Entrepreneurs and artists have this trait in common

How do so many successful business people have such great art collections?

epa08371899 A mural by street artist Lionel Stanhope depicting a painting by Flemish master, Jan van Eyck wearing a protective face mask, is seen in Ladywell, South London, Britain, 19 April 2020. British Prime Minister Johnson has announced that Britons can only leave their homes for essential reasons or may be fined, in order to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
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Is there a secret formula for success? It is a question many of us will ponder at some point in our lives. If there is a secret formula, what is it and how do we apply it to achieve our versions of success, both personally and professionally?

Success is often synonymous with wealth. For many, in fact, wealth is the primary indicator of success. But in time, this limited outlook has evolved.

Whether you are an entrepreneur leading a start-up or you chair a non-governmental organisation or perhaps you are an artist, success today is about achieving impact and relevance.

To be deemed successful you must provide a service to society by making things easier or better. Entrepreneurs constantly think about their next new idea and how it might better society and allow them to become change makers and enter the coveted world of billionaires.

The entrepreneurial spirit, as it is often called, is this ability to see what others don’t.

Many on this path try to meet successful people. They read their books and watch their TEDx talks for inspiration.

Aspirants on the path of success attempt to figure out from the gurus of business how to arrive where they are so that they, the aspirant, too can follow.

Aspiring entrepreneurs ask themselves: how did they catch that elusive fish of gold that changed the course of their lives.

I was contemplating this a while ago and had an opportunity last November to receive insight on the matter at an event that not only encourages young entrepreneurs but also supports them and their ecosystem.

As a professional in the field of arts and museums I wasn't the obvious choice to conduct a one-on-one interview with a prominent entrepreneur at the Sheraa Entrepreneurial Festival, but the fact that I was invited to moderate a chat of that nature shows exactly the progressive thinking of the organisers. They had considered the potential links between the business and art world.

Handout photos of artist Samia Halaby in her studio. She has an exhibit on display at the Ayyam Gallery, April 2014.
CREDIT: courtesy Samia Halaby

Something I wanted to probe via this platform was how come so many successful business people have great art collections. What are the underlining synergies between business acumen and artistic creativity?

An obvious answer might be that business people collect art as future investment. This, however, has not been the case with people I know personally, including Muna Al Gurg, a successful businesswoman and Middle Eastern art collector.

It was after my discussions with her that I realised that entrepreneurs and artists share certain traits. Businesspeople and entrepreneurs can be genuinely curious about the artistic process and the ability of artists to express their ideas in unique ways.

Like artists, entrepreneurs too need to be creative. This is fundamental to their success. If they don't constantly think creatively they will not innovate. And without this innovative process, entrepreneurs will not produce anything new and of value. There are other commonalities.

Artists and entrepreneurs don't fit the mould and don't believe in rules. They make their own

Artists and entrepreneurs don’t fit the mould and don’t believe in rules. They make their own.

This ability to create and work outside the confines of what is expected – and of what has been done – allows them to inch closer to success.

Another point gleaned from the talk that has stayed with me all these months is how artists only truly flourish when they are active in their respective communities. All artists strive to make new work that speaks to their audience.

Displaced Syrian artist Ayat al-Aziz paints the face of a girl during a COVID-19 awareness campaign at the Bardaqli camp in the town of Dana in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, on April 20, 2020.  / AFP / AAREF WATAD

Whether to sell their works to earn an income or to create works that will have an effect on the public, artists cannot thrive alone. They need a dynamic with their communities to allow them to keep their creative energy flowing and for them to continually evolve.

Similarly, entrepreneurs have to produce and provide their audience with something. They have to engage with their consumers. They must listen to feedback.

Consumers need to feel they are being heard. Heads of businesses must create a channel of reciprocal communication with the people they are catering to.

My advice to individuals trying to figure out the formula for success is to periodically move away from trying to find it. Great ideas and innovation don't come from a narrow channel of insight and knowledge of business but from immersing oneself in diverse topics and sources.

That means one has to navigate through unrelated matters because often what will challenge you lies outside your area of expertise and comfort zone.

Read books on topics you may not be familiar with. Educate yourself on a range of subjects, whether in matters of Greek philosophy or in the art of composing music. Attend events – be it fashion or boat engineering. Meet and network with individuals successful in fields across the spectrum, from the performing arts to paleontology.

From there, an aspiring artist or aspiring entrepreneur can go on to tackle questions of how to create something better, faster, cheaper, safer, etc. Great ideas come from the material we surround ourselves with and absorb.

Every piece of insight one picks up from life adds to our growth. This is not limited to artists and entrepreneurs. When one takes each piece of information or idea, it acts as a well-spaced weight in a fishing net. This allows one to cast the widest net in the hope that it will yield the greatest catch, and with a little luck, that golden fish.

Manal Ataya is the director general of Sharjah Museums Authority