Reframing corporate culture, sparking creativity
The paintings of Salvador Dali for years helped expand the bounds of art. Now, the works may be inspiring corporate creativity with a new program at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Innovation Labs at The Dali, launched in 2015, provides a setting for company retreats aimed at sparking the imagination and instructing executives how to inspire intentional creativity. “Many businesses need new ideas and fresh thinking,” says Nathan Schwagler, program director for the Innovation Labs. “We want to provide a service where a company can re-orient.” The museum, he says, provides a venue where creativity more naturally flows, and staff working within the program also provide helpful tools and expertise.
Companies participating in Lab exercises can sign up for anything from 90-minute activities over a multi-day retreat to a weeklong comprehensive brainstorming program or they can set up multiple sessions at the museum spread out over a longer period. Companies can also hire consultants like Schwagler to do on-site workshops at businesses, although Schwagler says staff can provide a full range of services at the museum.
Programs within the Labs include: “Solution Labs,” creativity workshops designed to address specific problems; “Skills Labs,” designed to provide learnable mindsets for creative thinking and problem solving; and “Leader Labs,” to facilitate company’s development of senior leadership.
The Labs, an expansion of a previous program called The Edge, is a way for executives to see their business in new ways, in similar fashion to the way Dali presented the world around him in a new light through his art. “Dali was a master at seeing the world in new ways,” said Hank Hine, executive director of The Dali, when the Labs launched. “Innovation Labs blends Salvador Dali’s imaginative thinking with rich and proven methodology.”
Since the launch of the Labs, Schwagler and staff have worked with companies from all around the globe, he says. A major restaurant company with 180,000 employees developed novel delivery and distribution methods after creative thinking sessions both at The Dali and at company headquarters. An
Many businesses need new ideas and fresh thinking. We want to provide a service where a company can re-orient.” —Nathan Schwagler, program director for the Innovation Labs
iconic footwear line conceived of new concept designs after a mix-media workshop based on Dali-inspired creativity techniques and glass-blowing. A $100 million tech company successfully repositioned themselves as an acquisition target after improving the company’s strategic plan following a Lego Serious Play workshop.
Many of the activities and tools Schwagler’s team uses come from the toy box rather than the art gallery. Schwagler employs a proven Lego strategy that encourages business leaders to build their way through new strategies He likes to use the most metaphorical and whimsical blocks in the crate. You can imagine sharks as competitors or windows as opportunities.
While a focus of the Labs has always been to teach how to be purposefully creative, it’s also about finding the right moment to do so. “For a business, we need to understand what the existing workflow and processes look like,” he says. “Then you map those out and analyze where the influxes of novelty and creativity make sense and potentially add value. It’s not creativity for creativity’s sake. It’s about finding out where in the functions of a business creativity is required.”
When consultants go on-site and occasionally travel to a client’s location, they bring fewer giant pieces of artwork and more tools that can pack in a baggage compartment. Schwagler says the track record of the Labs continues to improve, but also maintains a certain humility. The success of any retreat ultimately depends on the executives that follow through with any plan conceived in the creative environment.
“Business people are always going to be the experts in their business, the way an art museum staff will be experts in their collection,” Schwagler says. “This third space between those parties is what we represent well. We are facilitators, and can help make connections. We don’t have to understand a business, certainly not at the level a businessperson does.” Labs staff just have to help unlock the talent and potential already in the inventory of a company’s existing workforce.
Participants enjoy the museum works, including the Helical Staircase (above), a centerpiece of the building's design. In the museum gardens (below), The Wish Tree allows visitors to stream wishes from a ficus tree. The Dali-inspired melting bench and...