the first four Ds.
Our first task as a new team was the bartering activity. We had to start by going out on the streets of Paris, talking to strangers on the street, and exchanging our exhibition invitations for their stuff. This was a new challenge for us. When we first approached them and talked to them about how their day was going, we could see the excitement and smiles on their faces when they told us about their life and family. Still, when we asked them for their items, we could observe that their faces changed to the opposite: suspicion, anxiety, or even apology. This bartering activity taught us the importance of strategy and communication skills. In most of our attempts, we weren’t able to get the objects, but we were able to hear their stories and thoughts, which is meaningful as it creates a moment of conversation and relationship in their daily lives.
In the art thinking workshop, we were given a simple framework on how deviation works. First, you need a frame of experience. This is a specific time and place that has certain social norms. Second, you need the deviated object. Despite the name, the object can be pretty much anything: a person, a behavior, an idea, a concept, or simply an object. This object is then placed in the chosen frame of experience. The important part is that the object should not belong there. This creates a new situation, which in turn should criticize the status quo of the frame of experience. These steps must be physical in some way since deviation cannot be abstract. So, here are the dimensions of deviation:
- Frame of experience
- Deviated object
- New situation
Deviation is a powerful tool in many different disciplines. We were presented with the artist Marcel Duchamp, who became most well-known for his unusual “sculpture.” He was a part of an association called the Society of Independent Artists, whose mission was to display art without censorship. They organized an exhibition where anyone could send their work, and it would be displayed. Duchamp wanted to test the limits of the association and, by extension, art. He bought a urinal, changed its orientation, and sent it to the exhibition under a fake name. The sculpture was never displayed in the exhibition, which made Duchamp resign from the committee, as it was truly not against censorship.
This deviation illustrates the power of presenting critique and questioning. Duchamp had a frame of experience, the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. He deviated an object, the urinal. He created a situation that had not existed before. By doing so, he critiqued the committee’s act of censorship and questioned the whole definition of art. He left a substantial mark on the history of art by deviation.
Deviation is also used in the startup world, even if it might be subconscious. We visited a startup called Roofscapes. They had identified a problem with Paris overheating due to different factors relating to climate change and the challenges of the urban environment. Their solution is to build small greenspaces on top of the roofs of old Paris buildings. The company has a frame of experience, the roofs of Paris. They have an object they want to deviate, a green space or a garden. They create a new situation, where you can spend time on the roofs of Paris, enjoying the green view. There is a critique of the current state of climate change, but there is also a solution.
Besides donating and deviating, two core concepts discussed as essential steps in the Art thinking approach are Destroying and Drifting. Instead of telling the definition, the lecturer, Sylvain Bureau, showed us a picture of a woman aiming a rifle in an art gallery. That was Niki de Saint Phalle, along with a quote, “I shot because I liked to see the painting bleed and die.”
Our biggest challenge was enduring the uncertainty within the process of creating something out of nothing.
Her method of creating art pieces is to put bags of paint onto the canvas and then use a rifle to shoot the painting from afar, leaving brutal holes and patterns of leaked color as a form of art.
This is clearly different from the traditional way to create paintings with intricate movements of brushes and paints. This violent act is the first and the literal meaning of destruction, in this case, by a weapon. Like other great artists of the century, de Saint Phalle also learned and mastered how to create with conventional methods but decided to pursue uniqueness by unlearning them. This is the second layer of destruction, where she challenged the norm and stepped out to find her own way of expression. Her art raises a question in many people’s minds: did the rifle shot “destroy” the painting or “create” it?
Unsurprisingly, this was not her first and only attempt to make her personal life a key element in her art. Previously, she used darts to express her anger toward a lover who haunted her. Every time one integrates a new idea, they also “kill” the old idea — just like de Saint Phalle had to “kill” the old concept to be open for the art style that made her famous. Killing an old idea adds a third layer of meaning to the concept of destruction, which happens more quietly and within oneself.
Applying this to the startup scene, one of the guest lecturers, Thibaut Gimenez, also co-founder of Super Capital, stressed the critical role of killing, not building, product features. “Kill, kill, and kill,” in his way of saying, is essential for a startup to gain focus on what is important. From his experience, one of the pitfalls for many startups is developing multiple concepts or business models in parallel as a backup plan instead of focusing on one.
With a lot of destruction toward old ideas, the project should be evolving, hopefully in a good direction. When looking back, it can be quite far from the original. That’s the idea of drifting.
One of the questions many students asked was, “How to cope with uncertainty?” The same question is at the core of any entrepreneurial education program.
People may refer to the saying from Harvey MacKay, “If you have no destination, you’ll never get there,” and start to figure out where the destination is, as it seems to be a logical approach. This method is called Causal Principles. But another method, the Effectual Principles, shreds the light in the other direction and might give you a new perspective. Opposing the idea that you should focus on goals, returns, risks, and future predictions, the Effectual Principles method believes in the strength of means, loss, leveraging the unexpected, and adapting. In this approach, you, everything you possess and everyone you know will have the strength and motivation to adapt to the uncertainty, not to avoid and fight it.
The two methods, Causal and Effectual Principles, may prove their effectiveness in different ways and help cope with risk and uncertainty, respectively.
The former principle is formulated specifically against risk. Like flipping a coin, you know only a few scenarios, either heads or tails, could happen. Because the number of things that could happen is limited, you may try to optimize the process and avoid unwanted scenarios, like a coin bet with an expected value lower than 0. But when the number of scenarios is too large — to the point that there are almost unlimited possibilities — risk turns to uncertainty, and this system doesn’t work anymore. Fortunately, the latter method, Effectual Principles, is made to cope with this.
Events such as COVID-19, the September 11 attack, and the Dotcom bubble happen as the consequences of a domino effect with the chance of almost zero. They are practically impossible to foresee, and the first domino of a dozen major future events has fallen today. Focusing on your team and being ready to “drift” through different ideas and models may be the way for a startup to outlast and thrive no matter what the future might unveil.
This post was written by Jimin Hong, Anna Rajamäki and San Vo, who participated in the workshop as a part of Aurora Paris, a study trip by AVP. Jimin is a Master’s student in Contemporary Design, Anna is a student at Information Networks, and San is a Master’s student in Mechanical Design Engineering.