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Shireen Qudosi

Is Your Business an Art or a Science?

Jan 18 2013, 11:28 AM by

No matter your industry, starting, maintaining and growing a business is as much an art as it is a science. Business templates have their foundation in science, starting with a business plan that forces business owners to develop a methodical and calculable approach for their new endeavor. Business plans offer a valuable timeline and goals. Market research needs to be conducted, the competition needs to be closely studied and business owners need to check assets and investments in order to ensure a balanced budget. All this leads to a roadmap crafted by science and shying away from on-the-fly decisions or emotional thought processes that can contribute to business failure.

While you should treat your new business as a science in order to establish it, you need to fuse art if you want it to succeed. Art may not have been as important even five or six years ago, but with the rise of the social web, art has become critical to branding, recognition and sales. Consumers now don’t just want to do business; they want to engage. They want to feel like they’re a part of a bigger story.

For many of us, treating our business like an art is a nervous step. Science is methodical and offers some predictable stability. Art is not. Art involves risk. Stanford and UC Berkeley professor, Steve Blank, would welcome that. “The value of risk-taking is incalculable,” he says, going on to insist that “illogical ideas are how society achieves progress.” Citing Virgin’s Richard Branson and Apple’s Steve Jobs, Brand argues that the ideas that seemed the craziest are the ones that have succeeded the most. So while business is a science, business success is most definitely an art.

Blank argues it’s a “survival trait” for entrepreneurs to “think differently.” Most notably, Blank recognizes that “entrepreneurial brains are like full-time pattern recognizers. People attribute radical decisions to their guts, but there is actually a lot of hard thinking and information processing that goes on subconsciously before there's a pattern match." Considering Jobs, Branson and the monumental increase in successful startups, I’d have to agree that it takes gut instinct (and sheer drive) to become successful.

In the case of innovative start-up entrepreneurs, is theirs really an art or a science? The verdict might still be out on that one. Some would argue that innovation is a science first and an art second, while others would say innovators are born not made. The case for art dominating over science comes down to a “feeling,” much like Blank’s reference to a “gut instinct.” Sure you can spin studies and surveys through an endless hamster wheel but data is data; interpreting that data is up to the individual.

So all in all there’s a likely formula for success, one that treats art and science with measurable balance. A case study by the Rotman School of Management aptly entitled “The Science and Art of Business,” would support that. In it, writer Roger L. Martin argues “for competitive advantage in the 21st century, firms must be able to access and balance both the science of business and the art of business.” As he sees it, knowledge advances along four categories that traverse both the arts and sciences. So it would seem that even art has a formula, or at the very least, people’s ability to perceive and grow does. In the age where every consumer wants to be entertained or informed, the formula marrying art and science would be the way to go.

If there’s one rule to stick by, it’s that of innovation. With the rules of the game changing so quickly, innovators are poised to rise as the Darwinian favorites. Where exactly does that leave us in the art vs. science debate?

Art first, business second. Find a great idea and then apply methodology.

Posted in Growing Your Business

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