When it comes to innovation, the creative arts lead the way in pushing the boundaries of accepted practice and exploring new ways of producing ‘something different’.

A blog on CNN Money by Tim Leberecht suggests that, as data collection and analysis enable businesses to be more efficient, what will ultimately differentiate companies is their creativity. A few big businesses has already recognised this, combining creativity with the power of celebrity, as with the appointment by Intel of will.i.am as director of creative innovation. This seemingly bold move may just be the start of a much bigger movement to include creative minds in driving business innovation.

In his blog, Tim Leberecht identifies 12 traits of successful artists that “Any individual who aspires to make his or her mark on the world should emulate.” The list is, as one might expect, eclectic in its scope, ranging from being a humanist and having humility, to relying on intuition.

The exploration of these 12 traits sheds new light on the very nature of innovation, such as the trait that all artists are looking for the new, the different, the connected. “Art means changing the meaning of things or creating new meanings. That’s exactly what innovation is all about.” This is such a great way to view innovation, as a deliberate and conscious way of not just viewing our business, but also the process of change required. It places change at the very start of innovation, not as a tail-end result.

Another is the ability of artists to “Retain a child’s unique sense of possibility and wonder.” Leberecht suggest innovators should do the same.

“It may sound paradoxical, but innovations are always nostalgic. The most meaningful of them, although seemingly all about novelty and the future, reconnect us with a basic human quest or even our childhood dreams.”

This idea of stripping innovation back to focus on the fundamental features of our products and services and their core appeal may seem very ‘blue sky thinking’ but it could shine a light into some dark and dusty corners. What is the basic human need your products or services address? And what processes or unnecessary layers are getting in the way of solving that need?

One more trait struck a chord with us too; “Artists are comfortable with ambiguity. By design, they often deal with things that are not measurable and can’t be easily quantified.” When issuing an open-ended innovation challenge, as innovator we should be prepared for ‘gut feeling’ ideas and ‘fuzzy’ suggestions. Just because they cannot be easily measured, it does not reduce their validity, or their ultimate impact. Nobody *needs* a layer of paint on canvas, but few would deny the impact of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers’, for example.

This is a blog I’ve come back to several times over the last few days, and each time I find more to think about. It puts innovation in a wider context and raises above the need to save money, or indeed make more money. As Leberecht says, “Like art, true innovation has the potential to make our lives better.” As an argument for ‘artistic’ innovation on your business, it doesn’t get better than that.