Artistic Intelligence: How Art Inspires Innovation

Dirk Dobiéy is a member of the SAP Alumni Network and co-founder of Age of Artists. He believes that an artistic mindset helps businesses create innovation.

As co-founder of Age of Artists, Dirk believes that business can learn a lot from artists. Does that sound more like something you might philosophize about over a glass of wine with friends than seriously discuss in a business context? Listen to Dirk’s passionate and profound explanations and you’ll realize there’s much more to it.

Age of Artists doesn’t focus on actual works of art, but rather on the artistic approach to producing creative and original results. Put this in business terms and the connection becomes clear: It’s about innovation and how we can evolve our creative potential to deal with new and complex challenges.

As Dirk puts it: “Artificial intelligence is a big topic right now. And that is exactly why we should also think about ‘artistic intelligence’. With the rise of machine learning and big data, the human potential to create might be one of the few things that actually keep us in business.”

SAP Alumni Network
What do people do after leaving SAP? All kinds of different things. They found their own tech startups, engage as social entrepreneurs, and work as consultants. Or they even go on to tackle something completely different, like designing comfortable high heels (yes, that’s right – comfortable high heels).

What Artists Do

Whether you look at painters, writers, musicians, or any other creative spirits, they seem to have a universal artistic mindset. In the course of more than one hundred interviews Dirk and his team conducted with artists and thought leaders from various disciplines, they identified the main components of this mindset: curiosity, passion, confidence, and resilience. These are what help artists deal with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, and doubt – and ultimately create something that surprises even themselves.

“I want to get something that is more interesting than what I can already think of,” says Dirk, quoting artist Gerhard Richter.

Dirk and his team were able to identify the elements of the artistic process, a set of universal patterns based on perception, reflection, and creation. Contrary to what you might think, artists spend a lot of time and energy perceiving and reflecting before they even start creating, and they continue to do so throughout the creative process. They experiment, improvise, and learn from their results ‒ challenged and pushed forward by critique and feedback.


If you are a design thinker, some of these aspects might sound familiar. “Design thinking is a wonderful method,” Dirk says. However, he observed that people often have difficulties with uncertainty, with questioning their assumptions and ideas, or with truly starting over again when things don’t feel right. They tend to take the easy road, cut the process short, and narrow their view too early.

“Just applying a certain method doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation. You need to cultivate a different mindset,” says Dirk. And that is what his company is all about: helping people develop an artistic attitude and assisting organizations in establishing a culture of creativity. “To be clear: our goal is not to turn everyone into an artist in the traditional sense. We immerse ourselves in the relevant business context and help organizations tackle challenges in new ways and see new opportunities. For us, a project is a work of art.”

“It’s about purpose and doing something meaningful”

Founded in 2015, Dirk’s company is a not-for-profit consultancy, education provider, and research institute. For Dirk, it’s about purpose and doing something meaningful. Take, for example, Age of Artists’ project to evaluate the impact of developmental aid. “How do you know whether drilling two hundred wells is a good result or not?” Dirk’s team helped develop qualitative and participative approaches to reporting on project outcomes. “It was a novel perspective for our client,” is how Dirk sums up their successful undertaking. 

“Looking back, I’m deeply grateful”

At SAP, Dirk served in various management positions for more than a decade. Starting his own company was quite a change for him.

“It’s not a linear career and being self-employed can be exhausting at times. But it’s also very exciting and extremely diverse… and there are fewer templates to fill out,” he says with a smile. “Looking back, I’m deeply grateful for my time at SAP. SAP offers many possibilities to grow but sometimes you are so caught up in your daily business that you don’t even see them. But they are there.”

Dreaming Big

As for the future, he’s dreaming big: “Sometimes I’ve been in meetings where people have said, ‘Let’s not boil the ocean’. But come on, that’s exactly what we need to do. Our world is changing and not everything is going well. I’m not willing to risk waiting for a big change to come from the ‘top’ or from some external source. If we all strengthen our perception to ask better questions, reflect more to achieve meaningful decisions, shape our environments, and collaborate – then we can create a future we all want to live in.”