Inspiring Art and Corporate Innovation



The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg has always created a certain connection to experimental art. Now Nathan Schwagler, co-director of the Dali’s Innovation Labs, helps make the facility a place where corporate ideas are born as well. Schwagler served as the keynote speaker at the most recent installment of SB2, Good Culture: Burgeoning Arts, and spoke with SRQ afterward.

What has happened in the business world that has made innovation such a priority?  It’s a function of competition and the accelerated nature of change. It used to be completely practical to get a job at a company and be there for decades. That was a thing. No millennial thinks they will retire with the company they started with. They will live in five different cities before they are 30, and will hold eight different jobs. The company that wins is the one that unleashes innovation and creative talents.

Why is an art museum the right entity to push this realm of innovation?  We love it when people come to the Dali. It’s our home turf. But we also can go off-site. We can design and facilitate a creative process independent of space. You don’t need to have an art museum to be creative and do creative work. We want to help people understand what the creative process looks like and to feel comfortable in each stage of the game. For a lot of people, the creative process is just this messy thing. A lot of people think that happens with a moment of inspiration in the shower. Most don’t see themselves as creative. We show them they can be deliberately creative. What we try to do with the business community is to help them understand how to put the frameworks into an organization to be deliberately creative. 

And what are some of those critical steps any business can take?  First and foremost is getting comfortable with problem framing, asking questions on the front end. One of the biggest mistakes companies can make is that they will set out to solve the wrong problem. If it’s government, they will solve the wrong problem precisely. So people will spend a ton of money on an elegant solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. So get people to ask what we want to do and why we want to do that. A lot of people just want to jump into brainstorming right away, but then you have a lot of ideas that don’t actually create any value. You want to put a good framework around ideas.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan: Nathan Schwagler delivers his SB2 keynote address.

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