'Ecoart in Bulgarian Base' (Gergana Lapteva, 2015)1
It is not just people from the business sphere that question the relevance of Arts subjects to entrepreneurship and innovation. It is a query Arts students and/or professionals find themselves also asking. To some individuals in both parties this article may appear far-fetched, linking Arts and Social Sciences to entrepreneurship and innovation. I am going to attempt to alter your perception of the entrepreneurial pursuit, its relevance to the Arts, and the immense value that Arts subjects can add to the business sphere outside of purely design and creative capacities. I will evidence this theory with empirical cases of where arts and enterprise coincide, to acknowledge the lacuna that often forms between the disciplines and faculties of Business and Management and the ‘Arts,’ broadly defined.
Finding innovation and entrepreneurship from outside of the typical field
“How on Earth is this relevant to me?” I heard myself think when I received an email about a vacancy for Innovation Fellows at a department specialising in Enterprise coming through my Liberal Arts department student director.
Then I sat with the idea, I thought it through critically, as Arts students are trained to do with almost any idea from the beginning of their studies, and the network of ideas came together piece by piece. I could innovate and I could do it somewhat unexpectedly.
Those of you who are reading this may wonder how a Liberal Arts student found her way into enterprise and innovation, especially because some of you may not know what Liberal Arts even is. Liberal Arts study - for me at Warwick - is transdisciplinary. We are trained to think broadly, across disciplines, account for various nuances and holes in knowledge others may not see. The reason we do this is because we are taught through Problem-Based Learning (PBL), where we are assigned real-world problems that we have to solve utilising our knowledge of multiple disciplines - sometimes independently and other times collaboratively as a team effort.
How is that relevant to entrepreneurship?
I am glad you asked.
From many discussions with many individuals in many different settings and from many different personal, academic, and professional backgrounds, I have ascertained there are key elements of an “entrepreneur,” including (but not limited to):
I am certain you can come up with your own suggestions and perhaps it may be worth doing that to explore your own conceptions of what entrepreneurship looks like to you. These traits, however, you also see in Arts students. Many times I have seen the passion and ambition in projects and essays students write on colonial history, creativity in theatrical interpretations of Shakespeare, and Film students writing daring new scripts in screenwriting, taking a vision for how they want their projects to end up and taking calculated risks to get to that end product. Most of all, ideas fail. As my colleague and fellow student - Luke Netherclift - addressed in his article, failure is a learning opportunity that entrepreneurs and students in the Arts (and beyond) face and capitalise upon, to fortify their future ideas in light of this experiential learning. This demonstrates resilience in the face of adversity and the assertiveness to persist. The point is, the entrepreneurial mindset is not about what subject you chose to study at university, but the way that your mind works and the visions you have for the future.
Now, it is all well and good me saying that that is the case, but here are some definitions from the established literature to lend some weight to my argument. McGrath and MacMullen defined the Entrepreneurial Mindset in 2000 in a book under the same title. However, the reality is that in both trait approaches and behavioural approaches to Entrepreneurship, consensus cannot be found.2 There is no single defined individual who can or cannot be an entrepreneur based on traits or behaviour. One may believe that to be the case, but that is unsupported by prolific research due to the lack of consensus. However, speaking concretely, an entrepreneur sets up organisations/enterprises or undertakes an entrepreneurial process that makes change in some capacity. So, how does that benefit Arts individuals? It means that entrepreneurship is accessible to everyone (conceptually). There is no actual, intrinsic, innate monopoly on who can or cannot be an entrepreneur. Now, certain traits may be more common in entrepreneurs that Arts individuals may not possess, but this does not mean they cannot innovate a product and/or service that revolutionises the market or industry within which they reside. In fact, innovation, defined as the ability to invent or conceptualise better solutions is something people in the Arts do every day - attempting to explore a new interpretation or idea, promote a socially meaningful message, or provide a product to consumers that brings them joy or entertains them (e.g. theatres, gaming companies, and exhibitions).
Fusing those together, an entrepreneur who innovates is, essentially, someone who makes change, by developing or altering something in a way that is different and better for the product and/or service which adds value to it for the customer. If you are in the Arts industry or have trained in the Social Sciences, this is something you also do every day. In these industries, change is imperative to keep up with social trends, integrate artworks, and develop ways of thinking that provide innovation in forms we may not consider innovative - interventions, protests, original exhibitions, publications of research (both proving and falsifying hypotheses).
Forms and modes
Indeed, innovation takes multiple forms. That is what is so great about it. My drive to innovate came from a passion for sustainability and wanting to contribute to making every aspect of human society sustainable - even in the corporate sphere, where people tend to assume antagonistic relations between the concepts of business and sustainability. This led me to research into Product-Service Systems and allowed me to see where innovation and entrepreneurship may fit into my life, research, and way of thinking.
Other concrete examples include sustainable fashion choices, an advancing movement that helps us reconsider our consumption patterns and exercise power through consumer choices, impacting - to a certain degree - the dynamics of supply and demand. This is not limited to adults in the industry but also to individuals hoping to make a difference:
Equally, fashion can be used as a social enterprise, not just benefitting the planet, but being practical beyond the realm of just clothing, into pieces imperative for survival and comfort. In this case, innovative fashion solutions can benefit those suffering as a result of the refugee crisis:
We also see innovators and entrepreneurs in the creative and digital industries, especially when it comes to new, or more accessible, technological developments like artificial intelligence and virtual reality. In Coventry and Warwickshire, there has been the fastest productivity growth since the 2009 recession (out of anywhere in the country), growing at almost twice the national average. The cluster, ‘Silicon Spa’, now has over 2,500 employees across 83 studios (representing over 15% of the UK’s total games developers). As part of this booming gaming industry, Sonic Dash - made in Leamington Spa by SEGA Hardlight - is downloaded 150,000 times per day. In terms of literature and writing, the Warwick Writing Programme is number one for creative writing in the UK. To celebrate this booming, under-discussed industry, Warwick Enterprise hosted the first launch event for the Creative and Digital Communities initiative and will continue to host events in the upcoming year and beyond.
The “Arts” individual as entrepreneur
You don’t have to be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk to be an entrepreneur and make change. Though, if that is your aspiration, that works too. The Arts individual - whether that is someone who makes actual art, investigates the nuances of iambic pentameter, interrogates colonial timelines of history, or synthesises these skills with other ones through Liberal Arts - has the capacity to make a valuable change that could not only benefit the economy, but even revolutionise the world around us.
1. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
2. 2017, Vol. 5, No. 3 DOI: 10.15678/EBER.2017.050308 Entrepreneurial Mindset: A Synthetic
Literature Review Christiane Naumann
Published: October 2019
Ceara Webster is a final year BA Liberal Arts with Intercalated Year student, specialising in politics and sustainability. Her interest in innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset was sparked whilst studying Sustainability Management in Germany, which allowed her to generate innovative solutions in business that also worked to promote weak and strong sustainability. She is therefore driven by social enterprises, which have value by benefiting both the customer and the planet. She is also a part of the Energy and Sustainability Team at Warwick, helping to reduce water and electricity usage and promote waste reduction on campus and uses innovative techniques to achieve this.