A good idea is worth nothing without great execution… ideas are great. But in a weird way it’s almost like they’re meaningless if they don’t actually make a difference in our lives.
So begins this Freakonomics podcast. Freakonomics is known for delving interesting (and many times obscure) topics and in this episode, they dive into creativity and innovation. In this episode, the host, interviews several different people to gain insight on ideas, creativity, innovation and execution. One of the most interesting segments of the podcast is the work of David Galenson, a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. His central thesis is that there are fundamentally two types of innovators – the experimentalists and the conceptualists. To make the point, Galenson uses the work of artists such as Cézanne (experimentalist) and Picasso (conceptualist).
Experimental Innovators … have very vague but very ambitious goals. And because they’re vague, they’re uncertain how to achieve them. So they work by trial and error. These are the people who never reach their goal. They are never satisfied.
The Conceptual Innovators are people who make sudden breakthroughs by formulating new ideas. They are theorists. They want to know, before they start … exactly what the painting is going to look like.
If you x-ray a Cézanne, you’ll find there’s nothing underneath the paint. He painted, what the artists say, “directly.” He just began using a brush on canvas. He made no preparatory drawings for his paintings, ever. Whereas, if you x-ray the Demoiselle by Picasso, you’ll find very precise under-drawing. And it’s not an accident. If you go to the Picasso Museum, where they have these dozens and dozens of sketchbooks, you’ll find that every figure in that painting was planned extremely carefully. So that by the time he began painting the painting, he knew what it was going to look like.
It’s not that Picasso knew what the painting would look like from the start, he literally drew hundreds of sketches of each part of his painting before he had the final sketch, it was rather that he knew that he wanted to ‘break a rule’ of the then current artistic world and purposefully set out to do that.
This podcast contains much that is interesting to think about as you apply the different innovation approaches of the artists Cézanne and Picasso to today’s corporate world.